Who can remember their sixteenth birthday? I barely do, probably wouldn’t except for the fact that on that March day or within a couple of days of it, I took my drivers test to get my license. I’m pretty sure it was as close to the day as I could have made it. I took it, on a cold, snowy March day, probably in my 1957 Volkswagen beetle, with all of 36 hp and sheet metal similar to what they made tanks out of. In Michigan, you had to go to the nearest police station, for me the one on Conner and Gratiot, and bring paperwork, I think proof of having taken the training, a car, and in my case, my mother, who never drove a day in her life. I’m not sure how we got down there to the station since I don’t remember my father being there; he was probably working because it was around 3 or so in the afternoon.
We went through the formalities inside the station and some big, gruff cop was the poor schmuck assigned to administer the test. I wasn’t at all sure I’d make the grade, especially because I wasn’t at all sure how I’d get him in the car. Thinking about it though, I realize my mother was probably left behind to wait in the station while we went out for our drive and the old VW was actually pretty roomy and easy to get into, as far as the front seats were concerned. Anyway, despite what I remember to be nearly blizzard conditions, we went out for our ride and 20 minutes or so later, I was a newly licensed driver in the great state of Michigan. I remember being a little nervous for the test but not overly so, I was sure I was a pretty good driver. Now, looking back on it, I’m quite sure the fact that I took it in my trusty ’57 V dub, already a vehicle with much experience, painted a funny beige color, was a major contributing factor. Had I taken it in, say a new Ford Falcon Sprint, the one with the 260 cu. in V8 and straight line acceleration out the wazoo, I’d have been very tempted to show off and, therefore, failed the test. No question about it, those 36 hp saved my bacon.
What else do I remember about that day? Truth be told, very little. It was early in 1963, several months before President Kennedy was shot and before Pope John XXIII died. The Cuban Missile crisis was five months in the past and although that event made me realize that very soon I’d probably either be drafted or have to join the service, and that that might mean actually seeing combat, that fear was passed by March of ’63. Life was pretty good.
I don’t remember what songs were popular early in 1963, probably Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys and He’s So Fine by the Chiffons, the big news is that the Beatles were still nearly a year away from their first hit record in the US. I had just started high school and was probably attending the East Side Design and Engineering School after high school classes in order to really get into the mysteries of mechanical drawing and design. I was just beginning to give some thought to what kind of career I might get into, the odds were high I’d end up a tool and die maker, just like my father. Learning as much about mechanical design and drawing would help me land an apprenticeship if things worked out that way.
It was a very different time, comparing then to now. I didn’t become a tool and die maker, thank God, and I haven’t owned a VW beetle in 30 years or more, but I owe that car a debt of gratitude. The thing was about as uncool as any car could possibly be, and most of my friends in high school spent a good deal of time laughing at me whenever I drove it, but of all the things that happened to me in March of 1963, it’s that car that sticks out in my mind. Who woulda thunk it?
(Note — I try to write about 800 to 1,000 words per day and sometimes I like to use the WordPress Daily Prompt to help me get going. This is something I wrote today in response to a prompt a couple of days ago. I may post these exercises of mine from time to time, just to vary the content of the blog.)