I remember the year 1957 very well. I was a junior in high school and had the “hots” for a lot of girls who wouldn’t give me the time of day. On March 30 of that year I turned the magical age of 16 which meant that I could finally get my driver’s license. What a moment that was as I would now have the gift of instant mobility; no more begging rides from other guys, taking buses, hitch hiking, or worst of all: walking!
My dad was cool about such things as me knowing how to drive at an early age. He was strictly “old school” and felt that when I went to take my driver’s test at 16, I should be an experienced driver. Hence, at age 11 he gave me my first lesson on our 1940 Buick. If you Google “1940 Buick” you will see a very large car so you can imagine what it was like for a kid of 11 to handle such a beast.
It was a three speed stick shift or as they said in those days, a “conventional shift.” For my first lesson we went to a large parking area near a park where we lived in Cincinnati, Ohio. If one was taking a driving lesson it was a pretty good place as it was wide open and no matter how bad I drove the car I couldn’t kill anyone.
A 1940 Buick exactly like the one I learned to drive on.
When I got in the driver’s seat I noticed that I had to really crane my neck to see out the windshield since I was basically just a little kid. Plus, I had to look through the steering wheel, not over it. So, there I was: not even a teenager yet but learning to drive a 10 year old Buick stick shift. Luckily, I rolled with the flow pretty good and within a few months I was a pretty experienced driver for an 11 year old kid. We used to vacation for a couple weeks in Atlantic City in the summer so I logged a lot of miles behind the wheel long before I ever turned 16. I may be the only kid from Cincinnati in those days who drove the Pennsylvania Turnpike before age 13!
When I finally turned 16, I got my driver’s license a few days later. I was six feet four inches tall by then and could easily look above the steering wheel of any car so that was no big deal. There was some humor though as the officer who gave the test was a bit concerned that a kid who supposedly just learned to drive at 16 could be so good at it. I didn’t dare tell him that I had driven about 6,000 miles between the ages of 11 and 16.
The 1950’s were a fun time to be a kid. There weren’t so many people around like today so driving was the way to go anywhere. Cars were different too; a lot more powerful than today. Plus, with a car there was always a chance to take a date to a drive-in movie: a place where movies were seldom watched. Today, I don’t know of any drive in movies that still exist.
It’s a different world now. I don’t see kids caring anything about driving or the classic cars like the hot rodders of the past. When is the last time you heard a great car song like “Little Deuce Coupe” or “Hot Rod Lincoln”? Driving has become boring and expensive to many as the period from 2000 to 2009 shows that the number of miles driven by 16 to 34 year olds dropped by 23 percent.
One of the great cars of the 1950's. A '57 Chevy convertible.
Some of that may be because of the Recession and part may be the desire of some to live in an urban environment where walking is a viable and cheaper option. Downtown Scottsdale has become a mecca for Millennials with its tall apartments housing 800 to 1,000 square foot units that can cheaply accommodate several of the younger crowd. Bars and restaurants are within walking distance so savings can be made by eliminating the cost of leaving the area. In recent years public transit has also eased the expense of driving a car.
Dylan once sang that “…the times they are a-changin’” and he was right; they always will change. Hopefully enough that the younger gang will someday realize how great it would be to put the top down on a convertible and get out of the madness of living stacked on top of each other in a tiny downtown apartment. If you have been around a while you know it can happen as everything is cyclical.
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