Driving has never been simple for me.
Driving requires multi-tasking and navigation, two things I’ve never been able to properly manage. The first time I learned to drive, even I knew it was a bad idea.
One of the first cars I drove was the family car, a Volkswagen bus, which may not be the best starter vehicle because it has a flattened front end, in contrast to most automobiles.
My poor mother in the passenger seat always had white knuckles. She tended to grab at the dashboard, and make small squeaking sounds while stomping her foot on the floor in search of a brake. She was always a nervous driver; having her child behind the wheel didn’t make the experience better. I inherited my bad sense of direction from her, too.
During driver education class, I was too distracted by far. I noticed that although other teens were excited about the process of learning to drive, I would rather have been somewhere else…anywhere else!
My driver education instructor noticed that I didn’t check the traffic before I tried to merge on the freeway during the final test of the class. For some reason, he wanted me to pass the test anyway, so he asked me to return on another day for a do-over.
I suppose it was kindness on his part, but I thought if he took his job more seriously, he would realize that excessively spaced-out teens were a danger to society. I don’t recall if I returned for the driver education do-over, but I do know that I decided not to try for a license. I wasn’t ready, and I knew it. Public buses and my bicycle served as transportation for the next several years, and I was satisfied with those methods.
I finally tested for my license in my early twenties. I passed both the written exam and the driving test easily enough. I even knew how to parallel park. My boyfriend at the time had coached me in parallel parking my late Great Aunt Gertrude’s powder blue 1972 Ford Maverick. (My photographs are packed away somewhere since the move, but you can see some other Mavericks at http://www.fordmaverick.com/.)
That particular model of car was often categorized as a muscle car. I think this expression refers to the fact that it was a masculine car with a strong engine, the kind of car young men might “race for pinks”. In this case, I thought the term muscle car was appropriate because it took muscles to drive it. Someone had to turn down the engine idle for me, because whenever I took my foot off of the brake, the Maverick lurched forward like a racehorse out of the starting gate. It was a little bit too much car for me to handle.
Parallel parking a heavy vehicle without power steering is a challenge to a petite girl with skinny arms, believe me. Sometimes my boyfriend had to help me turn the wheel when my arms got too tired, which was most of the time. My arms would ache from holding up a hair dryer back then, but they developed a little bit more muscle from maneuvering that steel monster.
With a black interior, vinyl seats, and no air conditioning, the Maverick was a bad car for summer driving. I burned my hands on the metal seat belt buckles more than a few times. Winter was also a difficult time, because the only way to defog the windshield was to leave the windows open — not a good option on a rainy day! Forget about the vent system, too, because opening that up meant launching an endless hissing torrent of dried leaf fragments into your lap. To make matters worse, between the Maverick’s rumbling engine and the traffic noise from the open windows, I could barely hear the AM radio — not that there was anything to hear.
The day after I passed the final license test, I was driving alone for the first time when a police car signaled for me to stop.
I hadn’t done anything wrong.
I was pulled over because one of the Maverick’s tail lights was out. They test the lights during the test, so I knew that the light must have gone out in the past day. I didn’t even have my real license yet, just the official dot matrix paper printout from the Department of Motor Vehicles. The officer seemed to feel sorry for me. I felt sorry for me, too.
A couple of years after that, I was pulled over because the tiny light over my license plate was out. Someone told me later that I was probably pulled over because of my car. The Maverick was apparently popular with young men who were up to no good, and sometimes those no-gooders deliberately dimmed the light over the plate so the car could not be identified during late night misadventures. I was a victim of profiling!
Why dear old Great Aunt Gertrude, who was neither young nor a man, had purchased this “suspicious looking” vehicle, I cannot say. At least it wasn’t red. In that case, I might have been pulled over more often.
I don’t mean to disparage the car. It was a classic, with some real personality.
It stood out, and I could find it in a parking lot when I had forgotten where I had parked, which was (and still is) most of the time.
When I realized the Maverick’s operational days were numbered, I sold it to a restorer. A man in the neighborhood had three or four Mavericks parked outside of his house. He was using the parts from multiple bodies to rebuild a single Maverick. The body on mine was banged up, not from my driving, but from Gertrude’s run-ins with a few trash cans and walls, so my vehicle was to provide the interior for the final restoration. Dear old Gertrude had parked her car in the garage for twenty years, and the inside was almost entirely intact. I was happy to sell the car to someone who appreciated its classic charm.
The next two vehicles I owned were totaled, with me inside. So was a third vehicle, not my own. Each time, I was on the receiving end of a hit from another driver, and I sustained minor injuries like whiplash and contusions.
These days, I drive my unclassic car without incident, and even parallel park once in a while. My car hasn’t been pulled over or smashed into for at least a decade, so I feel safer on the road now than in the past, but I still don’t like driving. I still get lost without GPS and I almost always forget where I have parked. Even with air conditioning, power steering, a CD player, and seats that don’t melt the skin on my thighs if I wear a skirt… I would still rather be doing something else.