My granddaughter, Shelby, just got her “learner’s permit” and has begun taking a driving course. Her Mom, like most parents, is adding her experience in driving a motor vehicle to the basics being taught in the driving school by allowing her to drive, under her direct supervision and in a “semi-controlled” environment (lightly travelled roadways), short distances and during daylight hours. Granted, in Lubbock, as compared to Austin, there are very few times when traffic could be deemed “heavy” and anything other than a short trip would take you out of the county, maybe even out of the state.
When I learned to drive, Austin was somewhat smaller than Lubbock. We lived way out of town in a small community called “Sunset Valley”, accessible only by US Hwy 290 or by Manchaca Road via gravel paths called “Jones Road” and “Sunset Trail”. My grandfather would allow my brother and I to get behind the wheel of his 1948 Pontiac and drive the mile or so from Manchaca Road to Sunset Trail. Westgate Blvd. was not even thought of at the time so there were no cross streets or traffic signals between Manchaca Road and Sunset Trail. I was about 11 years old at the time and really had to crane my neck to see over the massive steering wheel of the Pontiac. Learning to let the clutch out and accelerating at the same time so as not to give my grandfather whiplash was quite a trick because my feet just barely reached the pedals and I had to almost stand up to completely disengage the clutch. Sometimes I would get to drive the short distance from Sunset Trail at US Hwy 290 to Jones Road, where my grandfather would get back behind the wheel and drive the remaining 300 yards to our house. At times, my Aunt Jolly would let me drive that same distance in her 1954 (almost brand new at the time) Chevrolet. It had a decidedly “quicker” clutch but the seat was adjustable so that I could almost reach the pedals without too much strain. The remainder of my learning experiences came from the times my brother would allow me to drive from the intersection of Jones Road and Brodie Lane down to where Williamson Creek crossed and Brodie became so narrow I doubted if two cars would fit, side by side. At that point, there was enough room, using the creekbed, to make a three movement (sometimes four or five) turnaround and head back to Jones Road. By this time we had moved into town on Montclaire, about 4 blocks off of South Lamar and my brother would drive me out to Jones Road or Brodie Lane to begin my driving “lessons”.
Neither of my parents participated in teaching me how to drive. My mother had gotten her license in Louisiana by showing proof to the parish clerk that she was sixteen and by paying a minimal fee. This was in about 1935. We moved to Texas in 1949 and she did not (by her own choosing) drive a car again until 1985. She had said she was so upset with my father because he was moving her away from her parents that she would make certain he would pay by driving her anywhere and everywhere she went. This was more than O.K. with him since she would become that much more dependent on him and he, literally, would know where she was at any given time.
My father had little time to spend with either my brother or me when it came to passing on knowledge about anything, much less driving a motor vehicle. I suspect my brother got more “bootleg” time behind the wheel with my father because, by the time he reached 16, there was no one else around to teach him and he took both the written and behind the wheel tests, passing them and receiving his drivers’ license on the same day. Neither my brother nor I wasted time taking a written test first just to get a permit to drive with a licensed driver in the front seat. It wouldn’t have served much purpose anyway, since the only licensed driver even remotely available was my father and he was always working, either on the job or around the house. Somehow, my brother and I managed to learn the basics and eventually become reasonably, safe and sane drivers.
My daughters both had the benefit of my wife’s and my expertise when it came time for them to learn to drive. Although both were required, by law, to take an approved driver’s training class to obtain their “learner’s permit”, they were given “pre-legal” training prior to these classes, as I am reasonably certain most parents provide. There are just certain little things that aren’t taught in any school. Even back in the mid to late 1980′s, on Sunday afternoons, Jones Road was lightly travelled and the parking lot at Tony Burger Center was ideal for teaching the almost lost art of driving a car with a manual transmission. Although the equipment had changed, the training grounds and methods were pretty much the same.
Over the years, both daughters have become excellent drivers; safe, sane and courteous. Well, safe, anyway. We have been fortunate in that only two of the vehicles they drove were “totaled” as a result of collisions. One collided with a rather large bull on Manchaca Road, the other with a Dodge Ram pickup. No one was injured in either of the wrecks except the bull, which eventually died as a result of a gunshot (acutally several) wound from a Travis County Deputy Sheriff.
Hopefully, Shelby will pay close attention during her driver’s training class and closer attention to her Mom as she begins to spend more time behind the wheel. It seems there are many more distractions available to drivers these days what with smart phones, multi-channel radios, ear phones that block out even the loudest siren, fast food and supersized slurpies, on board televisions and computers, etc.. etc.
In my day, if your car had a radio, there was only one station that played the music we all listened to. Obviously there were no carphones, much less smart ones; ear phones were common only to those with hearing aids, food and drink were to be consumed in either a restaurant, at home or at a picnic, and the biggest challenge of all was shifting, smoothly, into second gear while your right arm was held tightly around the girl sitting next to you on the bench seat.