Confession: I love to drive a car.

When I turned 15 and got my learner’s permit, my dad handed me the keys to the Blue Bolt (a Ford delivery van), asked me if I had been paying attention all the years he would lecture me about gears and clutches and drive trains and steering.

“Yes. Why? Are we going driving now?!!”

“No, you are. Take it around the block until you figure it out. Remember where the brake is, and go slow.”

We lived at the bottom of a hill, and our driveway angled down to the road at about 35 degrees, so he thoughtfully put the truck into the street for me and let me loose. After teaching 6 other kids how to drive, he was done. His heart couldn’t take teaching another girl behind the wheel.

It may have actually been intuitive on his part. He knew I had a certain love for engineered things, that I wasn’t afraid to tinker with the tools in his garage and enjoyed the model train setup that my brothers created.

So I climbed into the cab seat of that van, pulled hard on the underside of the big platter of a steering wheel and pushed with all my might down onto that horribly stiff clutch that was likely of a mind to make me work for my racing stripes.

Errrtt! Errtt! Kikuttikikutty-uhrrrrnnnn-eeeeeee! eee!  And away I went making beautiful music while I learned; grinding the steel against steel and rubber against asphalt and herky-jerked my way around the small block of small homes while the neighbors anxiously called their kids in for dinner.

But I got it.

And then Dad made me learn the art of how to park-brake on a hill and not slide into the inconsiderate drivers behind me when the light changed to green. Driving the Blue Bolt was a ballet made for my decidedly un-ballet-like features, and the mastery of coordination  seemed more like an intricate gymnastic routine. Especially with that long clutch arm that needed to go all the way to the floor to disengage. So there I was, with my butt at the edge of the seat, my arms gripping and pulling up on the steering and grabbing the column shifter and shoving it forward as far as my arm could reach. Every trip was competitive: me against the mechanical forces and physics of bodies in motion in the quest to turn contained explosions into horizontal movement that wouldn’t kill me or someone else.

And so, my first car was a Javelin. Mint green with the dual racing stripes, black and running wide down the hood and over the roof and down the back.  $600 for a used one back then and it looked about like this:

Fast forward to recent history. After years of accompanying the J.R. on road trips down two-lane blacktop of assorted rise and run I’ve picked up more of the joy of driving, if not completely embraced the “discover the physical limits” edges of any particular vehicle. It suits me fine just to have little match-ups with unsuspecting young men, calling out to them with a double-clutch downshift and maybe a bit of heel-and-toe if the turn is tight as I edge past them through the snaky crosstown boulevard and let the super-charger kick in when the traffic clears as I make for the opening near the rail, bolting up the Ravenel Bridge. It never fails.

No one in a BMW expects a woman of *cough* years in a little red Miata to scream [n.b. to the J.R.: Literary license for effect. I’d never push the car to “scream” levels. Honest.] past them with the throaty roar of a well-tuned engine flowing through a generous muffler and  pounding the pavement with 160hp. Now, if said BMW driver puts his foot into it on the straights I don’t have a chance. But I have my moments off the marks and wending through traffic. The J.R. gets all the mondo cred for having built such a sweet little sleeper of a road car.

Why would anyone want to text while driving? Because they have crappy cars or they are incurious about the one they are driving. They are bored and probably scared to step into in a turn, but have no fear of recklessly endangering others with their bored inattention.

I’m not bored when I drive. I love it. I love to move, and make good time, or make a good downshift or a tidy chicane. I don’t really know all the technical details like a good gear-head would. But I do know how to have all the fun of the swooping, diving curves as the car’s Koni shocks squat into the pavement and stick four fat tires to the surface. I won’t say I’ve ever overpowered the throttle and fishtailed it jumping out of a dead-stop turn, because the J.R. will probably read this at some point and give me the look that makes me feel like maybe I did something wrong.

And then I will try to be contrite but I’m afraid the grin on my face will betray me  every time.

35 thoughts on “Confession: I love to drive a car.

  1. My husband and I call our new Mustang our ‘grin machine’. And people’s faces when they see a pudgy, middle-aged woman driving, pumping ‘Let the Bodies Hit the Floor’ through the speakers…yeah, it messes with their minds.

    • I confess that NRBQ is usually jamming itself through the speakers. But for some reason Elton John’s “There Goes a Well-Know Gun” is just right for the middle part of the commute.

    • Oooh! New Mustang! We had a 1967.5 fastback and bored out the 289 to a 302 and drove it through the mountains on vacay . . . when the kid was just a baby. Such fun!

  2. People text, phone, play with their CD changers, and otherwise divert from proper attention on the road for a small number of reasons:
    1. They’re bored;
    2. They’re unable to stand being alone;
    3. They have no proper sense of the danger they’re in.

    Myself, I’d like to see those behaviors criminalized, misdemeanors at the very least, instead of infractions that the police can’t pull you over for. Quite a lot of accidents have occurred because of them — I was a victim of one — and irony of ironies, the texter / phoner / CDer / diddler on his laptop often escapes completely unscathed.

    • “Myself, I’d like to see those behaviors criminalized, misdemeanors at the very least, instead of infractions that the police can’t pull you over for.”

