Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dreams of Driving on the Open Road

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Dreams of Driving on the Open Road

Article excerpt

I'm sitting at an intersection, waiting for the light to change. A car pulls up beside me, the driver a study in rigid concentration: hands clenched on the wheel precisely at 2 and 10 o'clock'; head fixed on an unwavering forward line; spine on military alert. On top of the car is a sign that reads, "Caution. Student Driver."

* * * *

When my father taught me how to drive a standard transmission, he did so in an old Rambler that had a diabolically sensitive and unforgiving clutch.

Once, when making a left-hand turn at a hilly four-way stop, I stalled it in the middle of the intersection. After lurching and stalling three more times without gaining the length of the car toward our destination, I turned to my dad in desperation and said, "Here, you'd better take over!"

Cars were backing up in all four directions, but he wasn't impressed. "You got us here, you get us out of here," was all he said, laughing.

With a couple more lurches and one final, bone-rattling lunge, I navigated the 50 feet across the intersection, shifted into second gear, and left my audience of hysterical motorists to fend for themselves. I was furious with my father, but I never stalled that Rambler in an intersection again.

For my mother, learning to drive was a simpler proposition. During the 1930s, in Starbuck, Minn., there was no formal driver's education, and no test. To get her license, my mother just went with her mother to the filling station to see Bill Torgerson, the town recorder.

Bill asked my mom, who was then about 15, "Can you drive?"

"Yeah, I can drive," she answered. That was it.

Cars were simpler then, too. One of Mom's older sisters, Margaret, tells how she learned to master the family Model T:

"I had a dream one night. I came downstairs in the morning and I said, `I dreamed that I took that car out of the garage. I know I can do it, because the dream went through everything I've seen Dad do.'

"Mother said, `You can't drive that!' But I said, `Yes, I know I can!' And I went out there and backed that car out of the garage. But of course, I didn't have any driver's license - I was only 13 - so they said, `Well, you'll have to tell Gen what to do, and she'll drive. …

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