Tuesday, June 23, 2009
See the USA in your Chevrolet -- NOT!
My blogger friend Reamus (aka Michael Burns of Carlsbad, California) took his trusty RV steed, La Coachasita, out onto the open road again a few weeks ago for yet another look at America and Canada, and thus far on this particular trip he has logged over 8500 miles.
In his most recent post, he happened to mention the Platte River in Casper, Wyoming, and I remembered that I learned to drive a car at the other end of the Platte River, where it empties into the wide Missouri near the little town of Plattsmouth, Nebraska. Descriptive name, don’t you think? Rather like looking around New Orleans and deciding to call it Mississippismouth, Louisiana. But I digress. Let me begin at the beginning.
Some of my friends in Texas began driving around their parents’ farms when they were 12 or 13, and not only did all of them obtain their driver’s licenses as soon as they legally could but also owned their own vehicles at 16. Compared to these societal norms, our family was distinctly underprivileged. Both of my parents knew how to drive, but they did not own a car. My dad rode in a carpool with several other men to his job at an aircraft factory 34 miles away in Fort Worth. Neighbors picked me up and took me to Sunday School. I rode to school with a teacher who lived nearby and happened to be going in that direction herself. My mother bought groceries by picking up the telephone and ordering what she needed from one of the grocery stores in town; the owner pushed the cart up and down the aisles and filled the order herself, then had it delivered by panel truck to our house. We did not have indoor plumbing, so we had no home washing machine; Mama rode with a neighbor into town each week to do the family laundry at the local washateria, an early version of the modern-day laundromat that was fitted out with wringer washers and tubs. Our house was a regular stop on the routes of the milk truck and the bread truck and, dare I say it, the ice man, who delivered 25-pound chunks of ice for our ice box twice a week.
I know. It was a different world.
My mother’s favorite joke was the one about the country wife who committed suicide, and when her husband was asked whether he knew of anything that might have led her to do it, anything about which his wife might have been depressed, he said, “Nothing that I can think of. Why, she hasn’t been off the farm in fourteen years.”
So 16 came and went. And 17, and 18. At 19, after a couple of years in college, I got a job for a few months at Santa Fe Railroad in Fort Worth (I rode the bus) and then joined the Air Force. At 20, I was sent to Florida, where I met the future Mrs. RWP. Fast forward about a year and a half. I was now stationed at SAC Headquarters in Bellevue, Nebraska. She was still in Orlando. We were engaged to be married. Because you never really miss what you never had, I still did not own a car. The future Mrs. RWP, however, owned a 1961 Ford Falcon.
One day in March 1963 I was sitting at my desk in the underground command post at Offutt Air Force Base when this thought formed itself in my brain: “It certainly is going to look awfully strange for the bride to drive away from the church.” So I asked Captain David Means, a co-worker and church friend, if he would teach me to drive so that I could get a driver’s license before my wedding in May. He agreed to, but because he felt that Bellevue was too busy a place to learn how to drive on the streets, we went south a few miles to the smaller town of Plattsmouth on several successive Saturdays. In a few short weeks, during which Captain Means’s hair turned noticeably grayer, I learned enough on the hills of Plattsmouth about driving to obtain a Learner’s Permit from the great cornhusker State of Nebraska. Armed with that, I flew to Orlando, married Mrs. RWP, and drove all the way back to Nebraska with the required licensed driver in the passenger seat.
Only later did I learn they meant a licensed Nebraska driver.
Unlike the green monster above, our own trusty steed was cream-colored.