Sunday, January 13, 2013

How I Learn to Drive an Automobile

In my Junior year (1965-66) at Chelsea High School in Oklahoma I enrolled in Driver’s Education. It was an elective. The instructor was Rupert Cross. He was vertically challenged as myself, very short. His wife was my first grade teacher 10 years earlier in 1955. They lived around the corner. She was sweet as the day was long, not that Rupert wasn‘t, but he was a bit more of a curmudgeon. Perhaps this was due to the challenges of being a short man teaching high school.  Rupert also taught drafting among other subjects as all small town high school teachers did and many probably still do.

Part of Driver’s Ed for me was being a member of Youth for Safety. The sponsor was Mr. Cross and in the 1965 Chelsea yearbook the organization description follows: “Safety to humanity dates back to the Stone - Age. The study of safety in schools is a new addition to the school curriculum. In the believe that Safety is a way of life, the Department of Public Safety arranged for Youth for Safety Clubs to be organized in Oklahoma in 1959 at which time a Charter was presented to Chelsea High School. Since this beginning the school has had the organization each year. It chooses not only to study safety, but to demonstrate it through activities as: Drivers Checks, Automobile Checks, Traffic Checks, and Material Distribution through our school and to the public in general.” Wow I am impressed especially when I see that I was a member of such an organization. Furthermore it is hard for me to believe but our school had a car just for driver’s education. Proof of both are on page 74 of the 1966 Chelsea Dragon yearbook.

Other than driving while in class I don’t think I ever practiced other than twice. Once when my Dad and family were down from Illinois visiting my Grandfather Robert and I. It seems Dad let me practice driving his car in preparation for my driver‘s license test. It had an automatic and Grandpa’s didn’t. I did try driving a car once with a clutch that belonged to my boyfriend at the time Carl Bevenue. Carl and his family lived out in the country and the experience was negative.

The testing agents came periodically to Chelsea, a town of circa 1,400, to offer the driving test. After finishing the class in the early part of the summer I asked my second cousin Larry DeLozier if I could borrow his car to take my test. Larry worked at the local grocery store a year before heading off to college to study psychology that in years to come he would use to help survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing. He had a new yellow Mustang and for some mysterious reason Larry agreed. He was a nice guy.

The test results were: I aced the written part and scored the lowest possible by one point in the actually driving section to be able to get my driver’s license. I failed at parallel parking having only done it once in class, maybe, and it cost a bundle of points. Fortunately I got the license which in those days had no picture on it. Also somewhat fortunately I had no interest in driving but I had a license. My transportation modus in high school and college was having my Grandfather or friends haul me around. Once I moved to Tulsa in 1971 to work I used the bus. Not until my first husband and I moved to San Antonio in 1973 was it necessary that I finally actually learn to drive and what a place to learn. It was the eighth largest city in the U.S. at the time with lots of Hispanic population newly arrived from Mexico that really wasn’t into stopping at stop signs or lights. I don‘t know if Mexico is still that way but back in the 1970s, stop signs and red lights were just suggestions. My way of dealing with the challenge of driving in San Antonio while Lindy was away on a week business trip to Atlanta was to go to work before everyone else by at least an hour and leave an hour later to avoid the heavy traffic. I survived and was I glad when he returned to chauffer me around again.

So in a nutshell I really never learn to drive until I was 25 and then I drove predominantly in Oklahoma except briefly while living in Texas for 4 months and for a trip to upstate New York and New Mexico trying to escape Oklahoma in the summer of 1977. That all changed when I moved to Anchorage at the age of 29 in 1978.  Here I had to really learn to drive and on slick streets and in snowy conditions.

My first car was a borrowed Saab with yes a clutch. I drove it alone to visit Earthquake Park (in the area where I now live) that fall and in backing up almost went over the cliff. It was difficult to find someone to pull me back to safety. Finally a Seik had pity on me and my driving skills and gave me a quick tow out.  Then within two years I almost died in my learning experiences in a 1980 car wreck when another driver ran a red light and hit me in my newly paid off Honda Civic. I survived and have been driving just about every since except for the last two months of 2012 healing up from a broken wrist.

I still do not like driving, just the freedom it gives one. I prefer to be taxied around by those who are more skilled at the avocation than myself and leave me the luxury to pursue other activities while riding and they use their precious time driving.

Mary Alta Buckingham - Learning to Drive Memoir - January 7/13, 2013