HOFFSTEDT: My first solo ride in my dad's new car

My dad never gave me too many warnings about things to watch out for as I grew up. Mom did the preaching.
May 14, 2013

However, there was one thing that he warned me about. 

As I approached my 16th birthday in the summer of 1950 and was about to receive my very first driver’s license, he told me this: “Make sure you use the rear and side-view mirrors.” That’s all he said. 

That day finally arrived, and I was thrilled to show off that license.

Now, what does all this have to do with anything? Here is my woeful tale:

At that time in Chicago, every major intersection had a news stand situated on the sidewalk right next to the curb. The inside walls were covered with magazines and had shelves filled with the seven daily Chicago newspapers, with a little stool for the owner to sit on. Every Saturday evening, it was my job to walk approximately three city blocks and pick up the Sunday edition of the newspaper my parents liked.

In nice weather, this was not a big deal. Winter was another story.

Earlier that year, my dad had purchased his first new car. It was a beautiful metallic green, four-door Pontiac Chieftain. He was so proud of that car, but allowed me to use it to pass the driving part of my license test. 

Around October or November of that year, it turned very cold — no snow, but cold. Dad thought it was maybe time for me to solo, so one bitter Saturday night he gave me the keys and let me drive alone for those three short blocks. I was ecstatic. 

We lived on a side street that allowed curb parking on both sides of the street, which didn’t allow much room for two cars to pass each other. I pulled away carefully from our curb and slowly crept down the street. Everything went just fine.

A few car lengths from the news stand, I spotted an empty space and carefully parallel-parked that marvelous car. I was so proud of myself that I sat for a while, savoring my accomplishment.  

I could see the little old man who ran the news stand. I was so anxious to tell him that I didn’t have to walk anymore that I opened my door to get out and heard a very loud “whack!” and noticed my car door was gone. It was lying across the street and leaning on the other curb. 

The car that hit the door kept on going and turned right around the news stand and disappeared.

I was frozen. Not from the cold, but fear. 

There was no one around. The little old man at the news stand never budged. I had to do something. No phones were handy, so I simply got out, went and picked up the door, and put it hastily in the back seat.

When I got home, I parked the car outside our house and went in. The first thing my dad asked was how it went. I told him there was something he needed to see.

He came out, took one look and said calmly, “You didn’t use the mirrors. did you?”

He didn’t get angry and had the door fixed that week. He let me drive the car many times after that for a variety of errands. I never had another problem. 

I don’t know if I could have handled such a situation so calmly. 

By the way, we never did get the Sunday papers that weekend.

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