August 11, 2010
Bob Castro's driver ed. memories: Look out Mr. Peyton!
My recollection of learning how to drive, and what led up to it, brought a smile to my face recently. As most of us will remember, when we were in school virtually all transportation was by foot, with sporadic parental motorized intervention.
In our senior year some of the class of 1960 were lucky enough to convince their parents to let them use the family car or to buy their own. Or if your father wasn't too keen on the idea of letting you drive the family sedan, one might release the brake of the aforementioned sedan after the rest of the family was asleep, roll it back down the driveway (with the help of similarly auto deprived friends) and push it down the block before starting it.
Then there was the inevitable scrounging for "pocket change" among the passengers so that we could put enough gas in the tank (at about $0.26 per gallon) for the evening's festivities, and still leave enough in the tank so that it wasn't apparent that it had been driven. My classmate, Jim Merry, was a specialist at this, and I often wondered what his dad (who I think was in the Air Force) would have done to him if he were caught borrowing the family car. My dad was rather strict and I figured that just for being a willing participant and passenger, I was flirting with something between being sent to military school and death. And those were the good options. With Jim's dad, who knew what could happen.
So it was with great relief that John Koehler, one of my three closest friends at DAHS, got a '49 Chevy that we could get a lift to school in and bomb around in on weekends. I used this fact as a wedge when I approached my dad about driving. Additionally, my dad was getting tired of driving me around to my part-time jobs, the first of which was as a ride operator at Nunley's Happyland on Hempstead Turnpike.
When I asked him if I could take Driver Ed. (with Mr. Peyton), he agreed without even the smallest bit of resistance. I was one of Mr. Peyton's prize driving students and he often marveled at my ease and familiarity behind the wheel of the Driver Ed. car. He once remarked to the other three occupants of the car (much to my embarrassment) that "he would feel safe sitting on the hood of the car" while I was driving. I didn't have the heart (the guts really) to tell him about the amount of "unauthorized" practice I'd had. I completed Driver Ed. and received my junior license and that valuable "blue card" which allowed you to drive after dark without another licensed driver in the car.
Several months after getting my blue card, I was allowed to use my mother’s car, a 1954 Mercury convertible after school. One of my first solo driving experiences became what could charitably be called "a close encounter". I was rushing (I was always late for something) to see a Blue Dragons baseball game and came into the parking lot near the ball field (behind the metal shop) at a "brisk" pace. I wanted to see John Koehler pitch, especially since he didn't pitch that often and I couldn't hit him at all when we played stickball. The battery that day turned out to be Gary Parker and Artie Dewain Lanfear. But, I digress.
The parking lot was small and crowded, but I spotted an empty space, probably recently vacated by a departing teacher. I pulled the car into the space at about 20 mph, without ever giving the brakes a serious thought. Unfortunately, what I had not seen was another teacher bent over, getting into his car. I "panic braked" the car amid the head turning screeching of tires, but I managed to miss him, his car and every other solid object in the vicinity. Is there anyone out there who has not figured out yet who the teacher was?
The look Mr. Peyton gave me as he exited the car was one that I've not forgotten to this day. Yes, my life as a free teenager flashed before my eyes, and yes, there was an animated lecture and yes, there was the threat of "recalling" my blue card, but worse than that was the realization that I'd almost hit him. And, I took major grief for month's to come from the friends who were at the game. "Nice play Shakespeare" and "cool maneuver, pal" are two of the printable comments that had to be endured.
Speaking of Shakespeare, "all's well that ends well", as no other punitive actions were taken by Mr. Peyton, after much pleading and promising on my part. And, my Mom eventually sold the car to me because I had demonstrated such a serious attitude towards driving. I'm sure that I was not the only "Rebel without a cause" driver out there during our DAHS years.