Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Early Driving Experiences 1963 to 1973

I think I'm writing this because my daughter is 16 and I have spent several hours the past few weeks teaching her to drive now that she has her learner's permit just like I have taught about 7 other people to drive that I know earlier in my life. So, it is keying in my memories of learning to drive with my father when I was 15 1/2 until I got my license the day I turned 16 in 1964.

In 1963 I turned 15 1/2 which meant I could get a learner's permit. And looking back I realize that I scared a lot of people that were riding with me in   cars and trucks then because I liked to drive fast just like many of my friends who owned street racers like 57 Chevys with racing slicks and superchargers. Most cars didn't have fuel injection like now for good mileage. Then fuel injection meant, "Just how fast can I funnel gasoline into the car to make it go faster?" There was no thought of worrying about running out of gas when it was only 15 cents or 20 cents a gallon then. So, because gas was about 6 gallons to the dollar and the minimum wage was around a dollar an hour and since almost anyone could get a job at a grocery as a box boy, or some kind of part time work at a factory after school or the local Dairy Queen or Bob's Big Boy Restaurant, almost everyone by age 15 had jobs to put money to put into their car that they bought between age 15 and age 17. But since I didn't buy my first car until I had my license a whole month after I turned 16 maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

So, when I got my learner's permit I was constantly going places I didn't want to go with my parents so I could get enough experience so I could be a really good driver. Because I lived in Glendale and since all around me were freeways with really crazy drivers I had to be a really good driver to survive Los Angeles Freeways there in southern California. In Los Angeles then or now anything less than a minor race car driver doesn't survive on the Los Angeles freeways.

The incident that I remember the most was once out in the desert driving with my Dad next to me and with a couple who were about my Dad's age in the back seat. I was driving pretty fast to show off to everyone what a good driver I was when my Dad said, "Slow Down, Freddie!" because I was going too fast to make the hard right turn. Since I couldn't make the turn I had no choice but to drive straight out into the desert shrubbery to not turn the car over by turning at too high a speed. As we were bouncing out there past the bushes I could here my Dad swearing but after we stopped I just laughed and got us back on the road. I was a lot different then than now.

Another incident was when I was driving my Dad's 1959 Chevrolet Utility body truck since he owned his own Electrical Contracting Business. We were driving on a weekend out to a friend's house in the desert. But I didn't understand how much weight the truck carried and what would happen if I went around corners too fast. So, as I started too fast up a curvy mountain road the truck started to bounce sideways on the curvy mountain road. Luckily I was going uphill so by quickly reducing speed we didn't go off a cliff and fall several thousand feet to our deaths. Also, the truck had a floor mounted stick shift that had a shift pattern that looked like a capital H. So upper left was compound low (only used in very unusual times when going up or down and extremely steep hill). So usually in most situations you started your shift pattern in the lower left of the capital H pattern in what was called 1st gear and then went upper right to 2nd gear and then down right to 3 gear. And I think the reverse gear was either far upper right or far upper left or something like that. Learning to drive a stick shift especially if you were on a steep hill in a truck with a car close behind you was always interesting to see if you could get going forwards before you slipped back and crashed into the car behind you. Or the third alternative was stalling the engine because of the steep hill because if you didn't slip the clutch just right you could never get enough force applied to the rear wheels to move forwards. So, I learned quickly that you use  compound low in this situation even though it is kind of weird to use in traffic unless you have no other choice.

The hardest thing for me to get used to (you never really ever get used to this) is driving by fatal car and truck accidents. I remember the first incident for me I was 8 or 9 years old on the Ventura freeway heading to the Beach. We were driving a along and suddenly a stationwagon full of a whole family from the other side of the freeway flew through the air above our heads into oncoming traffic behind us and 5 to 7 people were screaming as the vehicle flew over our heads and crashed into heavy oncoming freeway traffic behind us. Since I was young I said, "Daddy. Aren't we going to go back and help them?" My Dad said, "NO, son we just have to keep driving." At that point he just set his jaw. Over the years I realized he didn't want me to see about 10 or 20 dead people from that really bad situation.

Other times I have seen people in death convulsions or probably the saddest thing I saw was a girl crying after a motorcycle accident while her boyfriend died in her arms. I saw two of these three things in Los Angeles Traffic before I was 12 years old. The other thing was nobody wore seatbelts yet until I was almost 40 in 1988 in California even though they were required to be in cars since 1968 I believe. Most of that time they were just a seat belt like you see in most planes but not the chest belt yet.

I was glad my Dad called me jokingly  Mario AnFreddie after Mario Andretti the race car driver one day around 1970 when I was driving my 1968 Camaro that I bought new in 1968. There was a really bad accident as we all were traveling about 70 mph in the fast lane of a freeway. It was several cars in front of me but since all the cars were bunched up there was no way to avoid it. So, because I had a Camaro that is built for cornering fast without crashing I skidded into the emergency lane to the left and quickly came to a stop. All the cars that had been in front of me and behind me had crashed badly. I was the only one to come out of it unscathed and unhurt. I was very grateful that moment for all the good training from my Dad and my good reflexes and my great cornering Camaro which had literally saved my life that day on the treacherous Los Angeles County Freeways!

Later: My wife came back pretty freaked out from trying to teach my daughter to drive. My wife has three college degrees but I wouldn't say that she is the right disposition to teach a teenager to drive. My daughter said, "She Screamed at me! And I need her to apologize!" So, obviously this is an intense learning experience for both of them.

For me, when I'm driving with my daughter it is sort of like, "Go out and hug the center line you are too far right in your lane, otherwise you will hit the curb or go into a ditch." And then I learned saying, "Stop Stop Stop Stop" doesn't work and have learned to say, "Prepare to stop!"about 100 feet or yards depending upon how fast she is driving down the road. This works much better. So, I know my wife is a very determined and capable person. I just hope she and my daughter survive their driving lessons together.

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