I taught myself to drive my very own car at a young age. My older cousin had become bored with his car, so my Mom acquired it for me. What a thrill to have my own car, no more stupid tricycle. I loved cars. This car, my very first car, resembled a 1954 General Motors sedan, which sported a paint job that at one time must have been enviable, but the sun had faded it to an unimpressive non-color of some kind.
At the time of my most memorable ride, we lived on the corner of 18th and Glendale Ave. in Sioux Falls, SD. Shortly to the north of our rented house, Glendale dropped a few dozen feet in a relatively short distance. One homeowner down the hill a few houses had a wall holding the lawn from spilling onto the concrete sidewalk. The other side of the walk had a short strip of grass and elm trees between it and the street. From the top of the hill it looked very formidable indeed. At eight years old, I no longer fit inside the car, I had found that all I had to do was push it, set my rear in the seat and put my feet up on the front fenders and coast. Every day that hill on Glendale Avenue called out to me, it beckoned me, it promised an adrenaline rush of grand proportions. I protested by bringing up the danger of the wall about two thirds of the way down. But that smooth talking street countered with things like, “It will be OK.” “You won’t get hurt.” “You will be famous.” “Trust me.” Streets lie.
One day for some reason my budding sanity departed and I succumbed. I had never tested my four-wheeled friend at high speeds, but Glendale said, “Don’t worry.” So, I pushed it down the sidewalk toward the hill and at the last second jumped on like a bobsledder, grabbed the wheel and slipped my feet up on the fenders. The click-clack sound as it crossed the cracks in the sidewalk came faster and faster. The pedals, also used as the braking apparatus, were a blur under the “hood.” The only way to stop would be if my feet rendered the whirring mechanism inoperable by jamming them into the blur and allowing them to wrap around the mechanism until it froze the motion. I had also learned that if done improperly my foot could shoot straight back smashing my knee into my teeth – neither were favorable options at this point. Thus, there was no turning back or turning aside for that matter.
As I built up speed, Glendale narrowed the sidewalk and chortled, just as the “suspension” started to feel squirrelly. I desperately wrestled the wheel to correct the drift from one side of the sidewalk to the other. The wind blurred my vision. My adrenal glands shifted into overdrive. I had no idea that speed was so scary! Trees flashed by on my right, the wall crouched down to pounce, the steering wheel tried to escape my grip – and there was still a lot of hill left. The impending wall of doom began unraveling both of my frayed nerves. As I sped down the sidewalk the wall of death reached out and scuffed the side of my car, so I inched over a little, then the sod grabbed my right wheel and wrenched my car abruptly into a stout elm tree. When the front end encountered the bark, the rear wheels lifted off the ground, hovered for a second or two, then dropped back to the ground. I tumbled clumsily upward and outward glancing off the tree and skidded down the sidewalk. I’m sure I heard snickering in the midst of the sounds of my demise. The concrete scraped some skin off my extremities and the car suffered a little dent in the left “headlight” – both pretty much unnoticeable to my Mom.
To this day I still don’t like speed, but I do still love cars.