Thursday, December 21, 2017

What 50 years of driving has taught me

50 years ago, I cranked the 4 cylinder, air-cooled engine in the first car I drove and rolled out on the macadam roads of North Georgia. The year was 1967 and I was driving a 1963 Corvair Monza, which I bought using the wages I earned working at the Tastee Freeze in Woodstock, Georgia. I was 15 years old.

I headed for Canton 20 miles north, on the winding, hilly 2 lane roads so I could take my driver's license test. I shifted the 4-speed manual transmission like a NASCAR pro, having thoroughly qualified the skill on the dirt road down from my house on Arnold Mill road. My Mom would watch me pull out of our driveway and motor down a quarter mile to a dirt rod, so I could develop the skills safely and as soon as I was out of her sight, I would gun the motor and run that back road as if I had 10 Federal cars in pursuit.

I knew nothing of Ralph Nadar's book, "Unsafe at any speed", which doomed the Corvair and I did donuts and slid sideways as often as the dirt road would allow. I was learning to drive and in North Georgia at that time, it was a much needed skill. When winter arrived, I was well prepared for the black ice and using a clutch at the top of a hill to negotiate a right turn at a stop sign using all 3 pedals. I was developing skills most Baytownians would be solely lacking under the same circumstances, as this was my Drivers Education.

To date, I have never caused an accident. Maybe this is because I still keep the one car length for every 10 miles per hour rule I learned in the driver's handbook. I still do this, even on the crowded freeways. If people want to jump over in front of me to fill that void and, I let them and I don't get mad. I leave enough space that I don't even have to tap my brakes.

In 1986, my paternal grandfather's passing necessitated I make the drive from Baytown to Atlanta in winter. My brothers and I were allowed to take Bob Bailey's big Olds and we headed East on I-10 into what was heralded as the worst snowstorm in I-10's history. Prior to this, I had spent 2 winters in Montana, while stationed at Malmstrom Air Force Base and had made a trip across the Continental Divide to try and bring back an AWOL Airman. I was driving my personal vehicle, a 1952 International pickup and we went up and over the Divide in deep snow and after not finding the fellow, made the return trip at night again in heavy snow. I was 18 years old.

I still remember coming to a full stop on the top of a mountain and a herd of mule deer walking slowly in front of me and my 24 year old sergeant. He was from Pennsylvania and used to heavy snow, but he didn't feel comfortable enough in those conditions to ask to drive.  On our way to Atlanta, my brothers and I witnessed very many instances of 18-wheeler trucks off the side of the road and many cars, but I kept rolling east until we slid into hilly Atlanta. During our stay there, I taught two of my younger brothers how to drive on ice and snow, as they got their licenses years later in Houston.

What in the world does all of this have to do with us in 2017 and driving in the city limits of Baytown and Harris county? Everything. It's a war zone out there. I hate it and love it. At 65, I have 50 years experience in navigating roads and streets. I admit I am very judgmental, but also surprisingly tolerant at times. If you have a handicap tag or a very gray head, I am forgiving, If you have a cell phone stuck to your face, I am unsympathetic to your lack of awareness. You will get my custom "ah-oo-ga" horn every time. My bride hates this by the way and often blurts, "Please don't!"

I am a very deliberate driver, in that I am a stickler for coming to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights and if you tailgate or try to pressure me by getting on my bumper, you are going to get a very good look at my Vietnam Veteran license plates and a good squirt of my windshield washer fluid as it blows over the top of my Jeep. If you are too close to me, I will slow down, inhibiting your progress. Driving too close to another vehicle is like walking one foot behind someone on a sidewalk. It's very rude and I do not tolerate rude behavior on almost any level. I make no apology for my reaction when operating a moving vehicle.

I think drivers forget that they are actually hurtling through space when driving and forget they are risking their and your life so they can get where they are going. This is why they do everything under the sun when driving. They accelerate to a red light and never think braking is the solution to any situation. Lord help you if you try to pull out in front of them, as they will automatically accelerate to close whatever gap was there. Here we are about to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ child and you would think that maybe, just maybe, the spirit of this gift would play into their thoughts.

We have a few days left to be kind to each other before Christmas and then a whole new year to make changes in how we approach the simple act of driving a car and the people around us. How about we start today to be more considerate and slow down? Leave a little earlier and when someone wants to change lanes in front of us, we let off the gas and let them in. Merry Christmas.



Anonymous said...

Dandy Don Cunningham: I loved this column, Bert. It was funny , but also true. I’m not bragging because I’m not perfect, but I too try to come to a complete stop at stop signs and red lights. I also use my turn signals regularly to let folks know what I’m doing. Great job, brother. Have a wonderful day!

Anonymous said...

Do you remember the National Safety Council's program on tv at least 25 yrs
ago? I think we desperately need another reminder of driving safety & etiquette. That program changed my life as well as a defensive driving course I took to lower car insurance. Would love to see that program aired again.
Ann Oyler

Anonymous said...

Good article, Bert, now how about reminding/asking other drivers to use their turn signals and turn their lights on at dusk, dawn & in the rain or fog!!!! All these actions...or lack thereof...really tightens my jaws!!


Anonymous said...

Melanie Berges Ferguson: you were and are a brave soul!

Melvin Roark: Bert Marshall, my brother that was another spot on article, so true and my sentiments exactly. Keep the pencil sharp (or keyboard dust flying) and keep those great articles coming.

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas Bert. I enjoyed this read. Brought back many memories. ..Deb

Anonymous said...

Bert, I enjoyed your editorial about your driving experiences. I can claim similar experiences because I learned to drive in Dalhart, Texas in 1962. Not for sure how much you know about Texas, but I have seen it 21 degrees below zero and have seen snow drifts off the top of a three story school building in Dalhart.

Thank you,

Larry Castleberry

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