I was cruising down the QE highway on the way to Ponoka last week when I realized with some shock that I have actually been driving some sort of a vehicle for over 54 years. From behind the wheel along the way, I can recall owning quite a few ‘old clunkers’ in the early days, dented and abused some of them, and managed to get my fair share of tickets and flat tires before I finally realized that maybe it was time to lighten up on the gas pedal and settle down a little.
Like most of you who have reached our so-called ‘Golden Years’ and still have a driver’s license, yours truly has slowed down quite a bit, and despite still having some of the same old bad habits and being far from perfect, I have somehow been lucky enough to get where I was going despite numerous wrong turns and a few bouts of stubborn senility. Now I am finding that I am driving the speed limit, and can’t help but notice that people are whipping past me and weaving in and out of traffic while often offering a ‘dirty look’ or a honk, and then repeating the same sort of frustration when we are both sitting together at the next stop sign. As a grandfather, I drive very carefully through school zones, make a point of stopping to let pedestrians and cyclists cross the road in residential zones, and have great respect for our emergency workers out on the roads as well as those in marked construction zones. Like the grand old song says, at my age, I have to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road, so I have no time to be chatting on the cell phone, texting, tweeting, eating or whatever other distractions some now perform, but should never be attempted while driving. Here are a few of my favourite memories of those early years of gallivanting around the highways, by-ways, and bumpy roads of our pristine town and county.
● After finally managing to get my Alberta driver’s license at the age of 18, my first vehicle was a grey four-door Plymouth, which got me into a lot of fun, drive-ins and a little trouble until my girlfriend ran it into the side of a truck. That left me ‘grounded’ and on my bike or hitching a ride with my buddies for quite some-time until I was able to save enough money to get the insurance for my somewhat ‘souped up’ Dodge. As soon as I could afford it, or was able to beg, borrow, or scrounge the extras, I added fender skirts, Hollywood’s, white-walls, blue lights, and plush red seat covers, and then tied a pair of dice to the rear-view mirror, and some would refer to it as Mikey’s version of the ‘Love Boat. ‘ on wheels.
● Among my favourite ‘hot rods’ was a sleek black Ford Galaxy 500 that used to be a cop car, but after a few great years of go-go-go, patch-ups, and several mufflers, the gas tank fell off one day in the Complex parking lot when I was going to work, and I ended up selling what was left to Ron Spark’s Auto Wreckers for $75.00. As in the young and restless lifestyles of many of us, serious dating and getting married suddenly required us to ‘change gears’ in our choice of vehicles and driving habits. Before the kids came along we purchased a hot red little Ford convertible, which made us feel like teens again, but after chauffeuring all the relatives, buddies, and my ball team around the country for a few years, the springs gave out and we traded her in on a much more mellow Chevy Lumina van, which was great for hauling groceries and garbage, and would soon have baby seats added.
● As the years progressed, I did manage to sneak in a tiny little pick-me-up flat-deck truck, which I used just for roaring around town, going to work, and doing chores. Then there was that shiny new 10-passenger van, which served on a 24-7 basis for hauling around four kids, the dog, those fun but noisy baseball and hockey teams as well as for all sorts of shopping, and occasionally, for hitching up a trailer and heading out into the wilderness for a great escape from everyday domestic bliss.
● After a few more assorted family vehicles, I have mellowed a whole lot more, but at the age of 72 I still get to drive our new bright red SUV. I really enjoy travelling with my beloved wife and co-pilot at my side, who by the way is a great driver but doesn’t believe she needs a GPS. During our trips, I am constantly reminded to: not ride the brakes, to shoulder check before pulling out to pass, to turn down the radio, to not push any buttons until I know what they are for, to park in the far corner of the parking lot then walk to the store, to not dare to bring any junk food into the vehicle, to not drive under 70 in the fast lane, and on and on.
Whatever the case, I love it, because I still have the privilege of driving, and I really don’t mind the fact that it is a retired husband’s duty to wash and clean the vehicle on a regular basis, to clean the bug splats off the windshield, to organize oil changes and servicing when required, and to read the owner’s manual in my spare time. Please be prepared when you venture out with your shiny wheels, drive safe, enjoy your adventure on the road with your most precious cargo, and in the meantime have a great week, all of you.