      It’s all about libertarianism/anarchy until someone is doing something we don’t like, then its “There oughta be a law!”

      There is, in Illinois. Like the gun control laws, it does zero to prevent morons from doing it. What it does is inconvenience those in industry- sales, service industry types- who have learned to use these tools safely and effectively, and there are legion.

      I drive more than almost everyone I know. I average 40,000 miles a year. I constantly text and drive, and it affects my driving not at all. I don’t do it when it’s dangerous to do, and i love to take my big, topheavy sploder and throw it into a turn hard, where most wouldn’t do that in a car. I love to hear the all wheel drive scream as I pick up a tire and it tries to compensate. And I’m surrounded by idiots who text and drive and have no idea what theyre doing. That’s fine by me, I pay enough attention for us both. All good drivers do.

      • I’ve yet to meet a man who didn’t swear with all pride and vehemence that drinking never affects his driving.

        There was a study that involved a highly trained concert pianist regarding coordination and concentration when mildly distracted. For instance, in a breezy composition he could play well, talk, and even answer questions without skipping a note. Then they upped the difficulty of the piece to require more concentration on the fingering and coordination of the pianist and while still able to perform admirably, you could hear hesitations and stumbles when he was asked questions while playing. It proceeded about as you can imagine.

        Luckily, although his piano was about as heavy as a car, it wasn’t hurtling in a straight line at 60mph.

        I never take my eyes off the road. I may be digging through my purse for my phone, I may be talking to you in the next seat, but my head rarely turns away from the road. I consider being attentive a moral and civic obligation. When I find I’ve been inattentive, it gives me great concern: how did I drive for the last 5 miles? Where was my mind?

        My dad only and ever impressed one visual in my mind about driving in traffic: kid, if you’re inattentive, you’re piloting a guided missile that will kill people as surely as if you were aiming for them. Cars don’t kill. Idiots driving cars do.

        The roads are full of folks who kid themselves.

        • “I never take my eyes off the road.”

          Nor do i.

          I’ll put my driving skills up against any non professional driver, any time. And i don’t drink, because I know how it affects me. (I usually break out in handcuffs)
          During my life time I have driven way over a million miles. I have been in exactly one accident that was technically “my fault” and it was two months after I began driving. So there’s in excess of thirty years of driving- and most of it hard driving- uneventfully.

          “I’ve yet to meet a man who didn’t swear with all pride and vehemence that drinking never affects his driving.”

          I, on the other hand, have a demonstrable and provable track record of safe driving that few will ever approach.

          “The roads are full of folks who kid themselves.”

          And I am provably not one of them. Evidence the driving record, the dent-free and pristene sheet metal of every car i have ever owned.

          This is not my opinion of myself or my skills. These are facts. In my driveway sits a 1998 Ford Explorer with 400,000 miles. Still no dents on the tin other than one the wife put there. The white van was the same, the only body damage by my sisterinlaw. The blue van previous to the explorer went to Carmax with it’s tin intact. The Probe when I sold it with 300,000 miles on it was perfect. Each of those cars had been driven daily at it’s limits of performance and handling.

          Want an interesting eye opener? Distracted driving is most often caused by eating or drinking in the car, with farding the next most common cause. And yet nobody has suggested people leave the coffee or mascara at home.

          A powerful lot of people have no business owning firearms. They should not do so. A similarly powerful lot of people cant operate a phone- let alone text- while driving. They should not. Making a law to outlaw texting to “protect” the few is exactly like outlawing guns. Has the same effect (None) and accomplishes the same thing (nothing useful)

        • In reply to your comments below this:

          I do love to tweak you!

          Yours truly has not advocated criminalization, so please direct all those jibes elsewhere. If I had my way, I’d demand that the bar be set much higher for obtaining a driver’s license in the first place, and make people demonstrate an objective, measurable skill. Most cops shouldn’t have a driver’s license if you ask me.

          Now, as galling as it may seem to you, all your proffered evidence of your skill is impressive, but one cannot measure what one is unaware of. You could just be lucky. 😉

    • Sorry, James! It’s a small town and sometimes, in going over the bridge, I find I have summarily abused a person who works in the same warren of buildings as I do. Was that you?

  3. The only time I’m bored — and I mean seriously bored — in a car is when I have to sit an an interminable stoplight. I start thinking, “Wow, I could be doing something productive. I wonder how many years I’ve wasted at stoplights?” I bet it’s a few.

    I used to love driving, but I drove in a huge city, back in the day, and this particular huge city had tons of excellent drivers. What I’d call excellent, anyway: alert, courteous. Nowadays, I mostly see non-alert, rude drivers, and above all STUPID drivers. So now I hate driving unless it’s way out in the boonies somewhere. Not that you asked. My how I do prattle on.

    • Idiots at red lights usually get engaged in some other activity just before the light changes. So they make everyone else wait even longer as they decide to lean way over and peruse the underside of the passenger seat or attempt to grab the bagel that rolled out onto the passenger side floor.

