Driving Down the Shore by
(194 Stories)

Prompted By Learning to Drive

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My learning to drive was relatively uneventful, very typical of a teenager in northern New Jersey at the time.  We were fortunate to have driver’s ed in school, complete with a dedicated car. I remember one of the gym teachers was the driver’s ed teacher, and he would gently coach me to “give it more gas.” Most of my learning time I spent with my father in a 1964 Dodge Dart. He would take me to an empty parking lot on weekends so I could practice parallel parking and K-turns (I think Californians call them 3-point turns). The biggest quirk of the Dart was its set of push buttons on the dashboard, which was the automatic transmission. My dad prohibited my mother from being in the car when I was learning. She was (and still is) an anxious and impulsive person, and my dad was afraid I couldn’t learn if she was present. He probably was right. I passed the test and got my license shortly after my 17th birthday in the late spring of 1970.

I knew I really wasn't supposed to take the car to the beach, but the temptation was too much.

Through the end of the school year I didn’t drive that much because of the school rules–we weren’t permitted to drive to school during regular hours, only on weekends or evenings, after the last “late bus” left. That July, my parents went on a trip for a week, and my younger brother was at summer camp, so I was on my own. My two closest friends, Adriana and Sherry, suggested we visit another friend, Debbie, down the shore at Beach Haven. (For those folks not from New Jersey, “down the shore” refers to the long strip of Atlantic coast beaches.) Debbie’s mom had a beach house, and she would chaperone, and we could stay overnight.

I knew I really wasn’t supposed to take the car (this one a 1967 Dodge Coronet) to the beach, but the temptation was too much. Before picking up Adriana and Sherry, I went to the local gas station, had them do a “full serve,” check the oil, etc, as if I was going on a cross-country trip. All the way down the Garden State Parkway, I was careful to observe the speed limit and all driving rules. Good news was that the trip back and forth was uneventful, and we had a great time at the beach. I would be back home before my parents returned.

One thing I hadn’t counted on–the sun at the beach. Adriana was half Puerto Rican, Sherry French Canadian, and Debbie had black hair and olive skin. All three got beautiful tans. My super-fair skin let me down–as soon as I got home, I was lobster red and was covering myself with Noxzema, which did little and made me smell bad. When my parents got home, my dad took one look at me, and I knew I was busted. Here goes, I’ll be grounded for the rest of the summer, I thought. He paused for what seemed like forever. Finally, he shook his head and smiled, and said, “I assume you drove responsibly.” Meekly, I nodded, and that was the end of the incident.

In my 20s, two different boyfriends tried to teach me how to drive a manual transmission, with mixed results. By then I was in California, and while I was staying with my parents between my sophomore and junior years in college, Harry took me out in his Opel Cadet. Unfortunately my parents lived at the top of a very steep hill, and Harry was worried about the Opel’s transmission, and I never did successfully drive up the hill. The next time, about four years later, Hugh took me out in his sister-in-law’s 1962 Rambler, a big powder blue tank of a car with a column shift. It was intimidating, but he said, “Look, this thing is so heavy that if you hit anything, the Rambler will win.” I did manage to make my way around with just the occasional stall. However, I doubt I could remember how to drive a manual today.

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I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: been there


  1. Suzy says:

    Hey Marian, my fellow New Jerseyan. Your story reminds me of the exception to the no-permit-until-you-turn-17 rule, which was if you had driver’s ed in school. I forget why I wasn’t able to do that, maybe because priority was given to students in order of age and I was the youngest in the class. I love that your Dart had pushbuttons for shifting gears – my Valiant had a regular lever on the steering column, but we had previously had a 1960 Valiant with pushbuttons. I was sorry I didn’t get to drive that one.

    I learned to drive a manual transmission when I got my Alfa Romeo after law school. I actually prefer driving a manual, except in hilly places like San Francisco, where it terrifies me. I remember once backing down a steep hill in SF because I couldn’t get the car going forward quickly enough!

  2. Betsy Pfau says:

    I also like the reminder of the push button transmission, Marian. That was a big feature of those old Dodge/Plymouth cars. That was supposed to be very innovative, but we see how that turned out. I love your father’s reaction to the give-away of your sunburned face. He seems like a great guy; very patient and understanding. Like Suzy, I eventually managed the art of manual driving, but gave it up many years ago as my kids were learning to drive and we needed a simpler car for them. I’m sure I would be intimidated to try it now. Thanks for sharing your story.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    Marian, I had forgotten our first car as a couple was a lovely green Dodge Dart with those push buttons. Ironic that my husband’s current Prius has buttons, which took me a bit of time to figure out. Especially the part about pushing the off button so you don’t leave the car running when you think you have parked it. I love the little details in your story that evoke memories fo me. The smell of Noxema, which I also associate with summer. The full-service gas station. A real nostalgia trip.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, Laurie. Remember all those green cars? The brown Dodge Coronet wasn’t nearly as fun as the Dart. When I drove it, it was in the era of studded tires that spun in the rain, which I did once (fortunately on a deserted road), before they were taken off the market.

  4. Glad I could remind you of stick shift driving. I loved your title. “Down the shore.” Really captures the vernacular at the time. And of sunburns! Ouch!

    I was definitely a standard transmission fan most of my life — I had cars (and trucks) that were either racy or utilitarian. I recall my disdain at discovering a car with a push button drive selector — the ultimate breakable feature! But those days marked the beginning of auto innovation: new tail fin designs every year, etc! Now, of course, companies are striving to completely automate the driving experience. What will that yield???

    • Marian says:

      I think it will usher in the era of self-driving cars, Charles. The milennials here (Silicon Valley) don’t know how cars, and anything else mechanical, for that matter, really work. (In my tech writing days I had to explain an electric motor to two young men.) My education about cars came about at my women’s college, strange as that was. One of the RAs was married to a very handy guy, and he assembled a bunch of us and made us partially take apart his old Ford truck. I learned so much (even though I didn’t want to do it again), and this gave me an advantage with mechanics, being a young blond gal at the time! I did try to change the oil on my own once but couldn’t remove the nut to the pan because it had been put on with one of those air-driven tools.

  5. I lived in San Francisco in the late 60s and 70s. One of the most relevant experiments of the time was an auto repair garage run by and for women. It was quite a venture, a real mechanic’s garage with tools and a lift, rented for nothing in a space South of Market. An impossible venture to embark upon there, but that was in the days when the area was full of lofts and rehearsal spaces.

    I wrote about that garage in Retro: https://www.myretrospect.com/stories/winter-sun/

  6. Memory lane indeed! (Is there any speed limit on memory lane? Definitely a one way road).

    All this talk about Dodge Darts (that would be Dodge Dahts to the beloved Click and Clack on the old Car Talk.) And the Opel! Friendly amendment: the good folks at Opel spelled that model the “Kadett”. I know. I had one: the sporty version known as the Rallye (sic). It, too, had a manual choke and a temperament to match.

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