Newly Licensed Driver
he Bronx, 1967, and in my circle of friends the first guy to get a driver’s license was Steve, who was born in early January. Steve lived with his parents in a Highbridge apartment and was an eighteen-year-old senior at Taft High School, which was a distance away. The family had a car that was not used during weekdays, as Steve’s dad took a subway to work, got into a company truck and made deliveries. Steve’s mom was not a driver. Within days of getting his license, Steve convinced his parents to allow him to drive to Taft. It was not impressing Steve’s friends or the distance between Highbridge and Taft (there was a bus) that did the convincing. What convinced Steve’s parents was “alternate side of the street parking”, whereby cars had to be moved most every day from one side of the street to the other to accommodate the street cleaners. Steve’s driving daily to school would accomplish moving the car.
It was a mid-week morning, and with his freshly minted driver’s license, Steve bounded to the car, started it up, and pulled out en route to Taft. Along the way, Steve picked up two other guys and me from in front of our apartment buildings; that had been pre-arranged the night before. As we motored through the neighborhood and approached Taft, we felt like big men on campus, notwithstanding the car being over ten years old. We arrived at the street in front of Taft’s main entrance, and then spun around the block, circling the school. Pretty soon it became apparent that there were no available parking spaces around the school. Taft, being a city school, did not provide for student parking. Our circling became wider and wider and the clock was rapidly moving toward the time of the bell starting the school day. After what seemed like an eternity, we found a parking space - blocks away from the school. In fact, it was as far away as our apartment buildings were to Taft. But beggars can’t be choosers, so we parked in the space and high-tailed it to school, arriving late to the glare of our homeroom teacher.
We decided that morning that when school let out, we would drive to Jahn’s ice cream parlor on Fordham Road. The day wore on and it seemed like it was taking forever for the dismissal bell to ring. But ring it finally did, and out of school and to the car we jaunted. After piling in, Steve started up the ignition and carefully pulled out of the space, making sure not to hit the back or front cars.
Our plan was to tool up the Grand Concourse to Fordham Road, and hang a right to Jahn’s. But where we had parked was a few blocks east of the Concourse, so we had to first traverse a few streets westbound to enter the Concourse. Little did we anticipate what was to follow.
We began our trip to the Concourse driving along streets whose sidewalks we had walked along for years. But as pedestrians, our focus had been on the sidewalk and we were not terribly cognizant of whether the street was two-way or one-way, and if one-way, what direction that was. So, within a few blocks of where we had parked, we turned at a corner, and lo and behold, we were on a one-way street, the wrong way. It would have been simple enough to back up and exit the street or make a u-turn to be pointed in the right direction. However, we had a second problem. When we entered the street, the front bumper of the car came within inches of colliding with a police officer, who was ticketing double-parked cars.
Needless to say, the policeman motioned Steve to pull over, which he did, and somberly walked over to the car. Steve was shaking in his boots. He rolled down the window and the officer bellowed the standard line, “License and registration please.”
As Steve pulled the documents from his wallet and handed them over, he said to the officer, “Officer, this is my first day of driving and this violation was due strictly to nervousness. Could you see your way clear of letting me off with just a warning?”
Without missing a beat, the policeman answered back, “Son, giving you a ticket might be the best thing for you – it might be saving your life.”
Steve was speechless as the officer wrote out and handed him the ticket. The other guys and I were speechless as well, although I began thinking whether Steve had committed any earlier moving violations during the ride to Taft (I couldn’t recall any). The officer then instructed Steve to make a u-turn, and proceeded to guide him in doing so. That only added to the embarrassment.
Once the car was turned around in the correct direction, the officer said to Steve, “I suggest you go straight home and park the car.”
That was really a needless suggestion, as Steve had already decided on his own to do that, for he had lost his taste for Jahn’s - as did we. Slowly, Steve drove away, dropping off the guys and me at our apartment buildings and returning to his Highbridge apartment after parking the car.
Steve’s parents were not at all pleased. The addition of Steve on the auto insurance policy had already greatly increased its cost, and this ticket would increase the cost of the policy even more. Further, there was a probationary period that applied to licensees during the first six months of their license, where two moving violations during that period would result in a two-year license suspension. The upshot was that after that day, Steve did not drive again for six months. But the other guys and I, each of whom had access to a family car, would soon become licensed. Would bad luck befall us as it had Steve? I’ll save that story for another day.