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All of us, regardless of how brave and rugged we may appear to others, have to deal with fears of all sorts throughout our lives. This post is about a fear I experienced. At its core, I think the fear I’ll be describing was about my being able to make it through what is a rite of passage in modern life: obtaining a Driver’s License and becoming a legal car driver.
At the time (late 1960s/early 1970s) and place (California) one could secure a Learner’s Permit at age 15-1/2 and a Driver’s License at age 16. The Learner’s Permit allowed you to drive a car only if you were accompanied by a responsible adult, while the Driver’s License allowed you to drive a car without any such restriction.
I don’t know exactly when, but I think it was about the time I became a teenager, that I started to take an increased interest in cars eventually becoming something of a car nut. Not as big a nut as some guys, but more than many. I read Motor Trend and Car and Driver magazines, paid attention to engine sizes and configurations and horsepower ratings, fantasized about the car I knew I’d eventually own (a Shelby Mustang – never happened), went through endless of pads of paper drawing cars and hot rods, and looked forward to and helped my Dad in the routine maintenance of our two family cars – oil and filter changes every three months, new points, condenser and rotor at about the same interval, and spark plug change-out every four or so months.
As I got closer to the time I’d be able to drive legally, my Dad would occasionally let me drive the car. These instances usually occurred after dark. Dad would pull over and slide over to the passenger seat, and I’d get behind the wheel and drive the last several blocks home. Since we were in a residential area, I doubt I ever drove faster than 20 or 25 miles per hour.
At the same time, however, I began to experience a recurring nightmare (the only one of my life so far – knock on wood). In my dream, I was driving a car – accelerating it – 10 mph, 15, 20, 30, 40, 45, 50…and so forth and as I continued to gain speed the steering wheel would start to vibrate – slowly at first but with increasing frequency and intensity as my speed increased. As the steering wheel vibrations grew, I had a harder and harder time holding onto and controlling the wheel, eventually losing control as the car crashed. At that point, I’d wake up in a cold sweat. I, of course, never mentioned the dream to anyone.
I did get my Learner’s Permit, at which time I occasionally got to drive the family car around town with either my Mom or Dad in tow. In these trips, I don’t think I ever drove faster than maybe 40 mph and my recurring nightmare continued. Six or so months later I got my Driver’s License and so occasionally got to drive the family car without a parent present.
I imagine my progression as a driver was similar to most. At first, I was an extremely cautious and conscientious driver – hands at ten and two, constantly checking the rearview and side mirrors, strictly complying with the speed limit. Within a couple of months though, I was just another driver – steering the car with my wrist and my other arm resting on the door, radio blaring, and the posted speed limit starting to become more of a recommendation unless a cop was nearby. I was able to drive at speed!
A year or so later I was able to buy my first car (a 1967 Ford Mustang with a small-block 289 V-8) and I had even less fear of speed. By this time my recurring nightmare had long since decamped never to return.
And so my recurring nightmare turned out to be nothing more than a silly fear.