How I Learned to Drive, and My Dad

I want to apologize to my faithful followers (you know who you are) for taking such a long hiatus.  It’s been a very long, cold winter, and I just lost the energy to write somehow.  I meant to get this one out in February in memory of my father.  Better late than never, I65-dart-charger suppose.  And now that the snow is receding, maybe my juices will start rising, too.

February is the month when Daddy died, many years ago, not long after I graduated from college.  I think my love of cars comes from him.  He was a good mechanic and worked on all our cars, mostly at my uncle Preston’s garage.  Over the years our cars ranged from a turquoise Studebaker to a pale yellow Dodge Dart with pushbuttons to change gears, and a red Plymouth Sport Fury with bucket seats in between those two.  I also recall a battered station wagon of indeterminate breed at some point, and any number of beat-up old trucks for use on the farm.

Daddy was not a good driving teacher, however.  He tried to teach Mother, long before I was born.  She said he made her nervous, and words were exchanged.  She left the car in a huff, and never learned to drive.  Mother was dependent her whole life on other people to drive her to do errands, buy groceries, or go to church. This was not uncommon in country women of her age, but it surely was an inconvenience and limited her freedom.

I was determined to get my learner’s permit and my license as soon as it was legal for me to drive.  I couldn’t take a driver’s course because I couldn’t get to the classes, since Daddy was at work, Mother couldn’t drive, and I didn’t have a license.  So I got the booklet to study and got ready for the written test on my own.  Once my permit arrived, I was ready to go!

I had a lot of theory about driving, but very little practice other than steering a tractor.  So I asked Daddy to help me practice.  He showed me how to brake and hit the gas.  Then he turned me loose to practice in a field in back of the house.  My brother had abandoned a scarred-up Volkswagen Beetle at our house on the farm at some point, which didn’t have a license plate and was scarcely capable of moving.  So Daddy put some gas in it from a can and left me to practice driving around the field.

Everything went well at first, although I didn’t know how to change gears with a stick shift.  I just went around and around the field in first gear, steering and practicing turn signals.  Then I decided I was bored and wanted to stop for a while, so I hit the brake.  No response!  Granted, the car was going very slow, but it didn’t have any brakes left.  Well, I thought, how long before it runs out of gas?  I knew there wasn’t much left in the tank.

So I went around and around and around until it started slowing down even more.  This was my chance.  I steered it into the back bumper of Daddy’s latest battered truck.  There was a little bump, and then the engine died.  I hopped out and abandoned it.

Daddy never asked me what happened.  And my next practice session was in the yellow Dodge Dart with him.


The Yellow Car

I never intended to have a yellow car.  I never considered this, or thought of it as something I wanted.  The brightest color I ever had was Toyota’s “medium red pearl,” which I felt was pretty racy.

Then I went car shopping in 2007.  Due to the occasional snow up here, I was looking for a four-wheel-drive, small SUV that handled well and wasn’t too expensive.  So I test-drove some Jeep models, which handled like golf carts on a rainy course.  The Toyota was too expensive for me, and the Pontiac seemed cheap and clunky.  Suburus were nerdy and didn’t hold the road well.

I went to a Hyundai dealership after work, on a whim, to look at the Santa Fe.  The salesmen were busy, so I walked around the Santa Fe models–bigger than I expected–and mused about whether this was really me.   A flash of yellow caught my eye.  There on the showroom floor was a yellow 2006 Hyundai Tiburon.  Tiny, cheeky, with Michelin tires and a six-cylinder engine, it was a toy sports car.  And it was marked way down.

What could it hurt to test drive it?  Ha.  I was a goner.  I drove a hard bargain and took it home that night, kissing goodbye my dear old Toyota.

Since then I’ve learned that having a yellow car makes you vulnerable to shameless remarks–“is that a taxi?”–and makes it impossible to fade into the crowd.  The dry cleaner guy knows my car.  The neighborhood kids know my car.  When I first got it, my colleagues wanted to drive it around the corporate parking lot.

It’s not fun to drive in snow, and it has to be dug out when there is more than two inches on the ground.  I dented it on a rock in a driveway in the Adirondacks, and I’ve scraped it innumerable times on concrete bumpers and sidewalks.  The gas mileage is not that great with such a big engine in a small body.  And I can’t be anonymous when I’m driving it.

But, you know what?  It’s fun.  It makes me smile.  Having a Hyundai as my middle-age-crazy car is a little embarrassing.  But if that’s the worst thing I do, it’s not so bad.