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Learning to drive a ‘thrifty six’

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Posted: Monday, April 6, 2009 10:00 pm

The word Kennifick came up the other day and it struck a chord with me. When I was a 14-year-old, my dad owned a small grape acreage out there and I don't mind telling you, that was one of the happiest times of my life.

It meant I was eligible for a "daytime" driver's license in which I could drive to and from the vineyard all by myself. The law was supposed to help farm kids in that they could drive farm vehicles and cars in the course of their work provided they drove during the day.

The day I became 14, my mom took me down to the old City Hall on Pine Street. The DMV was in the basement where I was given the test for licensure (I got a 100, but more about that later) and sent out to the curb for the driver's test. My examiner was a seven-foot tall he-man with shoulders two ax handles across and a shaved head. He ate kids my size for breakfast and I was supposta not be afraid of him. Right!

My mom was asked to stay on the front steps of the City Hall while I took "Lurch" for a little test drive in my dad's '46 Ford "thrifty six" (It was a six cylinder flat-head Ford with an unwritten guarantee that it wouldn't burn rubber nor exceed posted speed limits: in other words, four wheels of ennui draped in a steel body).

The bald monster and I got in the car and we were off. Or would have been had I not flooded the engine. After six or seven hours while we waited for the carburetor to air out, we lurched away from the curb for a ride I was to never forget.

"Turn right here, "he said.

I turned left.

"Go straight to Fairmont," sez he. I turned right on Pleasant.

Every time I took my foot off the gas, the car slowed really fast. Cars do that when the hand-brake is halfway engaged.

Anyway, after what seemed like a five hour test drive, we came back to the City Hall, where my mom was waiting. She said, "That didn't take very long at all. How did he do?"

Igor said, "When he learns his left from his right and remembers to disengage the emergency brake, he will turn out OK."

One morning at about 4, the phone rang at the house. It was the Highway Patrol informing the owner of the Kennefick property that the road was flooding from water draining off the vineyard.

After a two minute discussion with my dad, we came to the conclusion one of my little dams I had laboriously built had failed. I jumped into my faithful little thrifty six, tried to burn rubber, but couldn't, and hot-footed it out to the ranch. The CHP had shut down the irrigation pump so the damage was minimal and I set about making the necessary repairs to my dam.

In my life, I seem to learn best when the lesson is the most intense. I can tell you here and now, no dam ever broke again on my watch.

One of the lessons I learned later, you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. I "inherited" that car and I am certain now it was because it was no screaming hot-rod and that is exactly what my dad had in mind. It ended up being one of the prettier cars in Lodi, but all that lipstick didn't do a thing for the horsepower. Oh sure, it would exceed the speed limit, especially if the speed limit was 25 mph, but I wanted it to go so fast the blood would come out of my ears - but no soap.

The one thing that car did do was urge me in the direction of performance. Now I have a car that will practically break the sound barrier but I'm too chicken these days to take advantage. Now, cute means as much to me in a car as speed. I know a lot of the cops in Lodi and I admire them greatly, but handing out speeding tickets simply doesn't endear one to the writer of said citation.

Besides, having the cop like you is a lot more important than you liking him.

Bob Bader is a writer and a practicing chiropractor. You can e-mail him at

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