I’ve recently been watching The Wonder Years because it’s streaming on Netflix. A lot of my friends watched it when it was on and would talk about it the next day at school. My family didn’t watch it. It seems like my parents would have liked it, even if they are too young to be the parents and too old to be Kevin; it is similar to their lives in the early and mid sixties. But, whatever time slot it was in, we were watching something else, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.
I recently watched two epi’s. The one where some guy is the first in the entire class to get his drivers license, and the episode where Kevin gets his drivers license and it made me think of my own experiences with that.
My first instances for driving were where my dad would stand me up in his lap and let me take the wheel, all while he himself really did all the steering. I was very young, probably two or three? I remember thinking one was supposed to drive like all of the crazy, classic black and white movies I’d been exposed to, so I started careening the steering wheel left and right like a maniac. Lesson number one, those films were not accurate.
I also remember going to the woods with my dad in our red 71 International pickup truck. I was thirteen and he asked if I wanted to drive. Of course I did! Only, I really had no idea how to drive, so for what probably felt like the longest five minutes in my dad’s life, I flew down the country road doing about 60. “This left up here,” while he gestured in that direction, was my cue to hang a left. I didn’t slow down, I didn’t use a blinker and we ended up off the road and me slamming on the brakes a foot from a tree. I thought it was exhilarating, but that was the end of my lessons as far as he was concerned.
I also remember always hearing the story about how my aunt Jan came home in tears from school one day because the rumor was that she’d have to wait a whole other year to get her license. The urban legend was that The Man was going to stick it to those crazy teens and up the driving age from 15 to 16. My aunts day of turmoil was back in 1960. My grandparents laughed at her and it was a funny joke in my family.
Fast forward to the summer of 1995. I was ready to turn 15 in September and get my license. I was excited and I couldn’t wait. And do you know what The Man finally did? Upped the driving age to 16. Not at the beginning of the year, but on the first of September. I’d missed it by 17 days. It would have been hilarious, if it hadn’t have been so personal.
But, never fret, dear readers, for during that summer I was spending my days at the old gym on the uni campus. The place, oddly enough, where they kept cadavers for medical classes. I was officially in Drivers Ed. A side step here, but I remember very little about Drivers Ed. It was sectioned off into four different classes, one being driving, and the other tree in rooms off to the sides of the gym. The only things I remember learning were in one class where the instructor was from New Orleans and used Chee-Weez as an example and we didn’t know what he was talking about. They’re basically New Orleans made Cheetos, where the mascot is a rat instead of a cheetah. He was so upset and reprimanded us in an amusing way for not knowing about them. Yep, Chee-Weez was my take away from Drivers Ed.
I know I did well and passed my drivers permit, and later my license with flying colours. But I couldn’t tell you a damn thing we learned. Except that the ever tricky “If four cars stop at a stop sign at the same time, who’s right of way is it?” I don’t know which direction, but we’ll say right. So it’s the person to the right of you. It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of. That just makes a circle because someone is on someone else’s right into infinity and no one really has any idea whose turn it is. Who comes up with these questions? Or really just that one.
Anywho, so I passed Drivers Ed, took my test for a drivers permit in September. Because of the new law, this meant that I had a pink slip of paper to carry around and that I needed a person, 21 years or older, with a valid license to be in the car with me at all times. Did this happen? The answer is no, and I’m kind of surprised at how it all went down.
My parents were just elated when my sister could drive, because they could force all sorts of errands on her that they didn’t feel like doing. Well, she was in uni now and they’d been missing an errand runner for a few years by that time, so when I received my permit, they just sent me off to run all of their errands. I even protested because I’m somewhat of a nerd; stating the rules and how we could all get in serious trouble. They rolled their eyes at me like they were the teenagers and practically forced me out the door with the car keys.
