5th October 2022

Cars. One of the necessities of my life. I’ve often thought it would be nice not to need one, but then there would be other compromises.

It’s been 57 years since I obtained my driver’s license. The examiner must have felt sorry for me, or maybe it was my aunt’s blue eyes, blond hair and infectious laugh that got me through.

Kay taught me to drive on her Sunbeam Alpine. It had an automatic shift and it was tiny compared to most cars back then. So driving it was a breeze.

When it behaved.

Kay and I were always broke.

The day I had my driving test was warm. We put the top down and joined the queue of cars, chatting together and really not paying much attention.

Just as my turn arrived to demonstrate my very dubious skills, steam poured out from under the hood.

“Lady, your car’s overheating!” said the examiner.

Having started college, I really needed my license as commuting on the Long Island Railroad was expensive and tiresome to say the least.

Batting his eyes at my aunt, the man told us if we got the car fixed I could return and get back on the queue. Fabulous.

We looked at each other: “You got any money?”

Between us we had less than a dollar.

We coasted to the nearest gas station where a helpful lad lifted the hood and topped up the radiator. As I recall, in those days one needed to do this regularly?

Cars were a mystery to me then as now.

As you drove in to the gas station, a chap would come out to man the pump and they were always supposed to ask if they could check under the hood. So Kay and I sort of didn’t worry about those things.

On this occasion, fortunately, water was the only requirement and the lad declined taking a tip which was all we could have offered.

Back we went to the queue and waited again for my driving test.

Maybe that was my first ever real attack of nerves.

But to fail the test in those days, you had to be seriously incompetent. The greatest challenge was when I was asked to parallel park, which I never really mastered.

When the examiner told me I had passed, I could have fainted. So started my long involvement with cars.

We got off on the wrong foot.

My grandfather had endowed me with a small amount of money when I came to the States, with which I was able to purchase a used car from a neighbour who worked at a dealership.

It was a Ford Fairlane with no power steering and the thing was huge. After the Alpine, it was like driving a Sherman tank.

Classes started early, so I set off in the dark which I also wasn’t used to.

Neither did I know the way. I was terrified.

In the college car park, by the time my classes were over, I was stuck because the adjacent cars had parked too close and with no power steering, I wrenched my shoulders trying to maneuver back and forth, all the time worrying I would be late for work.

Not many weeks later, having gained a small degree of comfort, I was on my way to class when a woman drove out of a side road and straight into me.

She emerged from her vehicle shouting angrily:

“Look what you did to my car!”

It’s a sign of what a young twit I was, that my first fear was that I should now be deported for being involved in a traffic accident.

However I at least had the presence of mind to reply:

“Look what you’ve done to mine!”

Having driven through a stop sign and struck another car with the front of hers, I’m not quite sure how she thought she had a case, but she took me to court over it.

Even after the judge had dismissed the case I felt somehow responsible. The other driver was an older woman and I felt bad about her damaged car.

But I soon moved on to other dramas!

Some years later that accident came back to haunt me.

When I began driving, I was added to my uncle’s insurance policy and when I made an attempt to control my own life later on, the insurance company would not sell me a policy because I had been in that accident, never mind that it was not my fault.

Another company sold me a policy, for more money, of course.

There have been a total of 12 vehicles in my possession over the years, each one with it’s peculiarities and stories but I won’t bore you with all of them.

The return, yesterday, of my current motor vehicle had a slight hiccup.

Having noticed on the way home, that the steering wheel was off-centre, we called the dealer to make arrangements for it to be sorted.

It appears the dealership is under a lot of pressure to achieve wonders of customer satisfaction. After some back and forth with text messages, two chaps were sent to collect my car so we would not need to do another return journey.

Which seemed above and beyond, but very nice.

That was until the two guys turned up.

Grant had gone downstairs to make a late start on his day, so when the chaps arrived for the car, I grabbed my key and went out. I was asked to back the car out of the garage and felt pretty silly when I couldn’t get it to start.

It’s been 9 months since I was able to drive, but surely there was nothing I could have forgotten?

No, indeed. The car would not start. For them or for Grant, not even with jumper cables.

The lads went back to Bennington having come on a wild goose chase.

“So now what?” I asked Grant.

“I’ve no idea. I’m fed up with all this!”

Then I got a further text:

“Did you try the other key?”

No. I’d not even thought about it. Turns out it has to be reprogrammed. When I tried Grant’s key that had been with the car during the fix, we had ignition.

“Why didn’t those two guys think of that?” I asked.

“Well they weren’t mechanics.”

“Well they sure as heck weren’t salesmen.”

“No. And they were driving a customer’s car.”

“Really? What if they had a crash?”

The world is very peculiar.

4 thoughts on “Automobiles

  1. If you pass your test on an automatic car in America, are you still allowed to drive one with a manual gearbox? (Stick-shift, you call it. For some reason) In the UK, you would have an ‘Automatic-only’ licence.
    The more technical modern cars become, the less I like them. Too much to go wrong.
    Old cars like the Alpine did not have electric fans. Stuck in traffic on a hot day, nothing was cooling the radiator, so it boiled over. That’s why we always carried a can of water in the boot back in the day.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    1. The license should have been restricted, but it wasn’t. Years later my friend Tim taught me how to drive a stick and once I got it, I loved it at least until I went to Washington State where there were some very steep hills and awful traffic. Then I graduated to a hybrid. My favourite car was the Mazda hatch back. I had two which lasted 10 years. The second one would have gone longer but I totaled it in 1999 when driving to work. I got it to stagger on to the parking lot and worked my shift. Halfway through the day when things quieted down I suddenly “woke up” and wailed “My car is ruined!” A guy from engineering came with me to check and declared it RIP. I was very sad!

  2. I so much enjoyed your stories about your car (can we call it dramas?) that I totally forgot to look at the photos! I just went back to the top of your post to look at them – and they are beautiful, as always!

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