My sons are now driving. They now have their driver’s license at age seventeen because they took driver’s ed. At first, they were enthusiastic about driving, but now that they have been driving awhile, the excitement has worn off. Especially since the car wouldn’t start up twice and I had to help them get it running again. I told them that part of driving also involves having car problems and getting stranded far away from home. They told me that driving wasn’t much fun anymore.
I remember when I first learned to drive. I took driver’s ed in high school Indiana, but I couldn’t get my license mailed to me because I had moved back home to Chicago, Illinois. So, I didn’t drive until I was eighteen and I had bought my own car. Not that I’m complaining. I always enjoyed walking and taking public transportation when I was in high school.
After high school, my friends and I all had our own cars. Whenever we went anywhere, we all drove to our destination separately, in our own cars. If we had to car pool, Each one of us wanted to be the driver. The driver would drive his own car. There was an unwritten rule that no one was allowed to drive someone else’s car. Unless, they were in no condition to drive.
Now that we’re older, my friends and I don’t see much of each other. When we do, we still argue over who will drive. However, the dialogue goes like this: “You drive.” “No, you drive. I drove the last time!” “If you drive, I’ll let you drive my car!”
Vanity of Vanities! Everyone seems to have a vanity license plate. Everywhere I look on the road, I see a vanity plate.
I give up! For a while there, I was taking pictures of clever vanity license plates, although I must admit that some vanity plates weren’t so clever. People are more than willing to pay extra for these license plates, whether or not they’re clever. There are just too many vanity license plates for me to photograph!
I quit taking those pictures for safety reasons. Occasionally, I would take a picture of vanity plates while driving and a couple of times I almost got into an accident. Is my life worth risking for the sake of documenting people’s idea of “wit”? Will I further humanity by continuing to risk my life? Will anyone notice that I’ve stopped taking these pictures on the road while driving?
Lately, I’ve noticed that there are so many vanity license plates in Illinois. So many that I’ve reached the conclusion that we must be the vainest state of the Union when it comes to vanity plates. Every time I drive, I see at least one vanity plate. When I drive to other states, I don’t see as many vanity plates. Okay, I did see quite a few in California, but not the other states I drove through. But I’m sure that other states will catch up with the growing popularity of vanity license plates.
When I recall that I learned to drive from my father, I consider myself very lucky to still be alive. I took driver’s ed at Divine Heart Seminary, but I only got to drive the minimum required hours. My father loved teaching everyone how to drive. The only one who ever refused to take lessons from him was my mother. She didn’t like him telling her what to do. Especially, since she knew his every bad–and dangerous–bad driving habits. My father had some very dangerous driving habits that he tried to teach everyone he taught. Including me! Since I was only sixteen, I had to follow his instructions carefully or risk never driving again. I had a permit and I wanted to drive!
I was a very poor driver in driver’s ed. The first car I drove was a 1971 Pontiac Firebird with a manual transmission. We were all excited about driving a sports car! I stalled the engine every time I drove. The instructor told me I would be fine once we started driving the Chevy Caprice with an automatic transmission. Everyone was happy about the automatic transmission because the engine stalling stopped. Until I got behind the wheel. Somehow, I still managed to stall the engine! But that was the least of my worries. I didn’t know how to yield at yield signs, and from years of watching my father drive, I didn’t come to a complete stop at stop signs. I thought stopping was optional. My father never came to a complete stop at a stop sign. Now that I think of it, he never completely stopped at red lights either! Whenever the light turned red, he would slowly stop a couple car lengths from the intersection and slowly creep forward until the light turned green.
I was surprised that my father wanted me to drive his brand new lime green 1971 Ford Maverick. He was so proud that he was teaching his oldest son how to drive! I was even more surprised at some of the driving maneuvers de demanded of me! For example, he would tell me to take short cuts through alleys. When I came out of the other end, he wanted me to lay on the horn in case any car or pedestrian was at the mouth of the alley. He taught me about lane position when making right turns. If you make a right turn, my father told me, you have to get in the right lane. Then, when you get close to the intersection, you swing out wide to the left before you turn! I almost crashed the very first time I tried my father’s technique. My father always made his right turns like this. I’m surprised he didn’t have more accidents.
He also told me to use a turn signal when changing lanes. But sometimes, it was better not to let the other drivers know your intentions. I’m not sure why. I never really understood his explanation. If you got to and intersection without any traffic controls and the other driver signalled you to proceed before him, my father told me to never go. He just wanted to crash into you. To this day, I always give the other driver the right of way.
