Don’t step on the brake handle, and other car stories.

My first day behind the wheel of a car didn’t go very well.
The driver’s ed. instructor told me to adjust the mirrors. Check. Buckle my seat belt. Check. Step on the emergency brake. Hmmm… I had no idea where to find the emergency brake, but I looked down and saw something at knee level that said “BRAKE,” so I raised my foot up high and stepped on it. Hard. That release lever broke right off and landed on the floorboard, and then I learned where to find the actual emergency brake.

One day I borrowed my parents’ car to go to a drive-through bank, and I scraped the passenger door on a bank pole. I tried to rub out the scratch with a rag, but that only made it more obvious. My dad was amazingly calm when I told him.

After college, I had a good job and was ready to shop for my first used car. Many of the more affordable cars had manual transmission, so my dad offered to teach me to drive a stick shift. I did pretty well in a big parking lot, and I even did alright through residential neighborhoods. But when I came to a stop sign on a steep hill approaching the busiest cross street in town, I couldn’t move. Another car pulled up behind me at the stop sign. That was when I put on the hand brake, told my dad I was done, and got out of the car. I haven’t driven a stick shift since. I figure they make automatic transmissions for a reason.

The first car I owned was a used Datsun B210. It hummed along nicely for over a year until I was T-boned at an intersection and totaled it on a light pole on my way to work one morning. I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and I cracked the windshield with my head. After I regained consciousness, I remember the driver of the other car came over to me and said, “when you didn’t get out I thought you were dead!” I was put on a backboard with a neck brace and taken by ambulance to the hospital where I worked.

My first car. Ouch!

After I moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands, driving was a thrill! We drove on the left side of the road (or the middle), avoiding pot holes if possible and maneuvering sharp turns and steep hills. When approaching a curve or corner, drivers would honk loudly to warn oncoming traffic. Sometimes a big mirror was fastened to a tree near a sharp curve so you could see if there was someone coming and move to the left. The speed limit was 35 miles per hour in the rural areas, which basically meant you could floor the gas pedal and drive as fast as possible until you got to the next curve and had to slow down. I usually drove with my window down and the wind in my hair. I had three different cars during the eight years I lived on St. Thomas. The first one was stolen. The second I bought for $50 cash. In that $50 car, I could also feel the wind on my feet– through the holes in the floorboard.

My $50 car.
Not even a scratch during Hurricane Hugo. This is the car I shipped to the mainland.

When I made the decision to relocate to the U.S. mainland, I shipped my car to the port of Lake Charles, Louisiana, where I flew to pick it up and then drove it to my new home. Setting out on the interstate at 80 miles per hour, cars zoomed past me on both sides, and I was terrified. I had almost no highway driving experience, and I wasn’t even sure my car would hold together at that speed.

In those first few days back on the mainland, I forgot to drive on the right side of the street a couple of times, especially when making a left turn. If I turned onto the left side going the wrong direction, I was always able to quickly pull into a driveway and then head out again on the right side.

The transmission on that old island car didn’t last long, but by then I had a steady income so I was able to replace it with my first new car. Unfamiliar with highway exit ramps, I nearly plowed into an exit sign during the test drive, but they still sold me the car. A shiny red Mazda 323.

My first ever new car.

That same day, I made plans to meet friends and I was excited about showing them my brand new car. I had noticed some sticky trash on the parking lot behind my car, and so to avoid getting my tires dirty by running over it I backed straight out of my parking spot… and hit a parked car behind me. A small bottle of Mazda paint later, it looked as good as new again.

Driving that sporty little car, I cranked up the volume and played Michael Bolton’s “Love is a Wonderful Thing” on cassette, finally comfortable taking highways and driving on the right side of the street. Maybe it was because of the new red car, maybe it was because I was confident and independent and happy, but I met my husband just after I started driving that car. I think I knew he was the one for me when on a singles camping trip with friends from church, he washed my car and dried it with his socks.

I did marry that man, and he owned a Chevy pickup. We drove the pickup on our honeymoon and then used it the next year to haul heirloom baby furniture across country. One night, we awoke at about 4:00 a.m. to a phone call from the police asking, “Do you know where your truck is?” It turns out someone had stolen it from our driveway and used it in a robbery gone wrong. It was sitting on top of an ATM at a nearby bank.

The Chevy pickup.

To replace that pickup we bought a minivan, and we filled it with car seats and children and laughter. Over the next 20 years we replaced one minivan with another and then a third. We have driven to and from schools, music lessons, church, family reunions, and vacations. We have moved our children to and from college and from one home or apartment to another. I hope we make lots of new memories and share laughter together as our wheels take us on many more adventures. I still put reindeer antlers and a red nose on my van every Christmas, and I smile.

Our first child and our first minivan.

If everything comes your way, you are in the wrong lane.

Author unknown

One Comment Add yours

  1. katjaeg says:

    Hi, Marcia. I remember one of our high school classmates told me that she was relieved to have her first accident “over with” a couple of weeks after she got her license. At the time I thought it was silly to have the goal of getting that first car accident out of the way. And I’ve been lucky, only two fender benders in my life, and both years after I got my license. I’m so glad you made it ok through yours!
    Enjoying your blog. I’m grateful to your wonderful girls for getting you started on it.


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