Driving on Long Beach
The 1950’s were an adventurous time. The depression of the thirties and the horror of the Second World War were well behind us and the world had become a kinder place. There were no computers, no colour television and a gallon of gas cost about $0.26. The future looked bright indeed.
When we kids weren’t listening to our favorite radio program we were off in the fields and woods playing war or cowboys and Indians, then the weekend came and dad had time to take us to visit distant relatives or just head out like pioneers exploring the world around us.
I have little memory of the family’s first car other than faking sleep when we arrived home so dad would carry me into the house to my mother’s welcoming arms. Ahhh the simple life, but then in 1957 dad came home with a brand new Oldsmobile 98. It was white with a red stripe running the full length of the car but for a 7 year old, the jet planes on each front fender and the rocket on the hood were, in one word, beautiful.
These were the days before seatbelts were standard equipment. It was thought that the amount of steel surrounding us as we careened down the highways and byways would protect us in any kind of accident. But this wasn’t the only safety feature. In addition to various handholds throughout the cabin there was a grab rope strung across the back of the broad front seat that you could hang onto when cornering at speed.
On long road trips dad would use the radio’s wonderbar to search for local radio stations preferably playing the day’s jazz standards. When sleepy on these cross country treks it was common for us kids to climb up into the back window shelf for a comfortable nap. I was fascinated by the reflection of other car headlights as they traveled over the rear window glass in the opposite direction than made logical sense. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
During these simpler times it was common for the fathers to put their kids on their laps and let them steer the car home. I loved the opportunity. Then, when I was 10 years old we headed for Long Beach and the Pacific Ocean. The first morning mom and my sister took the dog to explore the tidal pools left by the falling tide while dad and I drove to the beach access between the rocks. (I found this photo in the Rogers Photo Archive and appreciate the use of it here.)You can imagine my surprise when dad said that I could drive the 10 miles down the beach in the driver’s seat, alone. We moved the seat as far forward as it would go until, with a bit of a stretch I could reach the pedals. Off we went with dad’s knees pressed firmly against the dash. Each of the rivulets crossing the beach became big city intersections. Dad would shout stop or go depending on his mood. In one panic stop I slid forward in the seat until my eyes were well below the dashboard but we stopped in time. My life had been changed forever.
It was a long 6 years until I could get my license during which time I drove anything I could get my hands on developing a special affinity for go-carts. Finally the day came when I took dad’s 1963 Chrysler New Yorker with its square steering wheel and push button transmission over to get my license. Parallel parking was my only concern as you could land light aircraft on this monster’s hood. Much to my surprise everything went well and off I went to make my mark on the highways of North America.
To be continued...