Sunday, February 21, 2021

My Life and Adventures with cars Part One

A car is a mechanical object, but truly your relationship with it is personal and even intimate.  It is a part of your identity and of your ego   In my case, calculations based on tax returns, expenses claimed, commuting recalled and recreational driving the total is over one million miles (not kilometres) so there is a lot of history that formed me. When we study history we tend to focus on power.   Louis XIV for instance had the power of life and death not only in France, but in colonies and was a significant promoter of the arts that we enjoy centuries later.  But even I have power that he didn't.

A car has given me a feeling of  freedom, but also of slavery.  As a youngster one could appreciate the freedom a car offered.  Without one you were dependent on how far you could walk or on getting someone else to take you where you wanted to go.  The desire for more freedom hit me before having access to a car; http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2012/02/hitch-hiking-memories.html

My father was a truck driver who was well respected, owning his own company that had four trucks.  He was put on a board of directors for dump truck operators.  He also had the distinction of winning the Canadian Winter Rally in 1960 in his first effort on a day that one of my sisters was born.  Everyone considered him an exceptional driver, but he was a poor teacher.  At age 16 he took me to a nearby parking lot in Oshawa and with a gear shift gave a few instructions.  He admitted that it was very hard on his nerves and no further efforts.

We moved to Haliburton and the high school decided to offer a driving education course and I was among the first to enlist.  My father supported this effort as he wouldn't have to endure beginner mistakes.  They used an automatic gear system and that removed one of my difficulties.  Most of the class passed the driving license test including me at age 18.  I was allowed to drive on special occasions, even a few times with my father.  A couple of these early experiences are recalled.

One, I was so anxious to drive that I agreed to drive our family dog (who had often slept on my bed) to the vet about an hour's drive away in Fenelon Falls.  When we got there I realized the horror of what I had done and asked my mother to drive back home.  Years later I actually made sales calls to this same clinic.

Two, I was asked to take my sister for a high school event on a snowy winter day.  No excuse I put the car in the ditch, but was towed out.  When I confessed at home I was told no more driving while snow was on the ground.  Not the last time I ran a car into the ditch, but a lesson was learned.  

Three.  My Grandmother Coakwell let me drive her car from Oshawa and back for one of her visits to my family.  On one part of the trip I bumped up against a trailer of another car.  She didn't say much at the time, but when my cousins were visiting from Cornwall they told me she had told them.

After high school and while at university I would be given chances to drive on my own in Haliburton. even with snow on the ground.  Then after graduation which I took in January I found it very difficult to get a job.  I am sure my parents were getting exasperated.  Finally I had a successful interview for a social worker position in Barrie, Ontario with the requirement that I had to have a car.  Although my father had always advocated for foreign cars he set me up with his friend who owned Bill Drew Ford in Ajax.  He paid a down payment and road tested the car and in a short run pointed out some minor faults, but felt it was good enough for me.

My job involved driving around a section of Simcoe County that included Collingwood and Wasaga Beach that later became holiday destinations.  I also visited home, my old university, my friends and even to Montreal.  But the job didn't last and I ended up back home.  While there I enrolled in a night course at York University and took turns with a co-worker, but occasionally went on my own.  On one such occasion  I was approached by a young man in a mall parking lot who unusually I didn't brush off because he made some sense. At that point I agreed to join the CAA (Canadian Auto Club).  One of the smartest decisions I ever made.  They have rescued me many times for  battery and other assorted problems. ONce they towed my car from Toronto to Burlington and another time from Ingersol to Burlilngton and few other times shorter distances.  I also used their travel services from time to time.  A short while ago they sent me a certificate for being a loyal customer for 50 years.  Once in Halifax my brakes failed on a Saturday night with my wife and daughter and they steered me to where I eould get help. I certainly got my money's worth and a lot of peace of mind.

I felt if I wasn't able to get another job I could at least sell the car and pay back my parents.  But my education wasn't finished.  I learned that I owed more on the car than it was worse.  My parents picked up some of the slack and felt having a car might help me get my next job.  They were right, but it took six months and finally I got a job and after a brief stop in Toronto ended up working from a Hamilton office.  I drove all over the Niagara Peninsula and Burlington with occasional trips to further areas.

This job lasted more than a year until I decided to switch jobs and started a longer career in newspaper circulation that involved recruiting, interviewing and training carriers and taking carriers out canvassing for new customers.  

One incident was unexpected.  While taking out youngsters out I would drop them at one end of a long street and wait for them at a further end.  Usually I sat in my car listening to the radio or doing some paper work, but at one stage I decided I should get out for exercise and to keep closer watch on the carriers.  On this one occasion when I got back to my car a car turned sideways to block my car and scared me.  I felt relief a few seconds later when a police car with warning lights on.   It turned out that someone had decided I was a peeping Tom.  The police were reassured I was ok, but then another moment of embarrassment resulted when I was asked to present my driver's license and my signature was missing.  They were also embarrassed and merely asked me to sign it.

