I remember when I was 15 or so, the most important thing in my life -- bar none -- was securing my driver's license. Actually, girls were also very important, but so was the realization that if I had a car scoring babes would become all the easier.
By this time baseball, which had been my all-consuming interest, was beginning to pale in comparison, probably because the realization that I wasn't going to make the Major Leagues was beginning to sink in. Hell, I was only about five-two, not even big enough to be the bat boy, and other hairy guys on our Babe Ruth League team were already growing beards, standing six-foot tall, and chawing tobacco (I did spit and grab my crotch well, though.)
We studied the pamphlet from the Department of Motor Vehicles for weeks before making the long, nervous ride to Riverhead to take the DMV permit test.
None of us had our own cars in those days – we were lucky if our parents had one, and if they did maybe they let us use it once in a while.
Nowadays you drive by the high school and see dozens of cars. In those days the only guys that had cars were the "Greasers" – 21 year-olds who had been left back three times. They bought junk cars and then fixed them up using the lunch money they stole from the rest of us. They would drive down Main Street in Sag Harbor, circle around the flagpole and back up, circle around the flowerpot that was there, and repeat the route over and over again. They called it "the Main Street Cycle."
We would practice our hand signals over and over – remember them? It was a real pain, especially in a blizzard, but it was mandatory that we learn them. That was a long time ago – nowadays, of course, cars have blinkers. But has anyone besides me noticed that a lot of people around here don't use them anymore? What's up with that?
It used to be that the crappy drivers were exclusively women, but the gender barrier has been breached, and now you never know what tardo will forget his or her vehicle is equipped with signal lights.
Ever go to make a right turn and the cars coming from the opposite direction makes a left in front of you without signaling? The working DMV rule is the driver on the right has the (DUH!) Right of Way. They don't call it the Left of Way.
Then there are the people from the city who still don't know you can turn right at a light everywhere else on earth. If you're behind them and beep they get angry and make hand gestures that mean in Italian at least, that you should do vile things to yourself. Talk about hand signals.
You could get your "senior" license when you were 18, or 17 if you took and passed a Driver's Ed course. We all did, of course, because that meant we could go to the drive-in movie and make out. Sometimes we'd even have a date.
If your car had an AM radio you were lucky. Even if it did, there weren't any channels to tune into out in these parts. We'd listen to WABC out of New York, and the static would be louder than the music.
Mostly, of course, we tried to pick up girls. I expanded the boring Main Street cycle. Instead, we would drive a loop through Sag Harbor, North Haven, and Noyac, going by the house of every pretty girl we knew. We called it the "Menstrual Cycle" – it took about 28 minutes assuming you didn't actually see a girl, which was most often the case. Once in a while, though, we would see a pretty face walking, stop, and ask her if she needed a ride. Most of them, at least the ones with teeth, would see five lathered up goofs crowded in the back seat and wisely say no.
Nowadays the technology in automobiles is frightening. They have back-up cameras – they have "lane departure alerts" – they even have "collision avoidance systems" which would have come in handy 40 or 50 years ago. Had I gone into the business of automobile technology I probably would have invented stuff like a "Babe Detection System" which would pick up the scent of an attractive gal and send turn-by-turn navigational directions.
To get back to the present day – do you wonder why, with all the safety features autos have these days, like air bags, antilock brakes, and so on, that there seems to be more serious accidents around here then there were then?
It's partially because drivers have more things to distract them. There is one simple thing we can all do to make this a better place to live, though – use your freaking blinkers, stupid.