Growing up where I did, everyone had dune buggies and motorcycles, sail and/or fishing boats. We lived on the water and spent a lot of time fishing, diving, surfing and sailing. On weekends we'd go out to the desert (Glamis or Ocotillo Wells) and ride.
The first time I drove a motorcycle I think I was 4 or 5 and I hadn't learned to ride a bicycle yet. (Took a while for Dad to figure out why I could get started, but kept falling over after a few feet. He was starting to think I was retarded when my brother brought it up. Lessons went much better after my brother took over. Before his leave was over he taught me how to ride a bicycle, too.) Anyway, I learned and had a lot of fun over the years on the bikes, but I always had a goal of someday being allowed to drive Dad's dune buggy.
Dad's dune buggy was special. It was red, sparkly fiberglass, (It looked like this one, without the flames.) with a Porsche engine and he was as protective of it as a mother bear of her cubs. He had a green one, too, but it had a WV Bug engine. And it wasn't as shiny. Or red.
Finally, when I was 10 or 11 the big day came. He decided I was ready. Now mind you, I had never driven anything other than a motorcycle or 3 wheeler and I still wasn't quite tall enough to reach the pedals very well, but none of that mattered. I was finally going to get to drive and not just any dune buggy, but the sparkly red one.
We climbed in, me in the driver seat, Dad in the passenger seat, and Mom in the back seat. Now, Dad was maybe not the best, most patient teacher in the world, but his instructions were always very clear, "This is a car, not a bike. Clutch and brake with your foot, change gears with your hand. The brake is the middle pedal. Push the clutch in and run it through the gears."
Very nervously, I pushed in the clutch and felt out the gearing.
He said, "Got it?"
"Well, fire her up."
Ohhkaaay. Clutch in, turn key. Hey, it worked!
Dad: "Well, what are you waiting for?"
Nothing, I guess. I popped the clutch, gave it some gas and it hopped, and hopped, and went chugga chugga chugga and died.
Dad: "What was that?!"
Me, nervously, "I don't know?"
Dad: "Better figure it out."
On the third try, I got it and we went flying off across the desert. It was the best feeling. There I was, not just driving, but driving the red dune buggy. Once I mastered the gearing it was clear sailing.
Until we went over a hill and Mom's hat flew off.
I popped the dune buggy out of gear and stood on the brake with both feet and we came to an...I think the word abrupt is appropriate here...an abrupt halt, before we began roaring up the hill. Backwards.
At which point Mom said, "It's okay, we don't have to go back."
Determined not to let Mom lose her hat, I kept going. Dad couldn't talk, he was too busy laughing like a loon.
Mom, louder: "I really don't need the hat."
Me: "No, we can go get it."
Dad was still laughing like a loon.
Mom, still louder: "No, really, I don't need it."
Me: "No problem, Mom, honest."
Dad was laughing even harder.
Mom, completely colorless and by this time shrieking, : "STOP! I never liked that hat anyway."
Me, stopping, "OK, but we're here now. Might as well pick it up anyway."
Dad falling to the ground holding himself as he tried to get out of the dune buggy to pick up the hat will always be one of my favorite memories.
I'm sure that if he could have talked he would have told me that one generally backs up much more slowly than when going forward. And watching where you're going doesn't hurt either.
That dune buggy and I did lots of exploring together. I got my driving license on a Thursday, my 16th birthday, and on Saturday a girlfriend and I drove it to Ft. Huachuca, AZ to see her boyfriend who was stationed there. She was older and had been driving a couple of years longer, but her parents wouldn't let her make that drive. (Now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have let her go if they'd known I was driving, either.) It only took us about 8 hours to get there and it was a really fun weekend. 3 days I would have hated to miss.
I drove it to school most sunny days the rest of that school year and most of the next.
Dad eventually gave me the dune buggy and when I left for college I stored it at my brother's until I could get a place with a garage for it. Summer of my sophomore year I flew to CA and drove it back. (No, I didn't tow anything that trip and it went smoothly.)
I had to give it up when I went to work overseas, but I'm really missing it today. Lots of good times included getting there in the sparkly red dune buggy.