An old Chevy truck

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I learned to drive in a big, yellow Chevy truck on the dusty roads of Leona Valley, California. The rusty old truck had an automatic transmission, but that was the only easy thing about it. It was huge … a bit of a beast to handle even if you were a grown man. But to a little 16-year-old girl, it was monstrous. I could barely reach the pedals. And when I’d turn, I’d slide across the long bench seat. That truck sparked a huge family argument when my Grandpa found out that’s where my driving lessons were taking place. He was appalled to hear it was an automatic.

“She needs to learn on a stick,” he bellowed to my dad.

“Pop, this is easier,” my dad replied a little exasperated.

“She should be able to get into any car and drive — manual or automatic,” my Grandpa went on to say.

Grandpa Ed won that argument. As soon as I felt comfortable behind the wheel, my dad made me learn to drive a stick-shift.

Though I never told my dad this, my true driving experience started a good year before my official lessons began. I “borrowed” my brother’s Chevy Nova. I grew up in a super small town. Dirt roads, no street lights and miles between neighbors.

We’re talking about a town of a couple of thousand people. Tops. No one, from my parents or my brother, knew I took the car.

I was 15 and thought I could get away with anything. I snuck the keys to my brother’s car, quietly slipped out of the house and drive less than a mile down the road to Suzy’s house. Then we headed out on the open road, picking up our friend Sara along the way. We cruised the streets of Leona Valley doing silly things like Chinese Fire Drills or climbing from the front window to the back.

When I came home from my last Nova outing, I not so skillfully tried to re-park my brother’s car. I was way too close to the garage and my foot slipped on the gas, crashing the rear end into our metal garage. It left a huge dent and me scared enough to stop “borrowing” the car.

When I passed my driving test (it took me two times), I was rewarded with the with a not so shiny, brown Ford Escort. It wasn’t pretty, but it was all mine, which is pretty cool when you’re 16. The catch? I had to shuttle my younger siblings around or I couldn’t keep the car. I took on the role of chauffeur with a chip on my shoulder and terrorized my little sister enough that she stopped asking for rides.

That car met an untimely death when I ran out gas in a parking lot in Palmdale. Let me explain. I “thought” the car was broken. I assumed there was something very wrong with the car because it wouldn’t start. I left it in a parking lot and a few days (or maybe a few weeks) later told my dad my car was broken. When we went to retrieve my car, it was gone.

Come to find out, they were resurfacing the parking lot and left multiple notes on the car demanding it be moved or they would be impounded. I never saw the notes (read: I was going through a very irresponsible phase in my life). It was impounded. When we finally figure out where the car was and “broke” it out, my dad discovered the real issue was there was no gas. Not a drop. I ran it well below empty. And then it just wouldn’t go. My dad was livid. What a silly, silly girl I was. He bailed my car out, filled it up with gas and it ran a few more weeks before I upgrade to a sparkly blue Toyota Tercel. I know, totally swank. 

I’m not really the kind of person who cares too much about cars. As long as its clean, has air conditioning and is reliable … then it’s okay by me. Just last month we made the final payment for our family car, an eight passenger SUV. It was the first car Mike and I bought as a married couple and it was the first car he ever bought brand new. Before that, he’s always had hand-me-downs or bought used. It’s a great family car and it’s been a delight to pile half of Shelby’s second grade class in it for field trips. It seems like a lifetime from my brown Ford Escort.

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Written as an assignment for Ali Edwards’ class “31 Things” at Big Picture Classes.

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