We live in a world with a tremendous number of checks and balances when it comes to safety issues and our modern society.
It would be relatively easy to build a strong case that our quest for an ultra-safe bubble-wrapped world has come at a tremendous cost when it comes to experiences that ultimately prove to be character builders on the road of life.
Cars are a big part of life skills and rites of passage for guys to become real guys because of a car adventure that tested the mettle of a young guy stranded on the side of a road 53 miles from nowhere with limited options.
Many of us come from an earlier pre-historic era without cell phones, G.P.S., and cars designed to breeze through 100,000 miles-with little or no fear of premature automotive middle age from these incredibly efficient computers on four wheels.
We drove cars with shorter shelf lives, but with a generous amount of character and simple engineering that gave all of us a fighting chance to look under the hood and see the problem.
Most of the older iron had basic game plans which involved low-tech carbureted internal combustion puzzles with far fewer pieces to put back in the right places.
I have had many adventures over the years where a faithless car has left me on the side of the road, but I look back on the experience as an impromptu shop class with a really good reason to get a passing grade.
I’ve blown up u-joints, water pumps, transmissions, alternators, starters, clutches, brakes, brake drums, and pretty much every other component between the front bumper and the rear bumper. Few of these experiences came with standard issue warm and fuzzy Walt Disney endings.
But they were character builders.
Most of my road adventures were preventable if I had even remotely bought into the concept of the most basic maintenance, but responsible behavior was never my strong suit when I was a hormone-fuelled teenager. I learned everything the hard way including my experience as a 20-year- old when I found out that a 1962 Volvo may look like a VW Beetle, but it won’t float like one.
Cars teach you to think on your feet when you live in a world without the luxury of a convenient cell phone to provide a comfortable roadside assistance solution to the problem. The General has provided a motherly touch for years with its On Star program which sends along a dedicated electronic guardian angel to guide you down life’s less spiritual highways with a great babysitter.
Other babysitters include GPS devices which will rat Junior out when he gets to where he is not supposed to go at a high rate of speed. This device would have buried my meager teenage social life under too much parental control when I was a kid and I suspect that I would still be living under my parents’ protective wing under these conditions.
I needed a clean opportunity to screw up when I was a kid because the only way I learned a lesson was through experience, and cars were always there to teach me a lesson. I learned about great reasons to grease wheel bearings when I first heard the god-awful sound of a wheel bearing dying a horrible death while I piloted my car home and found that extreme heat makes for a great weld on parts that shouldn’t actually be welded together.
I needed to know that I could drive a brakeless car home without crashing into a herd of animate and inanimate objects which didn’t need to pay a price for my moment of extreme defensive driving coupled with a 17-year-old’s less than stellar grasp of the legal implications of this daredevil behavior. I would not recommend this kind of driving to anybody, but it does teach you to look down the road a lot further than the average kid with a working set of brakes.
Let’s face it; planning ahead is a rare part of any teenager’s game plan. At least not in the non-geek component of a high school environment where most of us desperately wanted to live.
Now we have arrived in a new era of rampant paranoia where parents intervene in every facet of their kids’ lives, including the real fun part behind the wheel where a 21st century Big Brother sucks most of the fun and educational aspect out of the driving experience.
Sure, today’s cars handle like a 50s era Formula 1 car and you stand a remarkably good chance of getting there, but we’ve lost that spirit of adventure. I am just glad that I can provide a solution to this unnecessary problem.
I recommend buying your kid a late 50s or early 60s American classic with four doors and little curb appeal with your 21st century average high school crowd. Maybe pick an orphan brand like Studebaker or Rambler which doesn’t even hit the radar screen with Gen Y. Throw in a shop manual and a basic tool box in the car and hand your kid the keys.
Then you get the kid to fire up the car and run over his cell phone, I-Pod, laptop, and any other layer of bubble wrap.
Hopefully that will school Junior for a date with destiny; stranded at the side of a road with a golden opportunity to think on his feet.
Note: I wrote this piece for a major North American online car magazine. Stay tuned tomorrow for part two where I had a serious change in attitude based upon another painfully recent adventure.
DENNIS:”You sure hit it on the head there. Actions used to have consequences. Surviving those actions and the related consequences was what built character.