My father always had trouble staying in his lane. On the expressway, in the right lane, he would exit on the right if he didn’t focus on staying in his lane. Before I started driving, I thought staying in your lane was probably the most difficult driving feat possible. My father would make everyone be quiet whenever we approached exit ramps. In the picture of my father’s station wagon, you can see the result of his not staying in his lane. he was driving northbound on Damen Avenue at 47th Street. That was the site of the infamous Damen overpass in Back of the Yards. The left two lanes took you over the overpass. However, the right lane allowed drivers to veer right and avoid going on the overpass. Well, my father was in the right lane when the exit lane pulled him to the right. Unfortunately, he crashed into the concrete barrier dividing the lanes despite the flashing yellow warning light and warning sign. Luckily, he was alone while driving.
He parked for about ten minutes to calm down from the trauma before he came home. I was the first one to see him and his fender damage. I was sorry I asked him what had happened. It took him about five minutes to explain this two-second traffic crash. Then, he told me to get in the car and he took me back to the scene of the accident. He did a reenactment of the accident. I was riding shotgun, not wearing a seatbelt because back then no one wore seatbelts because most cars didn’t have seatbelts. As he was showing me his path before the accident, he almost crashed into the concrete barrier again! That really shook him up and he had to pull over for a few minutes to calm down before we could drive home.I still have some of the driving habits that my father instilled in me. And that’s why I say that I’m lucky to be alive!
What a better way to celebrate Presidents’ Day than going to the 2010 Chicago Auto Show. I still can’t get used to the new McCormick Place, but it sure is nice and big. My sons loved looking at all the sports cars and so did I, but I no longer fantasized about owning one. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t decide which expensive sports car to drive. Ferrari? Maserati?You get the idea.
Now, I’m happy with my 2005 Pontiac Vibe, but I am concerned that GM decided to close the Pontiac division. I know that other GM dealers will service my car and that parts will be available through them, but what about showing a little loyalty to the customers who were loyal to Pontiac all these years? I’ve driven Pontiacs most of my driving career. Oh, well. I should have seen that one coming since my Pontiac Vibe is, in reality, a Toyota Matrix anyway.
Anyway, my sons enjoyed the bright colors and bright lights of all the displays. They also enjoyed the Chicago Blackhawks shoot-out. And they got plenty of Blackhawks posters. They also got an autographed picture of Ben Eager. There were cutout figures of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane that looked lifelike when you took their picture. In the picture, it’s very difficult to tell that they’re made of cardboard. Now that I look at the pictures again, my sons look like they’re made of cardboard and Kane and Toews look more lifelike than my sons!
Last year, I wrote about going to the Chicago Auto Show. This year I actually went to it. I wrote about how my father used to take my brothers and I to the Chicago Auto Show. This year, my oldest son dragged me along against my will. I find this amazing because my son doesn’t even have a driver’s license. He’s nineteen and he’s never taken driver’s ed. I gave him the Illinois Rules of the Road book to study twice with the promise that if he studied I would take to take the written test to get his driver’s permit. But he never studied and he still doesn’t have his permit. He’s just not that interested in driving or he would have gotten his driver’s license by now. Which reminds me of my friend Vito who has never–to my knowledge–ever had a driver’s license. My life would have been so different if I would have never gotten my driver’s license. I can’t even imagine how could exist without one.
Anyway, the Chicago Auto Show was fun even though I didn’t really want to go. I enjoyed it vicariously through my son who seemed to enjoy looking at the expensive cars that I cannot afford and probably wouldn’t drive even if I could afford them. I took some pictures of the cars. And then I took some more pictures of some more cars, but this time my son was in the pictures because he insisted on being in pictures with him in some of the cars. Of course, he offered to take a couple of pictures of me, for which I posed begrudgingly because I don’t really enjoy being photographed. One thing I did miss was the celebrities that used to come and sign autographs. And they no longer had beautiful models in evening gowns posing for amateur photographers near the new cars. There were plenty of workers continually wiping fingerprints off cars and keeping them shiny. But overall, I did have fun and was glad I went.
This picture was taken sometime in the 1980s. I’m not sure when. But that’s not important now. I only posted the picture because my 1976 Chevrolet Nova is behind me. Vito and his ever ubiquitous camera were also present that day in front of Jim’s house in the Gage Park neighborhood. Vito always annoyed me by always lugging around his camera and stopping everyone so he could take a picture. As I look through my box of old photographs, I see that I couldn’t have been too annoyed by his paparazzi ambitions because I seemed to gladly pose for many pictures. And, without my asking, Vito would give me some of those pictures.
Oh, wait! I meant to write about my car! My Chevy Nova. A car that didn’t sell well in Spanish-speaking countries because its name sounds too much like “No va,” or “It doesn’t run.” But that’s neither here nor there, either.
I bought this shiny, black car, brand new in 1976. But by the time I returned from California with it, it was no longer new nor shiny. I’ll explain why in a moment. Remind me to tell you in case I forget. This Chevy Nova and I were in a relationship for more than thirteen years! This is perhaps the only object with which I developed a personal relationship, if that’s at all possible. I still have fond memories of this special car. Oh, yes, I called my car Felicia! Don’t tell me you never named your car!
