First drive, first article upon Cars in Depth.
Seems to be a good fit.
Hi there. Scott Kelley here. It is an honor to have been invited to submit stories. I will do my best to inform, perhaps amuse you, perhaps make you think or, more likely, leave you, the reader, baffled and wondering “What is that guy babbling about!!!”
What I will attempt to NOT do is leave you bored.
On with the proverbial show.
I do not recall a “first drive” oft-written about with the pre-legal on-road driver accompanied by an adult motoring down a back-road in the country.
As a Baby Boomer living in a San Francisco Bay area suburb there were numerous reasons for not being allowed to drive on-the-road in an illegal status; liability issues being a major reason.
When did “legality” over-ride youthful desire and an extreme enticement parked in front of the abode with no parental or other adult authority figure present to curb young lust?
Dad had borrowed a co-worker’s custom 1950s era pick-up; a Ford, I believe as I squint through the decades back to 1970 or so when I was what? 14? Less than the 15-1/2 tender years of age when I obtained a coveted learner’s permit and could legally drive with restrictions, one being that a legally-licensed adult is present.
There that beauty sat. Custom paint job inside and out. A modern V8 engine under the hood with a modern automatic transmission, custom wheels and modern tires. Front disc brakes and other goodies. A drool-inducing truck I stared at day and night.
(Tip of the day: gotta’ baby, a mini-human? Teach the carpet-crawler how to spit and avoid the messy drooling stage of development).
Mom was visiting kinfolk back east and Dad worked 24-hour shifts as a firefighter at the nearby federal government nuclear research facility.
I was the lone kidling; no brother or sister to hinder my actions by “ratting me out.”
Dad was at work and a friend from school was visiting while we watched one of the four available TV channels. No Web. No VCR. No cable and AM radio was the main alternate media though some audio was available via vinyl records on the el cheapo Sears record player. Like Robinson Crusoe and sundry SS Minnow survivors that era was rather primitive compared to the present.
I knew the truck’s keys were resting on the counter dividing the itty-bitty room of dining and the kitchen. Sitting there. Calling out to me. Relentlessly. “No,” the voice within my head told me. No, no, no, the “voice” repeated.
The “voice of logic and reasoning.”
Of course I obeyed the “voice,” for a couple minutes.
“C’mon, lets go for a drive,” I blurted out to my friend as the clock’s hour hand touched the ten and the minute hand was on the clock face somewhere.
“Sure!!!!!” And away we went!!!
Yes, I refrained from stomping on the gas pedal. Out of respect to the truck’s owner and to avoid attracting undue attention. I drove sanely, carefully and it was incredibly fun and exciting.
California was much less crowded back then compared to the not-so-huddled masses of today. I encountered little traffic as we drove the local streets within the masses of “tract houses” displaying their sameness; each possessing a garage and concrete driveway with a concrete sidewalk next to the asphalt street and the requisite tree planted by the construction firm that typically built several hundred houses at a time in an assembly line-like manner.
Have you seen the TV show “Wonder Years”? I finally figured out that Kevin and I were very close to the same age, within months of each other but my existence was in a lower socio-economic cohort that resulted in a “dirtier and rawer” existence that affected my life experiences “back then” and has affected my later experiences and thought processes to this day. It is unavoidable but may provide writing fodder that may be of interest to those whose past and/or present relates to a different socio-economic cohort
Great fun. Profound excitement. Glee. Wheeee!!!!!!!!
No. No impact. No screams of agony but a groan of despair; “Groan.”
The truck just stopped. The propulsion unit just stopped running.
Turning the ignition key resulted in… nothing.
We did the typical; turn the key. Nothing. Pop the hood and fiddle with what could be fiddled with. Battery cables, this wire and that wire. Nothing worked.
The truck was around a mile from its temporary home sitting in the middle of a tract house street with nary another vehicle in view.
Telling my friend to hop in and steer I commenced the shoving that my youthful mind envisioned as eventually returning the conveyance to its current home base in front of my abode.
It took about 150 feet for my desperate mind to realize that idea was impractical at several levels; one being the physical demands and having to confront the forthcoming morning rush hour and the likelihood of being confronted by police eventually.
The alternative? Walk home and inform Dad the truck was stolen the night before? Tell him the truth? Concoct some other lie to spew when he returned home around 9 AM the next morning? Sure, I would be at school when he returned home but the note I would leave behind would HAVE to declare something and there would be a confrontation with Dad either coming to the school or not-so-patiently waiting for me at home… perhaps alone or with the police awaiting his call to them, depending on the tale I was to convey.
None of those thoughts/ideas were attractive.
The “old man” was proficient at determining if I was lying and the customs of that era did not greatly impede a parent from discovering the TRUTH. Shiver.
Oh if only I had heeded that voice within my head.
Standing in the street, exchanging looks with my friend, he not nearly as worried as me, I then noticed we were close to Rich’s house and there was an inside light shining upon the closed curtain.
“Wait here,” I said as I sprinted towards what I hoped may be akin to a lifeboat alongside my personal near-sunk Titanic.
Quietly rapping upon the door Mr. U opened it and stared down at me.
Looking up into a not-so-friendly rather annoyed-appearing yet still quizzical face I knew that asking for Rich would not be the best route to follow.
Instinct guided me as I boldly, briefly stated my friend’s truck had died and if we could please, get a jump start… and sorry about bothering you so late at night but we saw the light and we are desperate.
Grunting a reply I could not decipher the gent who was close to Dad’s age and worked in a different part of the lab where Dad toiled, grabbed his car keys and not-too-happily brought our batteries into intimate contact.
Vroooom!!!! Purred that V8 as I shouted my “Thanks!!!!!!” out the window as I motored off, waving wildly, relief flooding my lithe, nubile, perhaps saved-from-doom body IF the truck remained running until it reached its proper perch.
Keeping the engine revved-up the entire way we DID it!!! Turning the corner the home hovel appeared. Beckoning.
The truck shut down and friend headed for his home as I returned the keys to their proper place.
Remaining was wonderment if the night’s event would still be relayed to the old man.
Would Mr. U relay the night’s events to Dad in some manner? On purpose or in passing? Would a neighbor noticing the departure or arrival mention the event?
I decided that worrying was futile but for several weeks with nary a mention from Dad I assumed that I got away scot-free.
Or else Dad was informed but had, though unlikely, had decided that I had learned a lesson on my own. That was a possibility since there were a few things the old man allowed though he disapproved of in general since he wanted me to experience life events that many parents; back then and even today, greatly frown upon.
I did learn a lesson that night.
I waited for a legal license and never used a vehicle without express permission of the owner. Thus negating any possible involvement in a car theft ring.
Dad would be proud, I suppose.
I never did ask him if he had ever become aware of that night’s events.
Perhaps internally he looked at me and for years afterwards and, inside, laughed at me with that internal “voice” inside us telling him, “You lucky little “shiat” I know what you did but ascertained you had learned your lesson.”
However… knowing the old man, he would also have felt at least a small amount of pride for having raised a son with the gumption/guts/adventure-seeking psyche to have done the deed.
Of course THAT feeling, IF present, would have been nullified if I had wrecked that oh-so fine pick-up truck.