      The J.R. did the sweetest move once in Mexico City. He watched a guy come up from behind us and stick to our bumper with his little sports car before moving up around us, as close as the air, with the intent to dive in front of us. Hub just flinched the wheel to the left and gave him a little love-tap on the ass-end of his car as the effer made his move in. Sometimes anarchy can make for fun. Not most times, but some times.

      • The J.R. FTW! I’ve never understood the “must get one car ahead no matter what” mentality. And then a minute later you’re passing them anyway. I like to give them a little head nod, as if to say, “Wow, you’re an idiot, aren’t you?” In my head, when I use the word “idiot,” it’s always said like Dr. House says it. So it’s, you know, pretty awesome.

  4. I learned to drive in a Ford Falcon with three on the tree when I was about ten or eleven years of age. We lived on a dead end street, and my parents let me take it out anytime I wanted. Our street was also one of the best sledding hills in the neighborhood, so I got the clutch on the hill thing down pretty quick. Those were the days.

  5. Joan, the Javelin was not my first car, that a was $200.00 Pontiac 4 door hand me down of sorts from my older brother, it was my second car. A ’73, blue with white racing stripes, the 304 and 3 speed on the floor (Hurst shifter), headers w/straight pipes and Cherry Bombs for a bit of muffling.

    My Mom still swears she could hear me screaming down Lakeshore Dr. in Holland, MI, from two miles away, headed for home.

  6. I drove a red Miata for three years until recently when I traded it in under duress for a Forrester. I loved the Miata, especially with the top down cruising country roads. My wife hated it, so mostly I drove alone. Better that way anyway. I got my only speeding ticket in 50+ years of driving in that car. I also got lost many times on back roads. But that was fun too.

  7. I learned to drive in on tractors, farm trucks, and pickups on gravel roads. Dad bought me a dinner bucket Chevy II to drive to college. The only sporty car I ever had was the late ’70’s Celica I bought my wife — kind of mini-Mustang that handled great on the back roads (keep it off snow). But I had most of my fun on bikes.

    Four wheels, bad. Two wheels, good.

  8. YES! I do love to drive a car. Or truck, or just about anything you’ve got going. Learned very early on a tractor out in the field and ran the roads beginning at 15. Dad taught me to drive; he was safe, but fast so that’s what kind of driver I became.

    Text while driving? There’s too much to do, see, experience. I won’t even answer my cell while driving. Very proactive, I’m always looking for potential problems and solutions. Too many people don’t do that these days.

    I’ve very much enjoyed a multitude of vehicles, from BMWs to 6.6 liter Trans Ams… to my hoopty Miz Liz. She may not be a sports car, but I still enjoy the ride…

    Thanks for the subject and the memories… 😉

  9. I learned to drive in a VW Microbus, which taught me two things: patience – 48 hp will do that for you – and that your insulation from the outside world is minimal at best.

    Still, I seldom pass up a chance to get behind the wheel, and the first thing I do with any car – I’ve owned only half a dozen – is to get a feel for where its limits might be. (Of those six, two have been Mazdas. Imagine that.)

  10. Great post Joan. I love to drive. I’ve had everything from a Vega to a big block Chevelle to my C3 Corvette and everything in between. It’s been my experience as an accident reconstructionist that those who truly love to drive are the best drivers. I dedicated this weeks Sunday Kipling to you Joan. I hope you like my selection.

    • There you are. Shall we all now march over to your wonderful place and leave tons of comments?! That would be fun. . .


  11. DANG. You must have been RICH. My first car that my parents “bought” me was a 1968 Ford Falcon, which had no power steering or brakes and my dad painted from green to whatever-brown color he mixed up in the garage. It was their car, but mine to drive. First car I bought was a 1971 LTD that had ripped seats and dash. When my parents sold my Falcon, I got to drive their former “cop” car. A 1971 Mercury something. Big white car that had POWER. I remember leaving some idiot boys in the dust when they tried to pass me on a two lane street, but then just decided to hang out in the opposite lane. When I saw what they were doing, I floored it. Now THAT was power. It was fun pulling into the school lot too because all the kids thought a cop had just arrived.

    • Heh. That Javelin must’ve been 10 years old when my dad bought it for me. Being the last of eight kids and four years behind the pack, they didn’t want to take me to all my track meets and after-school activities. I caught so much grief for having a car! Then, my dad made me trade it to my oldest sister and got an old LeMans beast that, like yours, everyone thought was a cop car! But man, that puppy could scoot!

  12. I used to love to drive, but now I hate it. I drive a mini-van I hate, cart kids around everywhere, and spend way too much time in traffic. Before I had kids and when I had my own little car, I loved to drive. Now there are times I daydream of moving to a big city where I can live in a little flat and walk everywhere or take a subway. I truly have grown to hate it THAT much.

    I don’t txt and drive. That’s dangerous. I never take my eyes off the road. I do think I’d like driving more if I was in the car I want with either satellite radio so I didn’t have to listen to the filthy dj’s or a car that my iPod could plug into. (The iPod plugs don’t work in my car.) Listening to my own tunes would probably be helpful.

  13. Pingback: Hang Up And Drive | The Adaptive Curmudgeon's Blog

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