Anyway, I had only owned one car before this one. A brand new 1975 Pontiac Firebird that was very sporty and flashy, red exterior with white interior that was extremely difficult to keep clean. But it wasn’t very practical because it only seated four and the trunk was very small. I think some of the girls I met only liked me for my car. I think this car deserves a separate post, so you’ll have to look for it.
So back to my Nova, which actually ran very well despite its name in Spanish. I special ordered the car so I could get all the options I wanted. Of course, I couldn’t afford very many at that time, so I deliberated carefully and prioritized my wish list. Number 1 on the list? You better sit down before I tell you. Okay, are you ready? An AM/FM Stereo Sound System with an 8-track player! No other option would matter as long as my new car had an 8-track player. I still get shivers down my back recalling driving that car down the open road with my 8-track player blasting! I mean, who wouldn’t? I must have had about fifty albums on 8-track that I listened to while I slept and now I could listen to them while I drove, too!
Everyone was shocked when I bought my Chevy Nova because I went from racing around in a flashy Firebird to driving a mundane family sedan. I never regretted the change because my Nova was more practical and more reliable than my Firebird. Sure it wasn’t as fast as my Firebird, but thanks to my Nova, I’m still alive today. I probably would have killed myself in a fiery car wreck because I felt like I had super powers behind the wheel of my red sports car! Fast cars produce fast drivers. I had a few close calls.
When I drove my four-door Chevy Nova family sedan, I actually became a much safer driver. I suppose it’s like the difference between wearing running shoes and high heels, not that I ever wore or wanted to wear high heels. I became more responsible in my personal life, too. But that could have been just because I was maturing, even though I resisted.
When I was transferred to 29 Palms, California, from Marine Corps boot camp, I drove my Nova back to the base and I was the envy of all my colleagues because I had a car. They did kid me that I was driving an old man’s car, but they always wanted me to take them on weekend trips to such exotic places as Arizona, Mexico, and Disneyland. They didn’t car what they looked like driving in my car. A car is a car!
In the Mojave Desert, my Felicia was subjected to extreme heat and sun. Once it was so hot and sunny that I burned my fingers by touching the ignition switch that was subjected to the scorching sun. From then on, I kept a towel over the steering wheel and ignition. The sun also made the black paint fade a little. We were warned at orientation about the extreme heat. In fact, they told us that if our cars had air conditioning we should remove the fan belts that connected it to the engine because the car would overheat and stall if you used the air conditioning. A few skeptical Marines didn’t heed the warning and sure enough they stalled in the middle of the desert! We were also told to carry plastic gallon jugs of water in case we got stranded in the desert. We were also warned about all the poisonous creatures of the desert. There were scorpions, rattlesnakes, tarantulas, Black Widows, and a lot of other poisonous creatures that preferred to be undisturbed by human beings. In the morning, we would always shake out our boots to make sure nothing had moved in overnight because scorpions like to sleep in combat boots. We were told that if we were bitten by a Black Widow, the only way we would survive would be if we fell into a helicopter just as were bitten and immediately taken to the hospital. Needless to say, I never looked for pets in the desert.
I once drove through a sandstorm and a flash flood that occurred unexpectedly and simultaneously. People warned me that the weather was about to turn for the worst, but I didn’t listen. I drove out on a nice sunny afternoon because I didn’t believe the weather forecast. Suddenly, as I’m driving back to the base, the sky darkened and rain started pouring down on me and my Felicia. Soon the rain stopped, but the sky remained dark and a fifty-mph crosswind blew sand across the desert and into my car. I could barely see, but I felt I would be safer if I tried to drive out of the storm. So, I continued driving without putting my foot on the gas pedal. I idled forward at about five mph. I couldn’t see the road, but at least there were no other cars on the road. I could feel when I started hitting the shoulder of the road and I would edge my way back into my lane.
I can honestly say that the visibility was zero. When I looked out the windshield, I only saw sand hitting the glass. I couldn’t even see my hood or my headlights shining on the sand. But at that point, I thought my best chance for survival was to drive out of the storm by going to a higher elevation. When I finally reached the drive riverbed with the warning sign about flash floods, I knew I would make it home. However, the dry riverbed was now a raging river of about eight inches deep and six feet across. Against my better judgment, I decide to drive across. In Chicago, I had driven through standing water that deep before and my car didn’t stall. The whole secret was to go slowly enough not to splash water on the engine and its electrical components.
Eventually, I made it back to 29 Palms, or you wouldn’t be reading this post, where it was sunny and dry. I inspected my car for damage. My poor baby! The car’s paint job had been sandblasted by the storm. Ditto for all the windows.
I always remember my driving adventures in my Chevy Nova fondly!