My life has always been closely tied to automobiles. Before I was officially licensed to drive, I was given lessons and practiced regularly in the narrow streets of our neighborhood. Occasionally when I was feeling bored or brave I would venture farther afield unbeknownst to my parents and the local police.
Our neighborhood although humble boasted a large array of Cadillacs, Mercurys and Buicks – big cars designed to make a big first impression. Big cars made of American steel with fins, curves and chrome. They looked good but drove like tanks and I always felt safe behind the wheel and so did my passengers. That’s because I had two very good teachers – my brothers Tony and Carmen.
Driving My Brothers Crazy
Prior to taking my driver’s test, I went out for a ride with my brothers in Carmen’s new Ford Roadster. It was a manual shift, two-seater but had a rumble seat in the back. As I’m small my brothers determined this was the perfect place for me.
We drove a few blocks and I grew bored. I really wanted to drive that car. And so I asked Carmen who promptly said no way. Tony, always my champion, took my side and told Carmen to let me drive. I was ecstatic.
Carmen slid over to the passenger seat, Tony jumped in the back and I got behind the wheel. I was cruising along Herman Avenue when Carmen decided that it was time to switch back and he ordered me to stop.
It was so unexpected that I hit brake but forgot to put in the clutch and the car lurched forward to a stop but not before the momentum propelled Tony out of the rumble seat and into the front seat.
Tony yelled at Carmen, “Nice going idiot! Whose bright idea was it to let her drive anyway?”
Baby You Can Drive My Car
Once I mastered the art of driving a standard shift car, my services were called upon by my mother to take her to the grocery store. My brothers, who were never anywhere close by when she needed them, decided to give me a chance and asked me to drive her up the street to the local grocery store.
I was happy to do so but the only car available was my father’s brand new Cadillac parked outside in front of our house. The Cadillac was his baby, his pride and joy. And he parked it on the sidewalk next to a fire hydrant to ensure it was not dinged by the lousy neighborhood drivers. I wasn’t sure but my mother assured me it was okay as my father was at Bud’s Bar and wouldn’t be home for hours.
So off we went up the street to Fisher’s Supermarket and everything went smoothly. As we shopped we ran into several neighbors who were also at the market. Naturally my mother offered them all a lift home in the Cadillac.
The car was full to bursting with neighbors, bags, boxes and collapsible carts. It made backing out of the parking space difficult as I couldn’t see. And as (un)luck would have it, I backed into the car next to me.
When I got out to inspect the damage to the other car, the driver sensing my distress, reassured me that his car only had a scratch and that he could buff it out. Relieved I continued our journey down West 69th street dropping off passengers along the way.
As I pulled into the usual parking spot, I helped my mom with the groceries but not before noticing a huge dent on the side of the car. No wonder the other driver was so kind.
I panicked and said to my mother, “Dad is going to kill me. What am I going to do? I’m dead, I’ll never get my license now, and I’ll never get a car.”
My mother always a wise woman who was three steps ahead of my father told me not to worry. “Don’t say anything. Let’s see what happens.”
A few hours later my father came home and burst into the kitchen. “Vee!! Vee!” He yelled for my mother. My mother came into the kitchen with a questioning look on her face.
“That’s it! We’re moving. I’m done with this neighborhood. Some stunado hit my car.”