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My introduction to driving
June 15, 2017

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In our society, driving involves much more than just transportation.

The ability to drive is exciting and liberating. And, at least in America, it represents the coming-of-age tradition once reserved to the young hunter bringing home his first kill.

Do you remember your first adventure behind the wheel? I don't mean the time you sat on Dad's lap while he drove into the driveway. I mean the time you turned on the key, gripped the steering wheel with sweaty hands and actually drove a car down the road.

I remember that heady yet scary experience vividly.

I was spending the afternoon with my pal, Marty, and her family in their cottage at the lake.

Her dad had just bought a new Studebaker. Outside the window, the jet black car glowed in the Texas sunshine, a pointy-nosed chariot just yearning to take to the road. And Marty, a few months older than I, already had her license.

She begged her dad to let her give me a ride in the new car. Since he couldn't deny his baby anything he handed her the keys with a warning to take it easy.

Soon, we were rolling along the narrow, winding dirt roads. Marty carefully guided the car as we both felt the full impact of this important occasion. We were on our own!

After ten minutes or so of enjoying the power of her first solo trip, Marty looked over at me and asked, "Wanna try?"

Did I!

No wonder I loved this special girlfriend. It was as though she could read my mind.

She slipped out of the driver's seat and I hurriedly scooted in. For just a moment, I simply held the wheel. The power I felt was amazing.

Finally, I turned the key and shifted into low ... yes, this was in those early driving days of the old stick shift.

For long minutes I navigated the narrow road in that dreadful lurching, head-snapping, gut-wrenching ride so familiar to those learning the intricacies of shifting.

It's been over 50 years since that first session behind the wheel. Since then, I've logged many miles in a wide variety of cars. There have been Buicks and Chevrolets, Pontiacs and Fords. And, my all-time favorite, a little beauty of a Rambler Metropolitan. It was so small I could sit in the driver's seat and clean all the windows.

Cars and I have come a long way. I deeply appreciate such advances as automatic transmissions, defrosters and air conditioning. The comfort and safety of today's vehicles has taken driving to a new level. But, no matter what driving experiences I've had, nothing will ever quite equal the thrill of that first time behind the wheel.

Even today, when I see a shiny black Studebaker at one of those classic car shows, I feel the urge to slide in just for old time's sake. But I know it wouldn't be the same without Marty.

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