I am not sure when the first time was, but I could not have been very old. No, ‘cmon now. I’m not talking about any of those things that are probably running through your mind. I’m talking about the first time I was allowed to get behind the wheel of a vehicle.
Several years ago I worked with someone who taught driver’s training. He always said that if you did not know how to drive by the time you got to driver’s training, then your parents hadn’t done their job. Well, my parents, or more accurately my dad, did his job.
On occasion, probably from the time I was 13 or so, my dad to would take me – and sometimes a sibling or two – to a quiet, country road and let us try our hand at driving. And he did not take us, at least in my case, in a vehicle with an automatic transmission. Nope, if I wanted to learn how to drive, I had to first learn to handle a standard shift.
Except for the time my sister almost didn’t turn soon enough to navigate the front end of an S turn and – in an extended cab van no less – I do not remember a single incident. Things were a little different back then.
While I was 13 or so the first time I sat behind the wheel solo, there were other times when we were younger that dad would let us sit on his lap and drive. I have an older female cousin who took me and her brother driving on back roads a time or two well before we were supposed to be driving. I believe that was in a big, black 1950s Plymouth, although I could be wrong on the model. That was really fun – no parents watching over us, just an understanding cousin, not a lot older than us, who understood how anxious a young boy can be to take a turn at the wheel.
I’m pretty sure my aunt and uncle didn’t know about those back road excursions, but once in a while, with their approval, we’d drive the Plymouth around in a field near their house. It’s the same field where “the world’s largest horseshoe crab” now sets at the east edge of Hillsboro on SR 124.
And, to be sure, there were other times a friend or two let me behind the wheel before I was supposed to be there.
Heck, when I was in kindergarten I sometimes rode home from school in a taxi with a lot of other neighborhood youngsters. Sometimes on Friday, the driver would let one of the older kids – like a third or fourth grader – drive us down our street. Like I said, things were different.
This all came to mind, I suppose, because a co-worker and I were discussing our first traffic tickets, and trip before a judge, just a few hours before I wrote this column.
I remember mine like it was yesterday.
With nothing much else to do on an early 1970s evening, a brother and I decided to take a spin in my Vega. My parents said that was fine, as long as we didn’t go out of town.
As was often the case, we headed toward the outdoor high school basketball courts. There was usually a ball game going on, or some people socializing. But on this night the courts were empty. So, after discussing our options, and knowing that my girlfriend at the time had a volleyball game at Miami Trace, we decided to head that way.
We should have known better. Not only we would be breaking our agreement with our parents, but making a trip to Miami Trace and back, with a volleyball match in between, would probably have put us home later than were expected. Which would have led to questions, which would have led to…. well, you get the picture.
Anyway, north on U.S. Route 62 we headed.
We were chatting away, enjoying the ride – and maybe the risk of the adventure – until about two miles south of Leesburg. In the midst of our conversation I looked in my rearview mirror and saw the dreaded flashing red lights, with a state patrol cruiser closing on us very rapidly. My knees went weak, I probably started blaming brother, and visions of my parents started dancing in my head.
Then the trooper zoomed around us. Whew, I thought, as the trooper drew a bead on the vehicle in front of us and my heart rate started to return to normal.
But as soon as the trooper pulled the car in front of us over, he leapt out of his cruiser, jumped out into the roadway, and motioned me to the side of the road. I have never seen it happen again – and please let me know if you have – but on that night a trooper nailed two of us in one stop.
Once again, panic set in. I don’t remember a lot from that point on, except that I received a speeding ticket, and I kept wondering all the way home how I was going to explain what had happened to my parents.
“But I wasn’t really doing anything bad,” I told my co-worker. “Just going to see my girlfriend play some volleyball.”
“Yeah, except for disobeying your parents,” she said.
I couldn’t argue with that.
It has been my experience that when you do something you know you should not, you usually end up paying for it one way or another. I can’t remember when I told my parents about the ticket, but I can tell you that a speeding ticket is pretty costly for a 17-year-old. Not to mention the sick feeling I endured until I finally fessed up, and the loss of some driving privileges.
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.