I was in newspaper circulation for well over a decade and in some ways kept up a connection tied to other jobs.  I got involved in making deliveries of store copies and even carrier bundles.  I worked in Oakville, Kitchener-Waterloo, Etobicoke, Brantford and Hamilton.  Some of this involved commutes and supervising managers.  When the Etobicoke paper decided to de-emphasize paid circulation I was forced out, but given a healthy amount of money.  

For a couple of years I worked selling office supplies for two different companies mainly working in Hamilton and Burlington that included nearby small towns and reinforce my interest in maps. I drove a lot on the job.

I should confess that I had one big fault shared by many others at the same time.  Alcohol entered my life around university time, but not a concern while driving my parent's car.  However when I got a job and started settling down it was very common to join friends at parties or bars and drink and drive home.  I was conscious that I was not as good a driver after drinking as I otherwise would.  Not sure when the concept of designated driver hit my social circle, but I believe I would have been in my late forties or early fifties.  When my daughter got her license she became a designated driver for us and later my wife and I split turns being a designated driver.  It is frightening how much danger I inflicted on myself and others.  One intermediate step was to hold a New Years Eve party as I told myself to avoid not only drinking and driving, but dealing with more than usual drinking drivers.  A tradition that spans over 20 years with many good memories.

Another life style activity was sleeping in cars.  Only a few times before I did settle down.  My friend Bob Stone who is much bigger than me and drove a small sports car would a few times end up with the two of us sleeping in his car.   I also slept in my car a few times rather than impose on other people.  

In my twenties I had a tendency to drive over the speed limit and got caught.  But I learned a life license when I was called in and complained about the last ticket.  The examiner merely explained I should think about the times I didn't get thought.  Read more:  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2013/08/what-have-you-gotten-away-with.html

Another side of my reckless youth was driving through bad weather.  When I worked in Simcoe County that seemed more prone to heavy snow I once drove from Collingwood through a storm when the provincial police had been taken off the road.  Lots of bad weather to contend with which actually attracted me when I discovered as a salesman it was easier to talk to decision makers during weather that not only discouraged retail customers, but also competing salesmen.  The worst drive was from Chicoutimi taking a "short-cut" over unploughed winding roads.

In Oakville one of my co workers was Rick Hill who became a good friend.  He had been a mechanic and also had a license for body work.  One of his leisure activities was pretending to buy cars with the idea of beating down the price.  On one occasion he came with me to an auto dealer and knocked the price down within about one minute.  After that it was tougher, but he got the deal mu,ch better than ever I could have.  At different times Rick helped me get some painting and other body work done at reasonable pricing. 

It is difficult to track every car that I bought, but most were held for years with new models at beginning, but more used later on.  Some were problems and others were very good.  For awhile I owned a van in order to make newspaper deliveries, but it didn't have a side window and I had a minor accident as a result.  Rick installed a side window for me.  My favorites were Honda.  I remember one salesman who had persuaded me to buy a car, but I wanted to delay as we were going on a plane ride to Florida in a very few weeks.  He got the bright idea to pay for airport transport which did make our trip much easier.  The same salesman later sold my wife a used car that his wife was driving.   I got more productive miles from the Honda than any other car.

Being non mechanically inclined a big concern was finding a mechanic I could trust.  An example of what to avoid was a mechanic I dropped into near where I worked in Etobicoke.  He had my car on a hoist and had me come over and shake something underneath.  He said I should not even drive home.  I did and the next day checked with a mechanic near where I lived and he laughed--he asked me if I had been asked to shake some parts underneath and told that is what they are supposed to do.  Another mechanic told me I had a serious problem requiring attention and a few days later my car was hesitating as had been predicted and I ran into Halton Honda who pointed out sparkplug connection had not been tightened and when I asked how I owed, he laughed and said he couldn't charge for something like that.

I did find a number of mechanics worthy of trust and I needed them because I drove a lot.  Delivery runs required stop and go with lots of idling and I drove on a lot of rough roads.  But I got a big break that I became conscious of when my sister in law Lorri got married to Kerry.  My brother in law Len, the emcee pointed out the family was not only gaining another member, but a mechanic.  Kerry was a matter of fact mechanic telling one what needed to be done and how much urgency was required.  One time after I went for some minor mechanical operation he told me I needed new tires and I replied that I would talk to my boss, meaning my wife.  I waited a little longer than expected and realized he had put on new tires.  This was at first a little annoying and I would have been furious if anyone else had done such a thing.  But I realized if he thought I needed new tires, I actually needed them and he probably saved my life.

Another similar break was when a nephew, Ryan started his own body shop, Enfield Body?and there were occasions when little dings needed repairing and rust dealt with. Not only did he give relatives discounts, I felt I could trust his judgments.  Pictured to the left with his daughter Emma.

Before moving on ,my sister's eulogy at my father's funeral hit me.  Like many sons who felt restrictions were unfair I held some resentment of my father, although I had overcome most of that before his death.  My sister, Rebecca recalled that my father, the truck driver loved to take different routes to see something different.  She also noted a pilot note that he was thrilled to have piloted me on an airplane flight when I was under a year old.

There was a big change in my life and cars played a big role that took me to the Maritimes and Quebec.  Check Part Two here  http://www.therealjohndavidson.com/2021/02/my-life-and-adventures-with-cars-part_21.html

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