The min-van revolution was a God’s send to our family. Of course by this time, our family unit was nearing platoon size and even though we didn’t all live under the same roof anymore, we still had the occasional group deployment. Add to that the fact that most of us kids had doubled in size and in the end despite having a van, these later-in-life outings triggered more than one childhood memory of a Sunday morning of days gone by.
At this time I think I should share you with a brief history of my driving experience. In New Brunswick, teens were eligible for a driver’s license when they turned sixteen. The process involved writing an exam to gain your learner’s permit. After three months of supervised driving which included several loops around parking lots, cautious accelerations through back country roads and more than one cursed attempt at parallel parking, new drivers were allowed to take a road exam in hopes of gaining a full-fledged license.
When I turned sixteen I wrote my test and got my permit. All my friends were starting to drive. This was most apparent in the high school parking lot where more and more of my friends were buying old rust buckets and climbing the perceived social scale. The days where girls thought a boy on a BMX was dreamy had come and gone and I was falling further and further out luck.
After an extended stay in permit paradise, I gave into my fears and made an attempt at my road exam. As every sixteen year old at the time was well aware, the first phase of this exam involves a display of one’s parallel parking abilities. Strangely enough, the two failed attempts at mastering this intimidating driving manoeuvre hadn’t instilled me with the confidence or know-how to execute this task before the stern adjudicator. Needless to say, I never made it out of the parking lot that day. In fact, another eighteen years would pass before I would muster the courage (or interest) to try again. I failed then too. But after the two week waiting period I finally passed the test so many of my friends and siblings had breezed through nearly two decades before.
By the time I acquired my licence, the rules had changed. After numerous accidents, deaths, and maimings, the province had decided to change the game and introduce a new set of rules to ensure proper driver education. In retrospect, the process through which I witnessed so many of my schoolmates obtain drivers licences had failed many of my generation. I can name at least two of my friends who were charged with manslaughter for driver related deaths. Maybe it was a good thing I waited. I may have saved a life or two including my own.
I did eventually become a full blown driver and would go on to get my first car at 36 years of age. Let me tell you, that is a terrible time for a first experience with car insurance, rising fuel costs, and what seems like a constant onslaught of repairs.
In a way, it was my coming to terms with the realities of automobile ownership that inspired me to write this story. Remember when you were a kid and experienced some form of parental punishment or witnessed a course of action that you disagreed with completely? The kind that forced you to think when the time came that you became a parent, you would handle that situation better? Well, I always thought my parents were great except when it came to the cleanliness factor of their vehicles and I can remember telling myself that I’d always keep my car clean and presentable.
I recently borrowed one of Mom and Dad’s two cars when mine was in the shop. I know what to expect these days but it still gets to me. Like a splinter under your fingernail, it’s the kind of thing you can’t ignore. Orange peels from God knows when, anywhere from two to four porcelain coffee cups clinking together under the seats, crumpled Tim Horton’s bags, and that mysterious film that seemed to cover the entire dashboard like a thin layer of strawberry jam. Some things never change, but maybe that’s a good thing.
It had always been this way. It will continue I’m sure but now, like some degenerative family disorder, I have become the very car owner I swore I’d never be. Empty cigarette packages, plastic wrap, old newspapers, and at least one coffee cup in need of a serious wash to remove the green hair that has grown near the bottom. The floor is covered in small stones and gravel, bottle caps and used matches. In the trunk, there is a box of CDs from an old band of mine, some old drumming magazines, and a collection of reusable grocery bags. As I get older I’m starting to realize more and more that I am exactly like my parents, a perfect combination of both their strengths and weaknesses. And the best part is, I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I had to be a mix of two individuals, who better to pluck traits from than my two favourite folks?
Getting back to the point of this story, it wasn’t about cramped seats, awkward teenage years, or even how much of my parent’s traits can be seen in my every move. It doesn’t even really have anything to do with the cars we owned, really. The real point is simple and is actually more of a wish on my part. The instructions couldn’t be simpler. If you ever catch me parking my 1998 Toyota Corolla next to an 80’s muscle car in a mall parking and telling you how much of a classic car it has become, please feel free to punch me in the face.