At a recent birthday supper, Sonny Thurmond, Bill Boswell and I entertained our wives with stories of our underage driving while growing up in Greensboro. The ability to drive, the freedom to do it and an available automobile marked a dramatic rite of passage out of the world of childhood—a trip we were longing to take. If you couldn’t drive, you were still just a kid.
Bill’s family had a new Buick and a long driveway, and they early on allowed him to drive on their lot. We would all pile in, and Bill would chauffeur us to the end of the driveway, returning in reverse: back and forth all afternoon. We admired Bill extravagantly, and he became a very good driver and put it to good use when he managed concessions at his father’s drive-in movie, picking up the food to be prepared and the preparers and taking them all out to work. Not sure if this occurred before or after his learner’s license.
When you got your learner’s license, that was it. You were street legal in Greensboro. The chief of police and the sheriff knew exactly how old we were, but around town, we were OK, even without the learner’s. Without wheels, though, we couldn’t compete, a fact painfully impressed upon me the last time my mother drove me to my girlfriend’s home, so that we could walk to a movie. Plenty of older boys were ready to drive her to the movies, and they soon did. She was no longer a kid, but I still was, because my driving at that point was only when my father needed me.
We had a 1951 Ford flathead V-8, in case that means anything to you. Those things would run. My father was a fast driver and taught me how to drive fast—I suppose on the assumption that the best he could do was at least prepare me for it.