Down Memory Lane: Learning How to Drive in the 70’s

An acquaintance posted on FB about her daughter learning to drive, and then a reminiscing group spoke of it back in the day, which led me to writing this blog as it was such a victory for me for many reasons.

Both of my own children learned how to drive by professionals, at a driving school with patient teachers. These schools saw them all the way through to the passed drivers test required for a license, so my only white-knuckled experience with them was in their practicing with me in my car. They both seemed to get the hang of it pretty easily but still my greatest fear while they were sixteen and seventeen was either being with a friend who got into a car accident, or while driving themselves and getting into an accident. (And that actually came to pass, but that is a whole story for another day.)

In my own case, I had a late puberty and was both naive and immature in the ways of the world when I was fifteen with a learners permit, and I was determined to learn how to drive and get my license by the age of sixteen. I was a late Spring birthday and the last of my friends to come upon this rite of passage, and while some of them got their license and even their own cars, it seems that I was the very last who was kept waiting for my chance to get my driver’s license.

It is strange that I wanted to drive so badly as I had absolutely NO ACCESS to a vehicle. None. My parents refused to put me on the insurance, so driving their vehicles was out of the question. They thought I was too young to be driving, and they were accurate in their assessment that I had no business learning how to drive when I could not even figure out what an accelerator and a brake were used for in a car. Add my lack of curiosity of anything mechanical to my parent’s fears of my driving. NOTE: I even did not know how to lock in a radio station and did not know there was such a way to do that in a car, that’s how clueless I was at age 15 with my learner’s permit!!! My boyfriend was absolutely incredulous that someone who loved music as much as I did, lacked the knowledge of how to program in a radio station. It must be pointed out here, that unless one was given an opportunity to do that as a child growing up, it would not be something that was learned.

So it was probably the fact that my peers all had gotten their licenses that had me absolutely DRIVEN (get that pun??) to learn how to drive and get my driver’s license, even if it was a skill that I was a far way from being able to use at that point. Yet when I really analyze this quest I see it was a way to assert my independence, a necessary skill for living my own life. After asserting my independence here, then I chose going away to college, and then moving 1600 miles from home to live my adult life. Independence was necessary to leave behind my dependence on parents and my very dependent childhood. Having the ability to drive was the first step forward for me in becoming an independent person. Here is a photo of me at age 16 – a mere baby in a baby-doll top.

Driving school or lessons were out of the question, and my parents were against this anyway, so my sweet steady boyfriend was elected to teach me how to drive. I will never forget being in his dad’s clunky woody station wagon; and my boyfriend not understanding during lesson number one how much instruction he was going to have to do about the mechanics and workings of a vehicle. He got this clue as I tried to use two feet on the brake and accelerator, and did not know what either was used for in driving a car. As we lurched forward in our first moments, I think I took ten years off that poor guy’s life.

After recovering from his absolute shock, (he was deeply in love with me which was a good thing and you can read about him in this most read blog of mine besides two other viral ones hot linked here) he patiently started from scratch. He taught me what both pedals were for, as well as gears. I was a willing student, and soaked in all of the instruction and tried my best to follow his guidance. Although my parents were still against me driving, my boyfriend was determined to help give me skills to grow up a bit as he saw that was to his benefit as well. Learning to drive in the big clunky cars of the past were challenge enough, I made it even tougher on him. Lucky that his nervous system was sturdy, and our relationship made it through these harrowing moments.

While I can’t remember how many lessons we got in before my test date, I do remember that my boyfriend’s gung-ho willingness was worn down to absolute fatigue and frustration nearing my 16th birthday. It was getting harder and harder to convince him to give me lessons as time ran out before my test date. He began to think up all kinds of excuses to get out of the chore. Aside from that, he had gotten a brand new blue Pontiac Firebird (our personal chariot) – blue with a white vinyl top -to drive and he did not want to mess up that new vehicle by having me drive it! I found a photo of him with his beloved car – looking in pain at the thought of my driving lessons, and it is below. (Note: all names left off to protect world wide web notoriety.)

Both he and my parents bet on failure for my first attempt at passing the driving portion of the driver’s test to get my license. I was an utter failure at parallel parking, a required skill to pass the Philadelphia test at that time. I was a bit heavy on the accelerator still, and tended to stop with a big jerk when I hit the brakes. I hadn’t learned the natural tapping touch needed due to lack of practice.

On the big day of my test, I absolutely memorized the driver’s test manual, and aced the written portion of the test. I was able to get a very nice older gentleman tester on my big day, and I told him I just HAD to pass the test and how hard I worked on my skills. It was the first time that I remember using visualization to achieve a goal – the entire night before, I got no sleep as I visualized every tool I was taught to give a successful driving performance. I have used that technique many times after that to achieve a goal. VISUALIZE SUCCESS.

That particular day, I also had an angel at my side as I brilliantly parallel-parked, and as I passed every element. At the end, when the gentleman pronounced, PASS, I was elated. Something other-worldly had taken over me to get me through that test, mostly because I had something to prove at that point.

It was my turn FINALLY, to possess that little piece of paper pronouncing that I was ready to grow up and make my way into adulthood and into the world at large beyond the little neighborhood area where I grew up. It was an accomplishment that was the start of my independence and achieving many goals in life.

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