Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Los Angeles was not designed with public transportation in mind. In the age of cheap gasoline and cars, Los Angeles grew up wide-spread orange groves, scenic mountain and beach views and always the dream of the future right on the horizon.

So public transportation, at least in the 60's, was underfunded and unwelcome. I do remember benches at bus stops, but they always seemed to have a drunk sleeping on them or desperately poor Mexicans waiting for something.

An automobile was not a luxury by any means but a simple necessity. The cars of my childhood were long, wide and always very, very clean. Seat belts were there, but I can't recall ever using them. Air conditioning was rolling the windows all the way down and driving fast.

The Pasadena freeway, the first real freeway in L.A., was designed at a time when 35 mph was speedy. So on-ramps were non-existent, multiple curves were not considered hazardous, and speed was king (again, with 40 mph pushing the limit).

I vaguely recall my dad teaching me to use a stick-shift in the huge parking areas of Santa Anita Racetrack, and I know I could ride my brother's motorcycle when I was 12. Yes, 16 was the legal driving age, but since I was already 5'10" by 13, no one even thought to question me about minor things such as a license.

So when my dad was teaching from the home studio, I was free to take the keys and just go. It is amazing that I didn't get in more trouble than I did - no one ever kept track of where I was.

But to get a license, you did have to take the driver’s education class in high school. And Mr. Penn was the instructor.

Back then I still had a complete brain, so I could doze through the classes and still pass the exams. The actual on-the-street driving was only interesting when one of the other students got to drive. Her first time behind the wheel, my friend, Robin Yamamoto, literally floored the gas pedal to get the car moving. And others would wander all over the left and right sides of the road, although I only recall jumping the curb once.

Even then, I could only assume that any teacher got some form of hazardous duty pay for classes such as this.

But Mr. Penn always let me drive last, drop off all the other students' at their homes, and then drive myself home while he graded papers. And then I would jump out, and more often than not, hop right into one of my dad's cars and drive myself to my friend Annette's or McDonalds.

Guardian angels of naive underage drivers, thank you again for all your protection. And allow me to call on you, especially when my granddaughter turns 12.