Because I was needed to drive Mother to work, I got a license early—at age 12. My just-older brother “taught” me to drive on the back roads of Union County. His predominant teaching method can be captured in his oft-repeated phrase, “Faster, Danny, faster!” So, I learned to navigate two-plank bridges, sandy beds, mud holes and oil field twists and turns very early.
You might say I was a seasoned driver by age 15 when Mother bought a new Buick and wanted to try it out on a trip to visit my other brother in Dayton, Ohio. My driving mentor brother was away at college and could not make the trip with us, so I did all the driving. Like my mentor brother, Mother often felt the need for speed and urged me on beyond the speed limit. Such traveling behavior was beyond my comfort zone, but one wants to please his mother.
On the journey, I noted that the brakes felt mushy and made a noise that was pitched above Mother’s capacity to hear. I mentioned the malfunction sailing through Kentucky and Mother said, well, maybe your brother knows a place in Dayton where we can have the car looked at. And, of course, he did. But not before he diagnostically drove it and had me join him up under the car looking for who knows what and after taking off a wheel for some obscure reason.
Anyway, my brother had to work the next day, but he called his mechanic about 15 or 20 blocks from his home and told the man there that his little brother would be bringing a new Buick by to have the brakes checked out. I found the place, left the car and walked the mile or two back to his cookie-cutter split-level home. It took me awhile to recognize the house because they all looked alike, but luckily, I saw Mother through the picture window looking for me. The walk had made me thirsty, so I drank a lot of root beer with which my brother had stocked his refrigerator, knowing my love for the beverage.
The mechanic told me he would call my brother’s number when they were finished with the work. Well, about the middle of the afternoon, as I was enjoying yet another root beer, he called and said the repair—new brake linings—was done. I lit out, neglecting my need to relieve my bladder. The further I walked, the greater the need, if you know what I mean. When I finally arrived in desperation, I walked into the shop and almost shouted, “Where’s the restroom!” They pointed it out and I wasted no time. My personal brakes worked that day, but they were on the verge of failure.
The mechanic charged $35 for the brake job—Mother had sent $50. The brakes worked fine on the way back to the cookie-cutter, which I recognized just fine this time, because I had memorized some landmarks. When he got home from work, my brother was outraged with the news that it cost $35 for brake linings. He said I should have talked him down. “That’s what we do up here in the north.” Well, I didn’t say this, but I was a 15-year-old southern boy that paid the bill in great relief.