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First Cars

When I was 15 my father started to teach me to drive. He took me to the Mt Olivet Cemetery near our home and let me drive around its many winding roads. His primary vehicle was a large box truck used for his vending business and so it was the first thing I learned on. We went by the Missouri DMV and I picked up a study guide to practice the written part of the test. My weakest point was the parallel parking part, a challenge for most folks if my observation of my kids attempts is any indication.

The Saturday after my 16th birthday my father took me down to the Driver Examination station and I proudly aced the written test. I was then asked to go wait in my vehicle while I wait for a MO Highway Patrol agent to come administer the driving test. My father insisted that I use my moms 1994 Ford Explorer for this portion of the test despite the fact that I had not driven it before that day. My fathers rational was that as it was smaller it should be easier. While this may have been true it was still a much different experience than what I was used to. Consequently, I did not do very well and after failing the parallel parking portion I just barely fell short of the minimum amount to pass.

The rules at that time stated that I needed to wait 3 days before trying again but due to school and Wrestling practice I had to wait till the following Saturday. Again I passed the written and waited for the tester but this time in the E350 Ford box truck. He finally arrived and asked me if I was sure I wanted to attempt it in this big clunky beast. After some back and forth we were off and while I was far from flawless I earned enough points that by the time I again failed my parallel parking it didn’t matter.

Not long after earning my license I had to drop out of high school to support the family for several months. While that is a lengthy story that was very notable in my life suffice to say I gained a lot of life experiences in the realm of driving and beyond. I took some of the money I had earned from my weekend job and purchased a small 1988 Ford Escort (stock photo used above, can't find mine at the moment) from one of my fathers’ customers, G & L auto in Lee’s Summit. My dad drove me over to the owner’s house and there it was parked at the end of the cul-de-sac next to a basketball goal. Not being picky and just being excited about the concept of owning my own car I agreed to buy it after a cursory review. My father who was more savvy than I was popped the hood and asked a barrage of questions most of which went right over my head at the time. It had some rust on the rear driver side quarter panel and was a manual 5 speed but to me it was the coolest because it was going to be mine. I got it for just $500 but my father convinced them to write $250 on the bill of sale to save us on taxes. As I hadn’t learned to drive a stick yet my father drove it home with me riding shotgun.

At this point we lived out south of town on 20 acers and the long gravel driveway was a good starting point for me to practice on. I distinctly remember the sound of the gears as I failed to hit the clutch at the right time and my father and I winced instinctively. Gradually I got it down and we drove out to the nearby church and back then to the rock quarry and back and before long I was able to take off from even from the steepest of angles.

I drove that car to and from work, my buddy Andy’s house, and all points in between. I went to a private high school and most of my friends not only already had their own cars they had very fancy cars so I was kind of the odd man out but I didn’t mind. I was still proud of my hunk of junk. At work things were different, it was a less affluent population and many of the people my age had to catch rides to and from work. In my ongoing efforts to gain everyone’s approval I often offered to shuttle folks around town. Gas was dirt cheap usually around $0.75 a gallon and the small tank on my bucket of rust meant I could fill up for next to nothing. That was good as I was only making about $5 an hour so I didn’t have a lot of money to blow.

If my father was still alive I am sure he would debate the next line. He didn’t teach me much about car maintenance and I learned the hard way that you need to check your oil. Friction in an engine is very dangerous and one day on my way home from work about 5 minutes into my commute I was headed south on Y hwy and my car sputtered to a stop, never to turn over again. I had blown the engine and was consequently without transportation for several months.

That fall I had saved up enough money for a down payment on a new car. We went to M & T Auto sales on 58 hwy and before long my father fell in love with a 1986 Chevy Monte Carlo. Not knowing anything about it myself I was very easily swayed by his love for the car and soon drove off in this silver land yacht. I didn’t have any credit (and my fathers credit was poor) so my step-mom agree to co-sign with me. This was my first ever car payment and thus my insurance rate went way up too. Still I drove that car all through college until I was living in Warrensburg in some trashy apartments on the SW side of town.

One day I walked outside to discover that the lug nuts for all 4 tires had been removed and one of the tires was missing. Someone had taken a concrete rain gutter and used it to lift the side of the car and pry off the tire. I know this because it was still laying there underneath next to the rim. The rim that was sitting flat on the ground. Needless to say I was not at all pleased. My theory is that while trying to steal all of the tires someone spooked them and they ran off as the “missing” tire was later found in the grass at the bottom of the hill. I purchased some locking lug nuts but soon learned that was a minimal hindrance at best as within a month they struck again this time succeeding in taking both rear tires.

Being a poor college student I didn’t have the money to replace these and neither my girlfriend’s nor my parents were in our lives so we just started to walk everywhere, after all Warrensburg is a small town. It didn’t take long till the apartment complex started to complain and despite my pleads they had my car towed (how without 2 tires I am still unclear on). By the time I had the money to replace the tires the shyster at the impound lot on 50 hwy had charged me an inordinate amount of money for storage and it was more than the vehicle was worth. I was very sad to let it go but still fondly remember the fun I had driving around town in that car.

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