With the “significant” birthday last week and the memory jog provided by the opportunity to “avoid” a student driver today, I remember that it was exactly fifty years ago last Friday that I got my driver’s license. I know that because that would have been my 15th birthday. As the oldest of eight kids, my parents wanted me driving as soon as possible. This was for their benefit, not mine, but I wasn’t going to look at gift horse in the mouth.
We went down to Bellow Falls where the nearest Vermont DMV office was located. I don’t remember much of the test itself, just that I passed, which didn’t surprise me. I had driven quite a bit in my year with a learner’s permit, I had taken Driver’s Ed the previous summer with one of the football coaches as my instructor, and I wasn’t really nervous or shy. It wasn’t that big of a deal…until afterward.
We were in the family station wagon and with my new license in hand my mother decided to sit in the back seat for the drive back home instead of in the passenger seat beside me. It was the closest we could get at the moment for me to be driving solo. But we needed gas, so I pulled into a station for our $0.30/gallon fill up. (This would have been about three years before the Arab Oil Embargo panicked the nation and shut us down hard while gas prices went ALL THE WAY UP **OVER** $1/gallon!! 😱😁)
Once I was done pumping, I got back in for the drive home – and the car wouldn’t start. I tried and tried, getting more and more panicky. What was wrong? What had I broken? What was I doing wrong?
I finally looked in the rear view at my mother and found her cracking up. She knew exactly what was wrong, but she wasn’t going to give me a hint to save my life. And the more I freaked out and got frustrated, the funnier she thought it was. (And you wonder how I got this way…)
After five minutes or so I figured out that I had left the car in “Drive” instead of putting it in “Park” when I pulled into the gas station. A late 60’s Dodge station wagon didn’t have much in the way of warning bells and alarms and safety interlocks compared to today’s vehicles. In fact, it had *NO* little warning bells and alarms that might have given me a clue. But it did have an interlock to make sure the vehicle couldn’t be started with the automatic transmission still in “Drive.”
In my defense, I had done the vast majority of my driving training in the beaten up, POS, rusted out Chevy II named “The Max.” It had a manual transmission, so this wouldn’t have been a problem – but either way, I should have taken a few minutes less to figure out.
My mother had a good laugh, and of course promptly told my father and all of her friends right away. (Let’s go with, “I’m glad I could bring some joy into her life that day…”) I’ve done okay in fifty years of driving, with only two tickets (both recent, both for speeding, one a total speed trap in Kansas which was a bum rap and one which I totally earned) and minimal body damage inflicted due to my stupidity. On the other hand, other folks have bashed into me while stopped or parked or otherwise faultless, totaling the vehicle (but leaving me and my passengers unharmed) at least four times that I can remember.
Here’s to the next fifty years. And new and better warning bells and alarms. And manual transmissions, FTW!!