For me, youth and driving went hand in hand. From the moment that glorious, freedom representing, personal information holding, piece of plastic was placed in my hand on January 29, some years ago, I knew my world had expanded. It was something I had looked forward to as long as I could remember and the time was at hand, I was legal to drive. The unfortunate part of the entire situation was that I did not have my own car. I know many of you will be very, very surprised by this fact, but I did not grow up with money. When I turned 16, there was no Pink Trans AM in the driveway with a big bow on it, 80’s movie reference right there. My mom had a 1974 Chevy Nova with a three on the tree. For those of you who do not know what that means, I will educate you; it was a standard transmission car with the shifter on the steering column. Not on the floor like most cars. It was a three speed manual transmission on the steering column. Not a car a 16 year old girl at an east side high school wants to drive everywhere.
Mom was gracious and allowed me take some money she had put aside for me, when I was quite young and by a car for myself. I got a 1973 metallic blue Volkswagen Super Beetle. Ben is the name I gave him. It wasn’t really anything special; his license plate was 190 BEN, so Ben fit perfectly. Ben was a special car and made the first year or so of my driving life fun, fun, fun. Ben had a sunroof. Now, I need you to think back to the early 70’s and remember that cars did not have much electric powered anything; now think of the sunroof. It was manual. There was no button to push; it was a handle in the ceiling, which had to be rolled many times to get that sunroof to roll back into the roof of the car. Not only did it have a handle the roof was off track, so I had to roll the handle with one hand while pushing the roof with the other. Not only that, but it was a roof which leaked. When it rained, it rained inside of the car very much like it was outside of the car.
Another unique characteristic of my car was the flooring. Not the carpet, but the actual floor. One time one of my friends was stepping into the back of the car and her foot went right through the floor to the ground. That was the first of the floors in the car to go, followed quickly by the front passenger side and then the rear driver’s side. The only floor which held up through the time I owned the car, was the driver’s side. Thank you Ben, for keeping my feet firmly planted on your floor.
Ben took me many places and one of my favorite adventures he, my best friend Alica and I had was on the road the Old Mill stood. Alica and I had some crazy adventures in many cars, but Ben was the one in which we had our craziest and probably most dangerous. Let me start here, most of the best drives were at night, late, late at night. Alica and I, one late night when the moon was full, were doing what we did every night, driving around. We made it to the 7-Eleven at the base of Big Cottonwood Canyon and started heading west. We were heading west when Ben decided a right turn on E Big Cottonwood Canyon Road, I believe it used to have a different name, but I am not sure, would be a good idea.
On our way down the road, we had one of the best ideas I think two sixteen year old girls ever had. Let’s stand up on the seats with much of our bodies out of the sunroof and let gravity get us down the hill. FUN, let’s do it! So, we did. The two of us, took off our seat belts, stood up on the seats and leaned our backs against the roof of the car, while I steered with my feet. Alica’s mom was in law enforcement and my mom in the medical field and together we had it drilled into our heads that the most important when in a vehicle is safety. Alica and I consulted one another, and felt there was little to no danger in our allowing gravity to propel us to the end of this dark, curvy, vegetation lined, less traveled road. It is important for you to know my car only had an AM radio, so I had a boom box which traveled with me. It was the 80’s so we had our Depeche Mode or Erasure on as we coasted down the hill.
If you have never steered with your feet while watching the road from above your car, let me just tell you it is quite a challenge. Feet do not grasp the steering wheel nearly as well as hands do, so sharp turns done with shoed feet really gets the adrenaline pumping. Another big part of the adventure was when we were nearing the end of the road where the stop sign was. I was comfortable leaning against the roof of the car with one foot on the seat and the other on the wheel and I had to scrunch back down, get my knees past the steering wheel, my head and shoulders through the roof and get my rear end back in the seat all while ensuring my feet were on the right pedals. I did this with just enough time to downshift and break to get us stopped at the stop sign. Perfection. I never missed the stop sign. The Old Mill was our indicator that in a short amount of time, we had to begin our descent into the cockpit of the car and regain full control.
Looking back, I know this was dangerous, but I would not change a thing, it was an adventure, the wind was in our hair, the moon lit the road ahead of us, my feet steered us safely and Depeche Mode and Erasure gave us the groove to get from the top to the bottom in style. I would not recommend this to any other youngster, but hindsight is 20/20, and I now know it was not the best idea I ever had.
Here’s to living dangerously, living to tell about it and having the intelligence to warn others against doing the same thing.