Clark Lake and My Ohio Drivers License

When your birthday comes at the very end of December, it means every fellow high school junior is driving before you are.  Such it was with me.  But spending summers at Clark Lake meant I could drive any boat whose owner would let me.  At the time, piloting a boat had no age or any other restriction.  That 3 hp Johnson had many hours on it at my hands.  Other motors that came into our family also received a workout – a 16 hp Scott Atwater, a 40 hp Scott, and finally a 75 hp Evinrude.  When Uncle Jack Daly visited his parents who were neighbors, he secretly let me drive their Chris Craft Riviera.  So, I always had something on my high school friends back in Toledo.  I was at Clark Lake, and they weren’t.

Still, I couldn’t wait to drive a car.  To be sure, I had been behind the wheel before.  Dad had let me drive short distances on a dirt road that is now Lakeview West.  Another time a visitor to the family let me drive his impressive Buick Electra 225 on the same road.  It had power steering, power brakes and electric windows, accessories my dad didn’t believe in.  Once I got into a discussion with a neighbor about his car. Dr. Roger Lyons, said “drive my VW down to the Point and see if you like it.”  Not having any practice with a manual transmission, I decided to pass on that one.  But any of these brushes with adulthood was not the same as being able to take a 3,500-pound Chevrolet Impala with Power Glide out into traffic, give your friends a ride to school, and park in the DeVilbiss High School student section.

When my 16th birthday finally arrived, the long wait to get my Ohio learner’s permit ended.  Or, did it?  I got my mom to drive me to the testing station where I took a written exam.  After the test, they gave me the worst news I would ever receive in my young life up until then.  I flunked it!  Unbelievable.  Reviewing the questions in my head, I was certain they were imprecise, inexact, misleading.  I should know, right?  I was an A student in English composition.  But writing ability hadn’t helped me interpret questions crafted by some State of Ohio bureaucrat in Columbus, or so I thought.

It was Friday, so I couldn’t retake the test until Monday.  It was also my birthday and Christmas vacation, a time to enjoy.  But I remember that dark weekend being the longest of my life.

On Monday, I did pass the written test, and now I could drive if accompanied by a licensed adult over 18.  With my parents in the car, I hopped behind the wheel.  Dad was in the passenger seat.  Mom, sitting in the middle, needed something downtown, so off we went.  If you thought your parents were towers of strength and never feared or were affected by anything in life, let me set you straight.  I heard mom and dad utter sounds I had never heard before.  Add to that a couple OMG’s.

Now, I had been driving mentally in every car ride for over two years in preparation for the day that I could actually drive legally.  I wasn’t unprepared.  On the other hand, some things must be experienced.  One is you must learn a sense of perspective.  Mom had told me to line up the hood ornament with the side of the road and that would help me figure out where to be in the lane.  Figuring out multiple lanes and manipulating downtown Toledo traffic required more.  I gave my parents the Cedar Point thrill of a lifetime.  I sensed they were never so relieved when it was over.

For a license that allowed you to drive alone, the State of Ohio required a driving test.  After the humiliating learners permit debacle, it was some consolation to pass the driving test.  Unlike some fellow students, I had no problem with what everyone said was most difficult – parallel parking.  Good thing.  I later lived in large cities where parallel parking was a way of life.

No doubt you are wondering if I should own up to some other learning moments.   Okay, here goes.  When parking the car in the driveway, it’s a really good idea to put it in park.  There was enough of a grade in that Old Orchard driveway, that a car could roll down into the street.  As I went for a bucket to wash it, that’s what it did.  Not only that, dad had just opened the front door and witnessed the potential disaster. Good fortune was with me.  No car was parked on Barrington Drive in its wayward path.  I ran to the car, now in the street, got behind the wheel, started it up, and drove it back up the driveway.  What followed was a conversation with dad, the content of which I will leave to your imagination.

What else?  If the windshield is foggy, wipe it off before driving, even if you think you know every inch of your backyard.  It was a weekday morning, and I had permission to drive to school.  As I backed up the car, and then pulled forward – bang.  One tree had moved into my path, and I smacked right into it.   Beside the momentary shock, there was now a noticeable indentation in the front bumper.  Later, Congress would mandate the 5-mph bumper.  This car didn’t have one.  In the aftermath, dad pointed out that wiping the windshield clear ought to be obvious to anyone permitted to drive a car.

Ern Belcher (Dad) with Cindy standing next to the aforementioned driveway

The last driving episode still freaks me out.  I had asked a potential girlfriend out to see a movie.  My grandmother had given me permission to drive her 1955 Buick Special.  I picked up Sandy.  We were at the stop sign where her street met Monroe Street.  Timing means a lot in life, and it certainly does when driving a car.  I thought I had enough time to turn left in front of Monroe Street.  Did I?  Not really.  The the driver of an oncoming car slammed on his brakes and blasted me with his horn.  Beyond the point of no return, I floored it and the Dynaflow transmission kicked in moving us forward as fast as it could.  Turns out, the zero to 60 on that car was about 20 seconds.  No collision, thankfully.  How did the date go?  My confidence was shaken.  I knew how close we had come to being a teenage Top 40 hit.  Teen Angel, Last Kiss, and Deadman’s Curve come to mind.  We did get to the theatre okay.  The movie was “Lord of the Flies,” not exactly the best date night choice.  I still remember their going after poor Piggy.  About the near miss on Monroe street, I never told my grandmother or my parents.   Why complicate their life with unnecessary details?

The senior prom, but not with Sandy.

In a day when drivers ed was not required, some other things did go on – drinking from garden hoses, 8 year-olds driving boats, and kids of all ages swimming endlessly in Clark Lake with no sign of a parent in sight.   Glad I finally got my drivers license, learned a few things, and enjoyed the ride.  I still love driving cars and boats, and thoroughly believe both are joys of life.