I learned to drive partially on the back roads the only year we lived in North Carolina, this was the same year I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes so learning to drive my Moms Tempest Pontiac while my brother who is a year younger than me spouted his words of wisdom from the back seat that all I was doing was wrong combined with the stress of dealing with this unknown condition that was attaching itself to me for the rest of my life, the diabetes and the fact that my brother would always be in the back of my head showing that his driving knowledge would always be something to show your kids as an example of how not to do it actually made me happy that the high school I was going to offered a free Drivers Education program, the class work and humiliation offered from kids I did not know was a whole lot easier than the insults thrown to me from the kids I was actually helping to raise.
The driving part of this class was an eye opener, the instructor was a huge black man who’s regular job was leading the football team to state championships, the first day began with me sitting in the drivers seat beside him, a young blonde headed girl named Sheila Cherry was my assigned partner for this class she was just as scared as I was and was happy she was picked to be the back seat driver for the first day, here I am sitting behind the wheel of a brand new Monte Carlo with the words Student Driver on each door, the instructor says we are going to learn the “Hand Over Hand” steering technique today your job is to turn the wheel right when I say right and left when I say left as fast as you can hand over hand as we drive through the student parking lot without hitting anyone’s car, only problem is he has his foot on the gas pedal and my only job it to turn the wheel while keeping my legs plastered back against the seat and remembering where ten o’clock and two o’clock is, I never knew a Monte Carlo was so fast and that Sheila Cherry could scream so loud, the whole class time was spent going up and down the student parking lot with me steering, Sheila screaming, and Coach Charlie Sanders pressing both the gas and brake pedals while yelling Right—Left—Right—Now don’t hit that car Sutherland!!!, this was day one.
Day two started with me in the back seat and Sheila turning the key trying to start a car that was already running, this day was pretty much the same as day one, we went up and down the parking lot swerving back and forth at a fast rate of speed, I am still not sure who screamed louder, the Coach, Sheila, or I, after a couple days of this we ended up driving on the actual roads with Coach Sanders looking at us making statements like “this ain’t the first time you have driven is it” we were both too scared to admit that we had driven before although his grin told us he knew the truth.
It was raining the day he had me drive all the way out to Interstate 85 and said “Today you are going to learn how to merge into traffic” I turned on to the on ramp and turned my left turn signal on, next thing I know his huge left foot had moved my right foot from the gas pedal and that Monte Carlo was now screaming as loud as Sheila was from the back seat, that man had a thing about pushing the pedal all the way to the floor. Sheila and I both got our North Carolina learners permits together and the end of the Drivers Education experience was over. Today I still grin as I press the pedal to the floor as I enter an on ramp, Thanks Coach. I passed my North Carolina Drivers test with a 98% just in time to learn we were moving back to South Carolina.
My junior year began back a Parker High School, the high school I started my freshman year and also graduated at with a trip to North Carolina to get my first drivers license my sophomore year mixed in, I was a good driver contrary to what a few speeding tickets said the next few years, but was still driving my Moms yellow Tempest Pontiac at the time which did not look good on my resume as a cool kid, so I just had to get my own car. I had my first driver’s license even though in another state so off to the DMV to set my second and to also get legal in the state of South Carolina. My Sister Kay had this old Pontiac she said was a POS and she was going to trade it for a convertible rally sport Camaro and the dealer was going to give her $200.00 difference for it. I knew the car she was speaking of it was almost a GTO, it was cool, it was fast, it was blue, it was cool, it was fast, did I say it was almost a GTO? I offered Kay $200.00 for her 66 Pontiac Lemans she said “Done” and we shook hands, now I had to come up with $200.00 so off to see the only person I knew I could borrow the money from, Mrs. Allgood would surely loan me the money it was only 200 dollars and it was for almost a GTO.
Miriam E Allgood ran a finance company that probably is still in business, I know she passed away about twenty years ago because I ran across her name in a place I was not used to seeing it when I went to visit my Granny’s grave, there was a grave stone with Mrs. Allgood’s name on it, OK sorry getting off the story here. I made an appointment to see Mrs. Allgood and patiently waited my turn, as patient as a high school junior can be, my turn came and I explained how good the car was being that a Lemans is the same as a GTO other than having the name on it and that $200.00 was a steal for this fine car, I had a good job after school cutting meat at Bi-lo (a local grocery store) to which I could get to work easier if I had a car, I filled out all the forms and played with the pencils while I tried to come up the proper answers to each question she asked, then she asked the biggie, “Jimmy what do you have for collateral” I said “What is collateral?” to which I knew was not the answer she wanted which was yet a question rather than an answer. Mrs. Allgood said “Jimmy how can I loan you money for anything without something to guarantee that you are going to pay it back” I hung my head and walked out of her office. I knew that I would pay her back and how could she have the nerve to question my ability to pay her back? Heck we are talking about an American Muscle Car the first cousin to a Pontiac GTO, hell we are looking at a 1966 Pontiac Lemans with a 326 V-8 Automatic transmission with a shifter between the bucket seats, it was blue and it was almost a GTO and did I mention I really wanted this car, so I did what any red blooded American boy would do, I went home and got my gun, a model 60 Marlin .22 semi automatic rifle with a squirrel carved on the stock, I marched into Miriam E Allgood’s Finance Company with my .22 at my side and asked to speak with Mrs. Allgood, she came to the counter and I laid my rifle in front of her and asked “Will this work for collateral?” she took out a pad and wrote down the serial number, she went back to her office and returned with a check made out in my name for $200.00, I was so happy I took the check and turned to leave, she said here Jimmy don’t forget your gun you just might need it. I paid my loan back to Mrs. Allgood and this was the beginning of my credit references.
I learned a lot with this car, I went through a lot of tires and traded it off for my next car when I thought it was going to break down just any day, I still have that old .22 and think back fondly of Mrs. Allgood giving me my first loan, I got My First License, Loan, and Car all within a year.
I helped my Daughter buy her first car which was a Mitsubishi Mirage that she drove until she thought it was going to break down just any day, Cindy and I took it from her and gave it to Tim who has rebuilt it from several wrecks (which according to him were no fault of his own) but never had to do any mechanical work on it, Tim is still driving his first car which was actually Melissa’s first car that she actually bought, a car that was about to break down any day when she proudly dumped it on us, makes me wonder if that old POS Pontiac just may still be running?