By John Pierce

News reports of generational shifts can provide insights as well as be reminders of aging. The first I can accept better than the latter.

The latest report to rattle my generational moorings is the falling interest among teenagers in driving and owning a car. They are increasingly more passionate about cruising the informational highway than the local boulevard.

Shocking is an understated way of expressing the feelings older generations might have to this news. But we witness it firsthand.

My college freshman daughter has classmates who still don’t drive — and don’t care. Turning 16 must not be the mile marker it was eons ago. It no longer has the implications it did for many of us — the freedom to drive away to our own destinations.

However, I took my daughter Meredith for her very first drive in the Kohl’s parking lot. Then the long-term duties of driving instructions were turned over to her much more patient mother. But I insisted on providing the initial birthday driving experience for my benefit more than hers.

It was because my dad did not embrace my momentous 15th and 16th birthdays as rites of passage. He didn’t teach me to drive. Throughout his life he thought he was the only person on earth who knew how. 

Yet I was undeterred by his reluctance and ongoing excuses like: “Got to get the brakes replaced first.”

Fortunately, driver’s ed and brave Aunt Edith came to my aid. I feared driving her shiny Ford Torino around the courthouse in Ringgold, Ga., more than any test I’ve ever faced.

Holding that driver’s license with a picture of a stringy-haired kid and the signature of Gov. Jimmy Carter was just the first of two huge leaps toward automotive freedom. The second came at a higher price.

I washed enough dishes to buy (OK, to get a $69 per month loan on) a used ’69 Pontiac Lemans with slight fender damage. But it rested at my house for a couple of more weeks until another payday passed to cover the insurance.

[I couldn’t find a photo of that car. This ’69 Ford Galaxy convertible was my second.]

But the feeling of driving away in my own car to my own destination was one of the best that life ever offered. It is impossible to imagine any technology that could come along to lessen that experience.

It was simply an integral part of transitioning toward independence. In fact, the very identities of the young people of my generation were tied to their cars.

“You know Bill?”

“Bill, who?”

“You know, drives that ’62 Impala full of Bondo.”

“Oh, yea. He dates that skinny girl who drives the red Mustang.”

Names were not needed for identification. And most mingling took place looking and leaning out of car windows at places of social engagement such as the Shoney’s Drive-In in Rossville, Ga.

(You had drive-in Slim Jims and Hot Fudge Cake back then? Yep. Better than Pinterest and Twitter combined.)

Of course, now those old friends from long ago are trying to find each other on Facebook. But they can’t remember each other’s name. Perhaps our profiles should include a description and photo of the first car each person owned.

But times have changed. They always do. And with gas prices pushing four bucks, a Sunday drive down the informational highway might be a better choice now.

But there is still something freeing about rolling down the windows and feeling the wind blow through whatever hair remains. And trying to not think about the teens (and former teens) out there that combine driving and new-fangled communications technology.


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