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Chance meeting sparks driving nostalgia

May 1, 2017
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

I saw my friend Ann at the grocery recently.

With a mixture of pride and fear, she reported that her grandson had just gotten that coming-of-age document, his learner's permit.

Having gone through that stressful passage myself three times with our own offspring, I patted her shoulder and told her to give me a call if she wanted to talk.

Later that day, I thought about Ann and her grandson and found my mind drifting back to some driving memories of old.

I recalled a period many years ago.... long before the era of automatic transmissions....when I was lured into teaching the basics of car operation to a novice teenage driver. My goal was to help the young man learn the tricky sequence of maneuvers necessary to operate a stick-shift car.

As anyone who has suffered through the process can attest, the only way to master the relationship between clutch and gearshift is while actually driving. The learning involves extended periods of tooth rattling, neck whipping and body jolting action. It is a time of high stress for any well-meaning instructor.

Fortunately, my driving student went on to become a fine, accident-free driver...who, by the way, switched as soon as possible to a car with an automatic transmission.

Another of my driver memories involved my childhood neighbor, Bina English. Mrs. English, who drove a massive, tank-like black Plymouth, frequently invited my non-driving Mom and me to go along on grocery shopping trips.

From the vast back seat, I'd nervously watch Mrs. English. My fears were sparked by a scary habit our chatty neighbor had. As she drove, she carried on a running conversation, continually turning her head......and her passengers, whether beside or behind her.

Mom and I sat with eyes fixed on the road in front of us, continually bracing for what seemed to be an inevitable crash. Yet, somehow Mrs. English, without a break in her talk, managed to pull her big car out of the way at the last instant. Though she was the queen of close calls, that fact had less to do with her driving skill than with the quick responses of those who shared the roadways with her.

Another driving technique I found more than a little unsettling was the routine used by my late father-in-law.

Pop Schenk was very protective of his cars and seldom took passengers. But occasionally, I was on hand when he decided it was time for the family to visit relatives. Then we'd all pile in.

Pop's standard method of operating a car was to keep one foot on the brake, one on the gas.

Never content to drive in the middle of a group of vehicles, he inevitably worked his way to the head of the line. From there, he'd use his stop and go pattern to control all the cars behind him. Their incessant honking never distracted him from his unique driving pattern. Each trip with Pop was a jerky journey.

The big, heavy vehicles of yesterday, with their gear shifts and temperamental clutches are now only found at classic car shows. New drivers like Ann's grandson have the advantage of much more responsive and comfortable transportation. But, you can be sure there are still chatty drivers like Mrs. English and start/stop drivers like Pop out there, adding their own exciting challenges to today's roadways.



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