For most of us back in the day, our first car came a little later in life than it does for the young folks today. In fact, a two car family was an oddity back in the 50s and early 60s, much less a highschooler with their own car. Sure, one or two of my high school classmates owned a hot rod. They were the ones with grease under their nails and wore an oil stain on their shirt as a badge of honor. But for most of us, we made do with bicycles, public transportation and the occasional use of the family car.
I learned to drive in our family car, a ’55 four door Chevy Impala. It was a pretty cool car, black in the front and on the bottom of the doors and rear quarter panel sporting a white roof and trunk. I had to master the three on the column manual transmission before I could take it out under Dad’s or Mom’s supervision. Right after I got my restricted license, which required a licensed driver be with me, our trusty car developed a malady common to many manual transmission ’55 Bel Aires; it would honk the horn as you shifted between first and second gears. So now, if I was to pass my driver’s test, I would have to consistently shift without the horn’s accompaniment. I had begun to think that would never happen. Just like Chuck Berry’s resentment to the seatbelt that wouldn’t budge, I hated the horn that would not stop beeping.
Then magic happened. The Chevy developed some mechanical problems and Dad borrowed or rented a car with an automatic transmission, I can’t remember which. So that weekend he and I headed out to the Florida DMV so I could get my real license. The written test was a breeze; I got only one question wrong. So I waited nervously for the driving test. Sure enough the meanest looking driving inspector on duty that day came up to me and said “Let’s go.” A half hour later as I pulled back in to the parking lot after turning, signaling and parallel parking, he gave me the bad news. It seems on my left turn, my front wheel cut the corner a little too sharply and touched the center line of the road I was turning onto. He said that I failed the test by driving on the wrong side of the road. As he diagrammed my transgression on the back of his ticket book, I noticed the identical diagram drawn multiple times. I had clearly fallen into the trap of the week.
Now, time was no longer on my side. We were not sure when the Chevy would be returned and if the gear-shift-horn-beep feature would be fixed. It was not on the repair list. I had to wait two weeks before making another attempt. Fortunately we still had the automatic transmission car two Saturday’s later. So off we went again. No need to take the written again, so off to the waiting area we went. I was getting more nervous by the minute, especially when I saw officer sourpuss headed my way talking to another inspector. When they stopped in front of me, my heart crashed, but he smiled and introduced me to the other inspector and said that he was headed out on lunch break. “OK” I thought, I can do this. Sure enough I was able to stay on my side of the road and walked out of there with my new driver’s license in my pocket. It was then that I noticed the new inspector’s name. I swear it was Christmas! Inspector Christmas was the name of the inspector who passed me.
For the next few years, that Chevy and I drove all over town. Sure enough I got to the point where I could make the shift from first to second without beeping the horn. Sometime my senior year, the Chevy gave way to a Ford Fairlane Station Wagon with automatic transmission. Soon my time driving was cut down to just a couple of months a year when I was home from college.
Fast forward a couple of years and I was working in my first full time job at WCOS Radio. I lived a few blocks away so I would walk to the studio every afternoon and home in the early morning’s light. In ‘65, it seemed time to start looking for my first car. One of my listeners worked at a garage that sold used cars, so he brought by a 1962 Plymouth Belvedere painted light green. I thought the color was hideous, but the car was clean, the price was right and the car had an awesome radio in the middle of the dash. WCOS sounded to me the same in the car as it did on the monitor speaker in the control room so it was a match made in automotive heaven. I had my first car!
They say timing is everything. Two weeks after I bought the car, my boss told me that now that I had my own wheels, he was promoting me from “The All Night Satellite” shift to the evening shift and I would be doing my shows from Doug Broome’s drive in. So there I was sitting in the white cinder block studio with my green Plymouth in the parking space behind the door. Many a listener would come by with requests and since I was not allowed to let then in the studio, we would sit on the front hood of that Plymouth and chat while the record was playing. That old car was probably sat on more times than any other car in the city. Oh MY!