Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Wednesday, September 6, 2017


As gas prices rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and oil companies, as usual, see it as an excuse to gouge customers, I am reminded of how we are now addicted, not to oil, for there are many other fuels that could be developed if the big oil companies did not own half of our senators and congressmen, but to cars.

Bill Linneman, distinguished professor emeritus of English at ILSU, recently wrote a column in which he announced that he was giving up driving. He waxed long and eloquently about how nice it is not to have a car to maintain and how good it is not to drive. “I live in a retirement community,” he said, “and they have a bus that takes me anywhere I need to go. It’s much more fun and relaxing to watch the sights and scenes instead of the town instead of trying to avoid wild and stupid drivers. That’s the reason I’m giving up driving.” Then he added, “Also, I failed the exam.”

My friend Bob has driven a whole lot of cars a whole lot of miles over a whole lot of topography. He never passed a driver’s license exam, though, until he was 70.

He grew up in Mississippi. His family did not have a car, so he had no driving experience. As a teen, he was riding around one day with a friend who said, “Hey, you want to go get your license?”

“Sure,” said Bob.

They went to the BMV, or whatever it was called in MS, and he took the test. He failed. A couple of weeks later he received his license in the mail. He did not return it.

Apparently failing the driving test can mean either that you give up driving or you start.
Since then Bob has lived in several different states, all of which have different laws for getting driver’s licenses, and renewing them, and he hit all of them just right, like hitting all the lights just as they turn green. All the states assumed that the one before it knew what it was doing and kept renewing his license. He did not have to take another license exam until he was 70.

In our society, driving means independence. Old people want to keep driving as long as possible. My Aunt Gertrude drove Helen and me to a restaurant one day when we were visiting her. She was in her mid-80s and a very good driver. But she said us, “I have told my children: Let me know when I should stop driving, and I will.” A few years later, they did, and she did. She is a good model, for everyone else. Not for me, though. My kids are way too stupid to know when I should stop driving.

As the old song about Big John says, “If you see me coming, better step aside…”


The title, “Five Gallons and Independence,” comes from a book my father read when I was little, Five Acres and Independence, about how to live adequately on a five acre farm. Most of us want independence, Daddy especially. He was blind so he could not get independence through a car. He decided to try the five acres approach. Five acres weren’t enough. When I left home, five gallons were enough to get me from that farm to college, and my form of independence.

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