When I was 13-years old, my older cousin and I got bored while my parents went out with their friends each weekend. So we decided to teach each other how to drive with my dad’s stick shift Chevy Nova, circa 1981. Yes, I said 13-years old. And yes, I said stick shift.
(aka manual transmission to the youngn’s).
Without so much as a learner’s permit between the two of us, we would take my dad’s ’91 Chevy Nova out for short little drives, all while my parents socialized and remained clueless. Since his small car was a stick shift, we ran into a few issues with some clutch-related setbacks. Once we figured out that you were supposed to push the clutch in to start the damn thing, we knew it wouldn’t be long before we were out cruising the ave. This little secret between my cousin and me – well, and my two little brothers (and if we’re honest here, all of my neighborhood) – got rid of my boredom and taught us a few lessons.
The first time we took the car, we got stuck at the top of the hill, only a block away from my house. After several panic attacks, we slid it into neutral, pushed her a bit and guided her back down the hill and home. Several trial and error memories make their way back into my mind, but I still am acutely aware of how very dangerous we acted and scarier is that I only realized that when I became a parent myself.
My cousin was the one who figured out how to drive the damn thing first, but from there, it was all hands-on learning for me. We ran out of gas once. We got it stuck in front of my middle school once. Finally, after some vigorous training, I felt comfortable enough to show off, and I invited my two best friends over so I could take them out on the ave. They were, of course, a bit hesitant, but oh so excited to finally act grown-up.
Yeah, that little ride didn’t end as well as I had hoped. As I was showing off with loud music and laughter, I ended up getting a little too close to the cars parked on the street, and inadvertently sideswiped a car’s side mirror. My best friend shut the radio off and I almost lost control of the car again thinking about what I had just done. As I sped home, there was silence until we pulled into my drive. As my heart rate started to slow, and my best friend’s started screaming at each other about which one of them distracted me more, I devised a master plan. I had to hide the damage from my dad and he had to buy it. That last part was the important part and it wasn’t overly clear it could be done.
Telling my parents what happened to the side mirror was laughable and completely unbelievable. Looking back, I should have taken more time and put more thought into my story, well, at least logic, but hell, what did I know? I was 13! As I sat in my room holding my breath, I heard my father’s angry eyes,
“What the hell happened to the car?”
I came downstairs like I was physically in pain and overly emotional. Drama. It should have been my nickname because I was all of it and then some. See, what I told them was,
“Dad, these three high school boys were walking down our street, and one of them had a baseball bat, and Teddy yelled something stupid that made them so mad they came up onto the driveway and just smacked the side mirror with their bat! Then, as I was getting ready to call the police, they ran off laughing! It was so scary, dad!”
Right? I had even taken a tiny compact makeup mirror from my new purse and smashed it right underneath the side mirror of the car to make it look real. I really thought nothing wrong with this excuse at the time.
My father told me to go upstairs and sit in my room until I could come downstairs and tell him the truth. I played dumb, pleading with him that was the truth. Obviously, I got grounded for one month, and I couldn’t get my learners’ permit until I was 15.
AND I got grounded from the Richard Marx concert.
That one put me over the edge of despair. I literally (probably) kind of cried the entire month. Did I learn my lesson? No. Did I take the car out when they left after that incident? Yes. But not as much because it sure wasn’t as cool anymore. My little bro did (I was a horrid excuse for a role model and passed that torch) and after a horrible excuse my parents finally started writing down the mileage before they left.
Similar to the way they used to mark their liquor bottles to make sure we weren’t drinking while they went out. Out drinking. I mean, that was a no-brainer until they realized one Christmas that the ol’ BV & Coke wasn’t as potent per usual. They figured out we added water to get those lines to match up and it worked like a charm for a while. We were bad kids.
“Heirlooms we don’t have in our family. But stories we’ve got.”
– Rose Cherin (2008)