Being taught to drive at the age of twelve
One of the more peculiar experiences I had as a result of my father’s decision to build a bomb shelter and prepare for a possible nuclear war against the Russians was his insistence that I learn to drive at the age of 12. If that seemed a little young, what made the experience even stranger was the car he chose to teach me in, a 1955 MG TF-1500.
The TF-1500 was a two-seater designed for both regular street use and racing. It had a four-speed gear shift and a clutch, but rather than a typical accelerator pedal it had a strangely shaped metal bar with a little roller on the end of it.
At the age of 12, the only way I could reach the pedals, and press the clutch as far down as it needed to go, was to slide down in the seat to a point where I couldn’t see over the dashboard (Thanks to the raised wind-deflecting humps designed for racing mode).
The MG had a hand brake just behind the gearshift which came in quite “handy” during our driving lessons. Since I was too young to learn on the street, my father chose to teach me in the narrow L-shaped parking lot of the local country club. The lot was paved with loose gravel and any time I got going at a speed he deemed excessive, or appeared to be headed in the wrong direction, he’d reach down and yank on the hand brake. The engine would stall and we’d skid over the gravel to a stop before any damage was done.
It wasn’t until many years later that I began to wonder where exactly he thought I’d go if the bombs did indeed fall. We lived on Long Island, a long, narrow body of land completely surrounded by water. At the western end was New York City, which was sure to be bombed and completely destroyed in any war, thus rife with life-threatening radioactivity. At the eastern end was Montauk and the Atlantic Ocean (I was pretty sure that the MG, while great fun to drive, was not designed to float).