When I was learning to drive Synchromesh was a fairly new improvement to the automobile transmission so we were still taught to double-clutch when changing gears. I wonder how many readers remember when to double-clutch or even what-the-Hell a double-clutch was? A clutch?
The Drivers’ Ed teacher that summer was a old football coach. When reading the official Dress Code memorandum aloud to the class, he was genetically incapable of saying the word “provocative.” Can you believe that’s the main thing I remember from that class?
You had to be fifteen back then to begin to drive unless it involved motorized farm equipment or if you really needed to drive yourself to work each day. I imagine they modified the farm requirement seeing as how the modern reaper or bailer in the hands of a thirteen year old might be considered a tad dangerous, and the work need was handled by upping the minimum age to qualify for work papers (unless you were a migrant worker and it was tomato season). Also, when you were only fifteen you had to have a qualified driver with you in the car. This wasn’t usually a problem since you only had to be sixteen to be a fully qualified driver back then.
Driving was an important skill, so much so that it required two separate classes in High School: One to learn about cars and driving through books and lectures called Drivers’ Education, and the other to actually learn to drive a car called Drivers’ Training. To put it another way, Drivers’ Ed was where you learned what a clutch was and Drivers’ Training was where you learned how to operate a clutch. Drivers’ Training was a split course. There was an old single-wide trailer out by the parking lot, inside of which was a very non-Disney array of ancient mechanical simulators. In this early man-cave, a dozen road warriors stared at a grainy black and white newsreel flashing on the screen before them depicting city streets, country roads, the occasional right or left turn, and two or three Farmer-Browns you could wipe out if you weren’t observant and fast on the clutch.
In the second part of the course you actually were trusted to drive a car. Back then an instructor and six students would fit into a single car and the driving course, unlike my experience later in life, was down-the-road across-the-bridge and straight on to the highway. At first it was scary but you learned fast … you had to.
Later, after I moved to the other coast, I heard stories of the driving age being eighteen and the drivers’ training being outside of school at the students’ expense. When my daughter came of age she insisted on getting a learner’s permit, arranged and paid for her own driving lessons, started working at a business requiring a familiarity with cars, and aced her driving lesson on the first try. When it comes to driving cars or even trucks, she is a pro.
Nowadays they no longer let me drive—too slow, bad eyes, and simply too old to be hurtling down the avenues squinting and drooling.
Fortuitously I no longer need to be out and around with the Moon Roof open and Blind Boy Grunt pounding on the custom speakers. Every few months my daughter stuffs me in the van and hauls me over to the clinic for some kind of checkup. This last year, however, it was almost entirely stay at home to avoid the pandemic. Like Burgess Meredith, I had all the time I wanted to read book after book, and when I needed new reading glasses, I didn’t cry … I just ordered them over the internet.
It’s August. The twenty titles in my reading pool seem to be going faster each month so I’m expecting to add at least two Big Fat Books before the month is over, possibly from my Bucket List but I’m still deciding. Even so, the first twenty are set:
- Homeland Elegies — Ayad Akhtar
- Foundation and Empire: Foundation 2 — Isaac Asimov
- The Rabbit Factory — Larry Brown
- Americana — Don DeLillo
- Styx — Bavo Dhooge
- The Parade — David Eggers
- North & South — Elizabeth Gaskell
- Klara and the Sun: A Novel — Kazuo Ishiguro
- Some Rain Must Fall: My Struggle Book 5 — Karl Ove Knausgârd
- Deacon King Kong — James McBride
- Panther In the Basement — Amos Oz
- Morte d’Urban — J. F. Powers
- Weymouth Sands — John Cowper Powys
- Bodega Dreams: A Novel — Ernesto B. Quinonez
- An American Type — Henry Roth
- The Counterlife — Philip Roth
- Queen of America — Luis Alberto Urrea
- Fu Ping: A Novel — Anyi Wang
- The Chrysalids — John Wyndham
- Son Excellence Eugène Rougon — Émile Zola