Friday, January 29, 2010


Have you ever noticed how some people like to drive a fine piece of engineering down the road while others are content to just steer their wheels? I enjoy driving, I always have. Back in the days when I was first learning to drive we lived in North Central Florida. In those days, you could get a learners permit for driving at age 14. The thinking was it gave you two years of supervised driving before you got turned loose on the public at 16. Thing is, the town was small enough that one person taught every kid in town how to drive. Officer Robert. He was a regular police officer but there was a notion in those days if a cop got to know every kid and every car, well a lot of grief could be spared.

I took to driving like a .... fish to water.
Actually I already had a fondness for cars. My Dad got a new car about every other year so there was that excitement. Another reason for car fondness was because I had learned I could lay down in the back seat of my mother's car and read a book without interruption. If I was in the house, somebody always wanted me to be doing something besides reading. So even before it was my turn to get educated by Officer Robert I had learned to love the feel and smell of hot leather.

Officer Robert did a fine job of educating me. Some of his lessons I heard come out of my own mouth when it was Mermaid's turn to learn. My lessons were supplemented by a few ( very few) outings with Dad. It was soon clear this wasn't a good match for either of us. NObody would ever think of my mother as a suitable choice for teaching Driver's Ed.

I am sure back when my mother was first learning to drive, there was no such thing as an automatic transmission. However, once that engineering was standard issue she never looked back. Until I was in junior high. My Dad had an opportunity to get a really good deal on a Mercedes Benz diesel sedan, which he bought for her. My mother loathed that car beyond all measurement. It was ugly, bulbous, battleship gray, noisy, smelly and manual transmission.
My school was on a hill ( not all of Florida is flat) with the pick up lane down a hill to a circle then back up the hill and a left hand turn to get back to the road. Poor Mama, every afternoon she would be yelling and pounding the steering wheel as she attempted to manage 3 pedals while rolling backwards downhill into the unfortunate car below her. Obviously, driving lessons in this car with Mama were never an option.

Mostly, I had supplemental driving lessons from my childhood sweetheart ( see Crackers Past, posted 4/28/09). My beau was 2 years older so that meant he could drive without any parents on board. The vehicle he had use of was a semi rusty Ford Falcon with stuffing coming out of the seats, a column shifter and a tricky clutch. I was not allowed to go in cars with boys at 14 but go I certainly did. I learned the tricky clutch and the column shifter and I learned to love driving. We'd go driving on old farm roads where few would see us . It would be fair to say we acted more like kids go-karting than teens learning to drive a stick. At least we were not placing others in jeopardy. What's hard to explain is the fizz of excitement I got just being behind the wheel. No Officer Roberts and no parents. The sweet, sweet freedom of it all sang to me in a way that was previously unknown.

The summer I wasn't quite yet 15, my mother suffered an event which made her vow to never get back in that Mercedes. All efforts on Dad's part to persuade her to reconsider fell on deaf ears. Mama was in full throttle mutiny against that car and when she said she would never get in that damn car again, she spoke the truth. We lived in a war zone for a bit but before long Dad came home with a Ford Gallaxie 500 for Mama. I heard a neighbor say he bought her that particular car because it was the cheapest car he could find after buying her a fine vehicle she up and rejected. Mama was delighted to get that Ford. I was even happier.

I am an early riser, always have been. In the summers , with the windows flung open, the birds would sing me awake at first light. The rest of my household would be asleep for hours after I awoke and there is only so much reading and being quiet an energized fourteen year old can endure. I never set out to do something bad. But one morning I went into the Kitchen to discover the 500 keys laying on the counter. Well, I was out the door and in that car in a heartbeat. My early morning cruises became my day starter. I loved that 500! Loved the freedom! Loved the feel of soft summer morning air on my bare skin. Most of all, I loved the fizz. The excitement of it all. My big secret. I can't remember ever slowing down my thoughts enough to actually think about what level of punishment would befall me if I ever got caught. I never did.

I drove that 500 all over the county. Once I saw Officer Roberts a block or so in front of me, it worried me a bit so from then on I mostly drove the back country roads I'd learned with my boyfriend in the Falcon. I don't exactly know what horsepower that 500 engine was but I can attest to it's having enough horses to get me smartly down the road with plenty of fizz.

One rainy summer afternoon my CrackerBeau and I were playing Monopoly with an older sister, her beau and Mama. While we were taking a popcorn break Mama mentioned how she wished the rain would let up cause she needed to get by the gas station and then she said, " I love that Ford car, but honestly it seems to be a thirsty one because I am always having to stop for gas. " Maybe it was the look on my face, or maybe it was choking on the lemonade but CrackerBeau knew right that second what the gas guzzling problem was. Later on , when we could talk privately he said,
" Fishy, your Dad will ground you for the rest of your life if you get caught."
"Shut up"
"Fishy, if your Dad grounds you forever who am I gonna kiss?"
"Shut up!"
Cracker Beau sighed and allowed as how he had to think on things a bit. I guess he thought his chances of keeping me out of that 500 were about as good as Dad's chances of getting Mama back in that Mercedes. Since he didn't want to give up kissing me he found a way to pour a five gallon gas can into the 500 regularly. Bless him, if I ever see that man again I need to be sure to thank him.

In my late teens I had an opportunity to leverage my Uncle Johnny into teaching me how to drive his silver Baracuda. Reputed to be the fastest car on or off track in the South East. That introduced me to a Hearst gearshift and a few other joys which gave a whole new meaning to the concept of "fizz". It wasn't long before Uncle J and his pit crew made some adjustments to my own car. Seems Uncle J hated coming out in the morning to find the 'Cuda missing.

I still love those early morning drives.
I've had some fine fizzmobiles. I never actually got around to getting an automatic transmission until I was half way through being pregnant with Mermaid. It was a sober day for me but I had the notion it was time for me to start acting like a grown up. I was a few months away from becoming a parent and I needed to start acting like one. No more driving with the windows open so I could hear, as well as feel, the exact engine stroke to shift on up to the next gear. Thank God there was Mermaid to look forward to!

I am thinking on these things today because Blowfish and I have been making the rounds looking at cars and SUV's. Blowfish isn't about to part with his beloved dually but as my current "wheels" are approaching the 200k miles mark, I really should think about a replacement. I am in that awful place of not being able to afford what I want and not liking what I can afford. Coming home from a test drive Blowfish asked for my thoughts on the test vehicle.
" Well, it's okay."
" What didn't you like?"
" I think it was fine."
"Talk to me!", Blowfish insisted.
" Well I was thinking about how I am never going to get around to being a real grown up.
Here I sit not being sensible about a perfectly fine automobile choice.
Like some teenager thinking with her heart before her head. I am being stupid is what I am thinking!".
Blowfish was quiet for a spell then said,
" What was missing for you Fishy?"
There was a long pause before I admitted,
" The Fizz".
Blowfish grinned and said,
"Well Fishy, we best keep looking some more."
" I don't know Blowfish, that's a mighty stupid criteria for selecting a car"
Blowfish gave me a little leg pat and said,
" I don't think so, seeing as I am strictly not interested in a Fishy with no fizz.".

Bless Blowfish!
He puts me in mind of that first love who'd come sneak gas for me into Mama's 500 .
Maybe being a grown up isn't all it's cracked up to be.