Chevy Impala Driving Instructions

Written By: Dore  Hammond

During the summer of 1971 my Westhampton neighbor Jeanne Sullivan and I were hell bent on learning to drive. We were two transplanted city teenagers.Our automotive experience consisted of staring out the back window on Sunrise Highway while daydreaming about boys.

Both of our parents had been escaping to Westhampton from the city since the early fifties. They joyfully traded the hot cement and uptown local trains for rutted dirt driveways and a creek full of ducks. But now as teenagers Jeanne and I didn’t share their delight in bucolic tranquility.

We were looking for action, any action. This chimera of delight was no doubt awaiting us in Quogue or anywhere points east. We decided to set out to seek our destiny. It was time to put down the kick stand and get up behind the wheel.

Holding us back was seemingly only one major impediment; we didn’t know how to drive.

The Westhampton Beach High School Drivers Ed class seemed like the answer to our prayers. We signed up the minute we were eligible.This was the ticket to our freedom. We could discover exciting people and places that no doubt awaited us beyond our dirt driveways.On the first day of Drivers Education class they separated Jeanne and me. They could sense that we were two hicks from the city who couldn’t tell the difference between the gas and the brake. So their plan was to teach us how to drive.

The cars issued us were non descript gray Chevy Impala four door metal monsters.

My fellow auto occupants were a teacher and two bored 18 year old boys.The instructor was sincere with an athletic coach vibe. He reminded me of my math tutor.

It was obvious after our first spins behind the wheel that I was the only one who did not know how to drive, the boys only took the class for an insurance discount. After that I did most of the driving.

Aside from road time there was the car part identification quiz. This exercise consisted of me peering under the hood of a humming Impala attempting to name its contents. Staring at the dark tangle of wires I was asked to identify a few important parts. Before I ventured my wild guess the boys would whisper the wrong answers out of the side of their mouths. I would then announce proudly the incorrect answer much to the amusement of the boys, who now had to lean on the hood to regain composure as the teacher told them to knock it off.

One day, as I was once again the driver, white knuckling it along Montauk Highway, a bolt of lightning hit the car. The car was pushed back a foot with a loud bang. Now what? I thought. For once the boys snickering stopped and they sat back dumbstruck.

“What are you suppose to do when that happens?” I asked the instructor.

“Well” the shocked man said after a moment of silence “that never happened to me before!”

He then told one of the boys they could spell me at the wheel. He said I had done enough driving for the day. Proudly I slid into the back seat with my head held high. I could tell the boys were impressed at my steely command of the car under duress.

While waiting for Jeanne’s Impala to appear I sat on the long white cement steps of the school parking lot basking in my accomplishment. My feminist auto prowess reverie was dashed as I watched Jeanne attempt to maneuver her car into the parking lot. As it slowly lumbered up the driveway it had with two wheels on the curb.

Last week I went to Jeanne’s 30-year-old daughter’s wedding in Aquebogue. The groom cried when they announced them man and wife. He couldn’t stop kissing her. His youth, happiness and sincerity made me cry.