I finished last week’s article with my then fiancée saying, “Sweetheart, the next BIG question I expect you to ask it.” Well, the big question was asked via telephone while I was Christmas vacationing in my home town. The answer, as reported in a previous article, was a resounding yes and we were married on March 30, 1970. Now back to the 1964 Ford Fairlane.
On the night my wife asked if I would like to drive her 1964 Ford Fairlane I had to confess that I had never in my life sat behind the wheel of any motorized vehicle. I did try to ride a bicycle once and nearly killed myself as I crashed into the concrete rail of a very large bridge. I never attempted to ride a bicycle again.
As I remember it was an incredible feeling to sit behind the steering wheel of the infamous Ford. My fiancée did an awesome job when introducing me to all the gages and gadgets illuminated in the dash. It was very important that I pay attention to minute details, which if ignored could do serious or fatal damage to the functionality of the engine, transmission, the clutch and the overall performance of the vehicle. To this day I get giddy sensations relative to the importance of the clutch and the mobility of the vehicle. Some of my teacher friends were driving vehicles with an automatic transmission while I was stuck, or challenged, with having to drive with a standard transmission and thus the activation of the clutch. The clutch would become my greatest nemesis.
There must be a smooth fluidity between gas pedal, gear shift and the clutch. I could not fine tune the subtle move that would put me into a forward motion. I would release the clutch too early or too late and thus always ended with a quick jerking sensation that often left my glasses landing on the dash. My fiancée would often bark words into my virgin ears that were completely outside the pages of the Webster dictionary—stun arse for one. As a teacher I quickly learned that stun is to be ‘knocked unconscious or into a dazed or semiconscious state’ and arse is a slang word used by Australians, the British and the Irish to describe a person’s rear end.
Imagine, because of my inability to effectively use a clutch in the mobility of a vehicle I was now reduced from being the handsome (according to my fiancée), slim, fairly intelligent and effective teacher to that of being an ass with the functionality or the capabilities of an unconscious or semiconscious person. Suddenly the inability to master the clutch put the brakes on my burning passion to drive. I felt despair, despondency and defeat sweep over me like an early morning mist creeping into some distant valley. To her credit my fiancée would not give up on me or the clutch fearing I would give up on her and find a desirable and an available young lady who might be driving a vehicle with an automatic transmission.
To conceal the embarrassment of failure we would take the vehicle to some hidden and hideous location and try again. Over and over again she would say, “George, keep your eye on the clutch, gas pedal and the gear shift. Watch carefully and don’t be such a stun arse.” I mean, this kind of instruction caused me to go cross eyed—two eyes and three instrumentations to look at simultaneously. How out-of-the-ordinary this must be. That did it (please read the frustration in my little brain). No more would I put up with such unconventional verbiage. No sir! I was about to take the situation under control and never again would I be humiliated to tears and have the term stun arse keep me awake at night.
“Get into the passenger seat,” I said with a fair amount of emphasis and a new sense of control. “That’s right young lady,” I said. “I will no longer be defeated by a darn clutch that I can’t see, can’t touch, can’t feel and up to a few days ago I thought was in the dash and not underneath the vehicle.” Without getting out of the vehicle we stumbled over each other for the exchanging of seats—that was almost as difficult as conquering the clutch.
Like the smoothness of an eagle in high flight I quickly engaged the clutch, gear shift and the gas pedal and to the astonishment and amazement of God (no disrespect of course) I began to move forward. Jerking, halting, hesitating but moving. “You’re doing great,” said my now legitimate passenger. “Keep it up! Keep it up!” The jerking, halting sensation gave way to a sense of achievement and accomplishment as I went from neutral to first to second to third gear—ZOOM! ZOOM!
“Slow down!” she said. “You’re going to kill us!” No sir. No way. I was not about to slow down. I’m moving baby and no one can stop me now, absolutely no one. With rocks and gravel flying into the air, I finally hit the main road in town and not as a stun arse but as the victor. “Hee-haw!” I shouted. “Now you are an ass,” said my fiancée, “because hee-haw is the cry of a donkey or a mule and right now you represent both.” I said, “Call me what you want baby. I am free! Free! Free! I have conquered the clutch!” Hallelujah a thousand times.
I was now approaching the school where I was one of eight teachers. A vehicle was parked that I thought belonged to one of the teachers who might be preparing work for the next day. Fully engaging the horn as I zoomed past the school my fiancée now shouted, “Slow down! That vehicle could be the cops!” Not a chance in heaven. No cops would be in town this late at night considering that the nearest detachment was forty-five minutes away.
“Hee-haw!” I shouted again and suddenly I saw it. Lights. Brights lights. Bright red and blue lights. RCMP lights. I could not believe it. What am I going to do? “Slow down,” said my passenger. “Pull off to the side of the road and stop the vehicle.” “I can’t,” I said. “I don’t know how to slow down and stop the vehicle. I only know how to move forward.”
I thought for sure I was about to hear an outburst of unconventional language being forced into my right ear but there was momentary silence. She forced me into a position to make my own decision and I somehow knew that on the inside she was killing herself with laughter. I figured out, all by myself, how to slip the transmission into neutral and with the slow manipulation of the brakes I brought the vehicle to a nice stop on the side of the road.
After I managed to get the transmission from neutral to park, my fiancée said rather sarcastically, “You can now put on your right signal light.” I was about to use my own unconventional language but was interrupted by the sudden knock on my window and there was an RCMP officer asking me to roll it down.
The Officer was nice—he knew my fiancée. “May I see your drivers permit?” he asked rather casually. I retorted, “What is a driver’s permit?”
I could feel my passenger literally vibrating and ready to explode with an ear shattering laugh. I actually didn’t know that a driver’s permit was required. In fact, in those days a driver’s permit had to be signed by my father. Talk about adding insult to injury.
Again, “May I see your drivers permit?” Now he was very serious and with a grave look, a very commanding voice and penetrating eyes that could clearly see in the dark, he asked again with special emphasis on every word, “May I see your drivers permit?” The pressure of momentary silence almost caused this beautiful 1964 Ford Fairlane to implode. “I don’t have a drivers permit…sir.” He retorted with a question/explanation, “You don’t have a drivers permit?!?!”
I was about to respond when my passenger suddenly leaned a little forward in her seat and looking across to where the RCMP Officer was framed in the opening window she came to my defense, that was a first, and then said, “Sir, he does not have a drivers permit and I accept full responsibility because I never told him about a permit and beside this is the very first time he ever…” I reached out to pinch her left leg, of which the Officer noticed, just to get her to shut up. Enough damage is done already and why release confidential information that will get me deeper into doo-doo—a child’s word for excrement.
The RCMP Officer was polite but decisive. “Sir,” he said, “I have to give you a thirty-five dollar ticket for driving without a permit.” Sarcastically I asked, “Does that mean you are giving me a thirty-five dollar ticket that I can cash or a thirty-five dollar ticket that I have to actually pay for—like, you know, money out of my pocket?”
He was not impressed and did not respond. He then looked across at my passenger and said, “Ma’am, this will cost you five dollars for allowing Mr. Rowe to drive your vehicle without a valid permit.” I was hoping that my fiancée would also get a thirty-five dollar ticket because based on my income at the time she would have had to pay the whole seventy dollars and that would have made my day, or night.
After a stern lecture we actually shook hands and I was about to put the car in gear when with a very friendly smile he said, “Mr. Rowe, please get into the passenger’s seat and do not drive until you get your drivers permit.” We both smiled and the passenger quickly became the driver again. Always remember that when facing challenges, the sun is always shining.