On December 19th, 1969, I got my driver's license after taking the test at the Metropolitan District Commission office in Woburn, Mass., the next town over from Stoneham, where I grew up.
Getting my license was the best thing that happened in my life up to the moment. I was obsessed with cars and all things with engines. I still am obsessed with wheels, but am more crazed with bicycles than cars and motorcycles.
When we drove down the highway on family trips, I was counting the wheels on trucks passing in the other direction. On the trips in New York state I could count the wheels on double-trailer rigs that had up to 34 wheels and tires.
My Dad was a warehouseman and drove occasionally when the grocery company where he worked was short of drivers. Dad did not try to make me obsessed with cars and trucks, but his actions had that effect. He worked six days a week and fell asleep watching football every Sunday afternoon.
The times we spent together were always a drive. He did the grocery shopping and I went along. Sometimes in the evening he would say, "Let's go for coffee." We would drive to Howard Johnson's or a diner he liked. Dad would tell jokes to the waitresses and the customers. I learned that coffee and jokes were the best part of life. (Health note: I drank hot chocolate.)
But the day my father made me completely car/truck crazy was in 1961. I was in Miss Bovernick's 3rd Grade Class at Robin Hood Elementary School. Dad knew which class was mine. The windows in our class faced the semi-circular driveway in front of the school.
Dad was taking a load of frozen food to New Hampshire on a Friday afternoon in the Spring. He stopped on the way to pick me up at school after lunch. He parked the 40-foot semi with a bright red Mack B-61 tractor right in the driver. The idling diesel engine rattled the windows. The whole class ran to the windows to see the truck.
My Dad walked in class and asked Miss Bovernick is he could take me out of school early. Third grade doesn't get any better than leaving school early to ride to New Hampshire in a bright red Mack truck.
If you want to get a little boy crazed over cars and trucks, that's the way to do it.
I joined the Teamster's Union and worked in the warehouse after graduation, but never became a truck driver. Though I did drive a lot of diesel vehicles in the Army.
Sometimes I wonder, 'Why did I re-enlist at my age?'
Or 'What am I doing in the Army at 60?'
Then I get a chance to do something that only a soldier would think is awesome and then I think, 'I re-enlisted because I love this shit!'
On Saturday, the boys and I gave one of my friends a ride to the Philadelphia airport. We were in Philadelphia so it should have been a 15-minute trip. No problem.
We got on I-95 and drove quickly past the stadiums. I looked ahead at the long approach to the bridge over the Delaware.
We had just passed the last exit on this side of the Delaware River and all the traffic was stopped. I was in the left lane. It was a clear day. I could see a mile ahead. Just before the bridge itself all four lanes of traffic were stopped.
Nothing was moving and traffic was stacking up. Within seconds we came to a stop. I looked up the road at nearly a thousand cars four lanes wide. And I got angry. I knew at least one lane could get through no matter how bad the accident was.
I stopped the car and asked my passenger to get in the drivers seat. I happened to be wearing running shoes, so I took off running fast along the left side of the road past all the stopped cars to the accident site. Three cars were wrecked and twisted. The left lane was clear. A guy standing there was half-heartedly waving cars through.
I told him I am in the Army and can handle this. He went back to help with the accident.
I pointed at the first car in line, waved my arm and put my whole body into the motion. He moved, fast. Next car followed. I kept waving. Third car the driver's eyes wandered to the accident. I pointed straight at him and waved to get moving. If his windows were down he might have heard me yell encouragement using short words with CK sounds.
I kept wave, the cars started merging and moving. When anyone started gawking, I moved toward the car and waved to get moving. One guy slowed. His passenger rolled down the window and started video recording. I stood between him and the scene and told him to keep moving in a way that indicated his IQ was lower than a bag of ball peen hammers.
It was so much fun. Less than 10 minutes later, my car was passing the accident site. I jumped in and we took off.
Thanksgiving weekend was a lot of fun in many ways, but that ten minutes on the approach to the bridge showed me why I should be a soldier. I'm too old to be a cop.