I was the first of my friends to get a driver’s license. This was in 1963 where although we thought we were safe I am sure there were just as many crazy people around as there are now. But my driver’s license and my father’s car meant freedom and fun to us. Our first outing was to Don’s drive in. Don’s was located at the top of a very windy steep long highway. I thought nothing of taking those twists and turns as the music blared. I didn’t get nervous until we got to Don’s. Don’s was an important location not for the food but for the boys and the possibility of meeting someone new. Half of the fun was finding a place to park your car. You had to drive around and around looking for a space; actually you were looking for a great car filled with great guys to park next to. As we entered the circle of moving cars, I was busy scanning for the perfect parking opportunity when I bumped into a large building. This was what everyone was waiting for - a new driver. Well, to make sure that I didn’t feel bad and that I knew that everyone at Don’s now knew I had just gotten my license, the horns began to blow and the cheering started. You could have heard the commotion a mile away. We all started to laugh and then to make matters worse; without looking I quickly put my car into reverse and bumped into the car behind me. I am sure he must have been too close but he probably would have had a different story. Now the horns really started to blow and the laughter could be heard for miles. Not mine of course, I was too worried about the possible damage I had done to my Dad’s car, the building and the car behind me. Luckily for me, the new driver angel was sitting on my shoulder and there was no damage to anything. I guess even though I thought I was driving fast and cool I was probably going as slow as a car could possible go. This was just the beginning of our adventures in my father’s car. We had many fun and sometimes scary times in the old gray Ford Falcon.
We took another ride in my Dad’s car several years later. This time the adventure could have had serious results. I was very fortunate to live in a small but pretty house in the suburbs. Only 45 minutes away was Newark an entirely different type of city. While our town had pretty houses, lovely trees, good schools and great playgrounds for kids to visit, Newark had tenement buildings, poverty and growing anger and rage. One hot summer night a taxi cab driver was arrested for driving around a double parked police car. He was also beaten by the police and then taken to the precinct station which was located across the street from a low income high rise apartment house. Word quickly spread about the arrest and beating and a large crowd formed in front of the police station. Rumors started that the cab driver was dead when in reality he was no longer in the police station but had been taken out the back door to a local hospital. Bricks were thrown and a riot began. Forty-eight hours later the National Guard was called in and six days of rioting resulted in 23 people dying, 725 people injured and 150 people arrested. It was into this hotbed of anger and danger that three silly girls decided to take a ride to see first hand what was happening. As we got closer and closer to the city, the first thing we noticed was either clusters of people or nothing. You could feel the anxiousness of the people but since nothing like this had ever happened people did not at first realize the seriousness of what was taking place in their city. Mother’s still sent their sons to take out the garbage which resulted in death. People still stood by windows or peeked from behind curtains to see what was happening causing them to be shot in their own homes. And three young very innocent girls thought that tonight would just be another adventure like so many they had before. As we got closer, we saw the very young and extremely nervous National Guardsman standing at attention with their rifles. Luckily for us, they did not shoot and ask questions later. When they saw who was in the car they told us to go home and not to come back. This was not a game and people were being killed and injured at a rapid rate. So we turned around and did not look back for a long time. That is until we noticed a strange black car which seemed to be following us. When I remember that night I wondered if it was really following us or if it was also just in a hurry to get away from Newark as quickly as possible. When we turned, it turned, when we went fast, it went fast, when we slowed down, it slowed down and then it began to blow its horn and flash its lights. Usually, there were people out on the streets or stores open for business but tonight there was no one. The sky was dark and the streets were empty. We saw one gas station that looked like someone might be hiding in the office. We pulled in and blew our horn. No one came. We blew it again and again and finally a middle aged man ran outside, listened to our story and told us there was nothing he could do, no police would come and to lock our doors and go home as quickly as possible. By this time the black car had seemed to disappear and so quickly and very quietly the gray Ford Falcon sped up the highway. Although we got home safely, it is a memory that comes back every so often. I think about how young and silly we were and I think about how lucky we were that nothing happened to us especially after reading the statistics about how many people were killed riding in a car. One ten year old boy innocently riding with his family to get a hamburger for dinner was shot and killed by the National Guard. I think about how poverty and prejudice and anger can create such a horrific series of events and I wonder why people have not learned as much as I think they should have from the history of our nation. As I watch and listen to the debates that go in our country, luckily there have not been any riots but there still is polarization. There still is fear and there still is anger. As someone who is not young and not silly anymore, I have to ask, “Why? "Why can’t we learn from the past, why can’t we care about each other and why can’t we change?” I often think about that car ride but after writing this, I think it affected who I am and how I think much more than I ever realized.