Now, I think the cut-off date for classes was the end of July, so anyone before that was going into their sophomore year, where as anyone born between 01. August 1980 and 31.July 1981 was in my grade. So, while there were a few students who turned 15 before the cut-off date of 01. September, and had obtained their drivers licenses, they didn’t have their own vehicle and their parents didn’t really let them zoom off in the car. I was one of the very, very few who could just go out driving at age 15. I was also one of the very, very few who had their own vehicle the following year. Remember the red 71 International? I was allowed to drive it to school in my sophomore year.
But back to being 15 with only a permit. Of course my parents wouldn’t allow me to drive to school or take the car whenever I wanted to, so I couldn’t ask for the car for my wants and needs; going to a friends house, joy riding, etc. But this is how everything took place. My parents would say, “Go get some milk and return this movie.” 5 – 7 hours later I’d return home, errands finished. What I did first was go straight to my friends houses, pick them up and we’d go cruising all over town. My parents never once punished me to taking 7 house to purchase milk or whatever other errand. They never even asked where I had been.
It…was…wonderful! I drove all over the place and knew this entire town like the back of my hand with-in a month. I got to go to the mall whenever I wanted to, go see my friends whenever I wanted to. Blast the music as loud as I wanted to and drive as fast as I wanted to. If a local band was playing, I went to their show. I hung out with people older than I.
In the epi where that guy was the first to get his license, they went cruising around, did the Chinese fire drill, and also mooned Kevin’s parents. Mooning, I think is for boys, but I did make my passengers do Chinese fire drill, and endure Freeze Outs in colder weather. Why? Because sometimes I didn’t want to ride alone and sometimes the passengers were just using me for a ride, which is why Kevin and his friends were even hanging out with that guy (though later they become friends with him). My car, my rules. I held all the power and knew it. I only abused it a little, but sometimes I’d push it if a passenger was being a whiney git over something stupid.
I also never let any passenger litter. Ever. And if they were too whiney and bitchy or dare I say making fun of me, or other people, I’d kick them out. Well, I’d warn them first, and then kick them to the curb. That only happened once where I did leave some girl and she got in trouble with her mother because she wasn’t even supposed to be away from the house, much less calling her from a parking lot for a ride.
This is later, when I was older in high school, but a friend of mine just told her friend I could take her home. I didn’t like it, but I did it because she was on the way to my house. The second time I didn’t say anything either, but then I think the Universe helped me out a bit. My friend didn’t ask me, but told her friend that I could come and pick both of them up and take them somewhere. I shouldn’t merely have grumblingly agreed, but I did. On the way back, oh but, they were hungry so they bid me, like their servant, to pull into this fast food place.
The car died. I knew it was probably just that the battery connector had come loose, but it was pay back time bitchez! So, I made them get out and push the car through the drive through line. They were aghast that I should even suggest it. “I’m serious! Neither of you can drive, someone has to steer the car, and this was your idea to come here and get food. Now get out and push!!” All the way from the ordering sign to the pay window, then to the food window and then up this small hill into a parking spot.
Called dad up and he came up the road to help. “I think it’s probably just the battery connector.” I turned the car on to see if that took care of the problem, which it did. Then while we were hidden from view by the hood with the car engine rumbling, I told him that I figured that’s what it was, but why I thought they deserved to push the car a bit. He chuckled and agreed. My friend never informed me that I’d be giving her or her friend a ride again. It was so uncool of them to be pushing a car in the drive thru line, not too mention a lot of work. Serves them right. Bad manners.
Having a car meant freedom to me. Freedom to roam, freedom to escape, freedom to explore and discover. I spent more time away from home than in it during those teen driving years. It was sort of a journal for me as well. I couldn’t keep one around at home because my mother snooped like nobodies business. Even if I hid it really well and booby trapped the area, she’d eventually find it. But in the car, I could drive out in the country and let my mind wander. Oh I still minded the road, but I could think through things; any problems, any stresses; work through it and release it. Expand away from the worries and find a solution, or at least some peace of mind.
It is still immensely cathartic for me to this day, the driving around. Helps me unwind and clear my head.