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Story by Lois Grace

Do you remember when you learned to drive? I sure do. Of course, when you learn to drive in a truly unique vehicle, as I did, that life experience is hard to forget. Dad taught me in Vernon, and what an experience it was.

Learning to drive didn't happen all that long ago, did it? I mean, it must have been just a coupla years ago or so. Seems like only a few short years ago I first sat behind Vern's enormous goofy steering wheel, sweaty palms clutching it tightly, quivering left leg shaking so badly I could hardly push in the clutch. I'd coax Vern from gear to Gnashing gear, as Dad sat fidgeting beside me, his feet stamping the floorboard every time I braked, and one hand grabbing wildly at the dash. AHHH, those were the days. I got the hang of things pretty quickly, I thought, even though Dad looked a bit worse for the wear as we bounced into the driveway after each lesson. But Dad stuck it out, and before he knew it, he'd made my sister, two brothers, and me into great drivers. I wish he were still here to guide my oldest niece.

Tonight on my way home from work, I spotted a car that looked vaguely familiar. As I got closer, it looked a bit like my sister's pale blue Nissan Maxima, except that it couldn't be hers because there was some stranger behind the wheel. As I pulled alongside, I noticed the stranger was actually....... NO! It can't be! The stranger was my 15 1/2 year old niece, Sarah! But wait! She's not OLD enough to drive yet, is she? My sister was pregnant with Sarah when Rob and I got married last summer!!  HOLD EVERYTHING. That wasn't last summer, that was 16 years ago. I flew on by her, left hand waving dumbly in the air at her as I tried to shift from 4th to 5th gear, in my 4-speed Bug. I mean, this sight really took my breath away. Sarah got her learners permit a few weeks ago, and is fast on her way to the driver's license. Seeing her sitting there confidently, both hands on the wheel, eyes on the traffic light, brought back lots of memories of my own first experiences on the road.

Seems like the moment my friends turned 16, they either got a car of had the use of one. Not so with me. Mom and Dad let me drive, oh sure, but it was for necessary trips or errands for my mom, ONLY. No driving to school. No driving to go with friends. And, most of all, no driving for FUN. This could explain my penchant for driving just for the sake of driving today. I ENJOY this activity and drive whenever I get the chance. Anyway, back to my friends. If I wasn't allowed to drive to school, neither did I ever lack for a ride, since most of my friends had cars. What kind of cars? Well, Jeannie usually had her mom's Ford LTD station wagon, which was deemed VERY UnCool at the time. Still, it was wheels and it carried a lot of us. Debbie used her dad's old 1959 Chevy Impala wagon. It was black, it was beat, and it was most definitely Cool. We got that thing into some pretty unbelievable places. Jill and I rode in style (or so I thought) in her dad's 69 Datsun pickup. It was a Datsun because Nissan hadn't been invented yet, and this truck was the closest thing to Truck Cool there was at the time. What could be better than a pickup? But, of all my friends, Carol was the luckiest. She drove her dad's pale yellow 1970 MUSTANG. It had a black vinyl top, was nearly new, and was WAY Cool, for obvious reasons.

Once I started dating, the guys I went out with seemed to have nice cars. I just sort of gravitated towards the boys with wheels. Early on, I dated a senior at our high school who had a 67 Firebird 400. He wasn't bad-looking himself, but the car sucked me in. It was bright orange with a black top and was the neatest thing around. John and I lasted only briefly, because even though the car was a 10, the guy was a jerk. After that there was Gary, who, along with his twin brother, drove their father's 68 Opel Kadett. It was metallic green, and we called it Percival Pickle. It looked a bit like the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, in a small pickle suit. Sadly, Percy met a tragic end in a head-on collision. And no, none of his human occupants was seriously injured. Next came Kirk, an odd, free-spirit, surfer-type who drove a 65 LeMans. The car was an automatic, and had some sort of dreadful transmission problem whereby the differential would hit the frame of the car while going over bumps. Because of this, I had to ride on the extreme right of the passenger's seat, or the tranny would thump against the frame.

Kirk was forever trying to get Dad to help him fix this, and Dad (as you might expect) could not have been more uninterested in either the car OR Kirk. After Kirk, there was Dennis, an older man who, when I met him drove an elderly Austin America. I liked Dennis, but thought the car was worse even than a Pinto. Fortunately, Dennis came to his sense and shortly after I met him bought an original 1938 Chevy sedan, from the original owner. This car still had the original mohair upholstery, and was FUN. Right before I met Rob, there was Jerry, who had a white 1970 Ford F-150 pickup. Need I say more? I am a TRUCK Addict, and here was the Real Thing! Besides the obvious attraction of a full-size pickup, Jerry was tall and had a mustache. After that fizzled out, Vernon and I traveled back and forth to college every day, where I met Rob. It was love at first sight for me: HE DROVE A VW BUG! How could I not love this guy? He was perfect: dark, ruggedly good-looking, and best of all, he had Humphrey. Hump was Rob's pale blue (under all the bondo) 1969 Beetle. And, as they say, the rest is history.

But, in the middle of all this, I had the use of Vernon, who wasn't yet truly mine and wasn't due to become Cool until I was almost out of college. Till then, he was merely old and slow, albeit unwrecked at that point. I wouldn't wreck him till 1974. But even if he weren't Cool, Vern was my soul-mate. Even then, he and I had that special relationship we have now. And part of fostering that relationship was learning to drive him. Seeing Sarah behind the wheel of the Nissan brought it all back.

Rob can't wait till Sarah gets her license, so she can begin driving US around. You see, Sarah and her younger sister, Natalie (who is 12) are like our own kids and they frequently go with us on trips and weekenders. One of the best trip we took was to the VW Classic in Irvine a couple summers ago. There, they got their first taste of a large-scale VW show, and we had the fun of traveling with two pre-teenage girls. Anyway, Rob is really looking forward to the day when SARAH can do the 6-hour trip to Los Angeles while he and I while away the hours in the back seat, playing games and eating Reese's peanut butter cups. But for now, Sarah is still learning and our eagerness to be passengers will have to wait a while. My befuddled mind is having trouble grasping all this, it really is, but I'm sure I'll adjust. I just hope I can keep my feet from stamping the floor and my hands at my sides, not grabbing the dash, when I ride with her. After all, it won't be VERNON involved in all this!!

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