I first started driving when I was 13, traveling cross country in my mother’s most disliked car ever: a flat 6-cylinder, rear engine Corvair station wagon.  We were on a two-lane road in Nevada heading home to Colorado and my mom was bored with driving in an endless straight line, so she pulled over and told me to drive.  Seemed logical to me.  It was an exciting experience, especially with semi-trucks passing in the opposite direction at 60+ miles per hour and only a few feet away.  All I remember her saying was “go faster, faster, faster.” 

Living in western Colorado, I could get my first driver’s license at age 14, but it was limited to operating a motorcycle.  I figured this was to benefit parents by eliminating the need to chauffeur kids over long distances, but what a gift to us!  It gave us independence, freedom, and adventure!  Needless to say, every boy who could got a motorcycle; the local pack of 14- to 16-year-old motorcyclists experienced a great deal of excitement, including many crashes.  Our house was at the end of a paved road going out of Grand Junction which turned into a Jeep trail across the desert leading to the then remote, rugged Book Cliffs.  Having motorcycles allowed us to spend a lot of time exploring the wilderness and doing what we wanted without parental oversight.

On my 16th birthday I went to the police department to take the automobile driver’s test.  My birthday was in early January during a blizzard, but I was determined to get my second license for driving cars legally as soon as possible.  I was driving my mother’s beloved Triumph TR-3, which was an especially rare vehicle in western Colorado.  The policeman who joined me in the car had seen it, loved the way it looked, and was thrilled to ride in it.  He was so thrilled that he made me drive for an hour and a half, on both town and rural roads, through the snow, on standard street tires that didn’t have much traction.

When he finally returned to the police station, he told me a required part of the test was to parallel park in front of the station.  I pointed out that a snowplow had created a large berm along the parking spaces; nevertheless, I was directed to parallel park.  The policeman cheerfully completed the paperwork and handed me my driving permit.  He then tried to open the little passenger door to get out, but found it pressed against the snow so he asked me to pull out of the parking space so he could get out.  Of course, the car was stuck, and the tires would only spin.  He then had to slide open the little plastic side curtain and yell to a couple of cops that were exiting the police station to push us out of the parking space, which they did.  They then gave my testing officer a lot of light-hearted grief and laughed as they told me to drive home as fast as I could before the snow got even deeper! 

TR-3 note: It was my mother’s daily driver to carry my two younger brothers and me.  As the oldest son, I got the passenger seat and my two younger brothers sat on top of the fuel tank behind the seats.  My mother drove up to 6 passengers in the little car (2 in the passenger seat, 2 on the fuel tank behind the seats, and 2 sitting on the trunk), and did get stopped by the police.  But when they saw it was not a teenager driving, they let her continue!

-Jeff Johnson

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