I can tell you specifically when it happened. The moment I fell deeply in love with cars. It was the summer before grade ten, half a year before I could even apply for a driver’s licence.
At that age we all had a generic itch – not for cars per say, but for the mobility, the independence, the freedom of being able to slide into something (albeit belonging to a parent) and turn a key. Until then it was skateboarding, biking, jumping on the bus or just plain hoofing it.
Come to think of it, I was probably in the best physical shape of my life just before I hit driving age; I can recant many adolescent, romantic tragedies that ended in the seat of a SkyTrain with a song blaring on my Sony Walkman; and summers seemed to pass more slowly and preciously – perhaps in part because it took so bloody long to commute to the experiences.
Nonetheless, it wasn’t the convenience of driving that left us wanting – we’d roam Greater Vancouver under our own steam like gypsies without giving it a second thought: it was the notion of maturity. Novelty and uncertainty. Self-authored destiny. Adventure.
We’d take the odd sip from this cup before our time. One summer – in fact, the summer before grade nine if I remember correctly – my parents were in Europe, leaving me home alone with my grandmother who had lived with us since I was two.
Under the alibi of watching a video in the basement, three friends and I waited silently until we heard snoring upstairs, then crept outside to the top of our hundred-foot driveway. Like a ninja I gingerly unlocked the driver’s door of my Mom’s 1983 Toyota Cressida (the keys pilfered from the kitchen earlier).
Back then, you could pop a car with automatic transmission out of Park without starting it. Turn the ignition halfway, press the brake pedal and presto – the steering wheel unlocked and you were sliding into Neutral. So, with two friends pushing, me steering and braking, and the other lad whispering directions from behind, we backed Mom’s car out of the carport and down onto the dead-end street below.
As a margin of safety from my grandmother’s bionic ears, we pushed the Cressida to the intersection, all hopped in, rode the brakes without power-assist another block or two down the hill, then fired her up. I can still taste the fear and exhilaration. We giggled and yelped like, well, fourteen-year-old boys.
I was ultra-cautious the whole way but must say that the driving came pretty naturally; I guess riding shotgun to enough track practices gave me the gist through observation. Thank God we knew everything back then, because we had the gall to drive down the main strip of our suburb; through the beach to exhibit our brilliance to the girls; and even to the 7-11 for giant Slurpees and candy, finding a spot right out front not requiring the mysteries of parallel parking.
A block or two after the pit-stop, we were suddenly being followed by a police car; the other guys cowered and hissed at me to drive extra-carefully while I did the math on how old I’d be when they let me out of jail. Mercifully the cop turned off at the next intersection, but that was our omen – we bee-lined it home.
I thought it best to gun the Cressida down our street, swoop onto the driveway at speed, cut the engine halfway up and coast back into the carport. In my own mind it was a successful mission, one that I was actually able to share with my chuckling parents many years later.
I am certain that we snuck the whole thing by my Ukrainian grandmother, for the simple fact that I still exist, and can type the story for you tonight with all ten fingers.
Anyway, little escapades like that only fuelled our desire to legitimately get behind the wheel one day. But one fateful evening the following summer, as I stood over her at the age of fifteen, I realized that my desire was far deeper and more comprehensive than that of my friends… stay tuned.