Friday, August 5, 2016

Who Says Women Can't Drive?

Thought for the day: The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of  age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers. [Dave Barry]

Yeah, that's me sitting in the dragster. As you can tell, the car wasn't on the race track, or even on the street. It was parked on a backyard driveway.

And the engine wasn't running.

Come to think of it, that's about the only time Smarticus ever felt comfortable when I was sitting in the driver's seat. That, and the time I drove him home from the hospital while he was still feeling the effects of anesthesia. Okay, okay, okay... I'm not saying I  never earned his misgivings. It's possible that I may have been in a fender-bender or two when I was young and newly-licensed. Smarticus likes to say that when we sold it, there wasn't a single piece of straight metal on the tank of a station wagon I drove back then, but that's a slight exaggeration. The roof looked great.

But this post isn't gonna be about me, or about how our then-toddler son laughed hysterically when my hubby tried to teach me how to drive a stick shift around the parking lot of his workplace. I mean, maybe it WAS a bit of a carnival-like herky-jerky stop-and-go ride, but still, it was terribly rude of him to laugh, dontcha think? Between his laughing and Smarticus' yelling, is it any wonder I never got the hang of it? Anyhow, I'm not gonna write about that, or about my missing sense of direction, either. (I think when God was handing out that particular gene, I never made it to the line, because I got... lost.) So what if I like to take scenic routes?

Some beautiful paths can't be discovered without getting lost. [Erol Ozan]

Anyhow, so what am I gonna write about? Or I should say... who? I'm gonna write about an amazing woman that most of you probably never heard about before.  Her name was Alice Huyler Ramsey, and man oh man, could that woman drive! And find her way around.

[morguefile]
 I guess you could say it all kinda started with a frightened horse. In 1909, her husband John encountered a monstrous driving machine while he was on horseback near their home in Hackensack, New Jersey. His terrified horse took off running, and John started to worry about his wife's safety, should the same thing happen to her. So he bought her a car. A 1909 dark green 4-cylinder, 30 horsepower, Maxwell DA, a touring car with two bench seats, and a removable roof.














[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
She was a natural behind the wheel. In a day and age when driving was still a rarity, in her first summer alone, this 22-year old mother of two put 6000 miles on her new car. Then she took part in a 200-mile endurance race. Representatives of Maxwell were so impressed by her driving skills, they made her an offer she couldn't resist: an all-expenses paid trip to prove to the world that a Maxwell could take anyone... even a woman... all the way across America. To Maxwell, it may have been a publicity stunt, but to Alice, it was a challenge. Her husband agreed to let her go, but he didn't want her to do it alone. He wanted her to take some other women with her.

Good driving has nothing to do with sex. It's all above the collar. [Alice Huyler Ramsey]

[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
Talk about the original girl trip! Two older sisters-in-law and a friend joined her for this incredible 59-day trek across the country. Alice did all of the driving, and the others provided company, and helped as best as they could.











[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]

Of the 3800 miles this intrepid foursome covered from Manhattan to San Francisco, only 152 of them were on paved roads.













[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]
Which led to eleven flat tires. In addition to the dirty task of changing tires, Alice also cleaned the spark plugs numerous times, and fixed a broken brake pedal. .


[National Automotive History Collection, Detroit Public Library]







Because of all the unpaved roads, it should come as no surprise that Alice's Maxwell bumped over many muddy holes, and got stuck in quite a few of them. In Nebraska, a clever farmer's son used a horse to pull them out of one of those holes... for a fee. When the car bottomed out again a mile farther down the dirt road, he was waiting for them. He happily pulled them out again... for a higher fee, of course.

Since there weren't many decent roads in those days, road maps weren't terribly plentiful, either. They had some from AAA, but for the most part, they navigated by following the telephone poles. They figured the more wires they saw, the more likely it would lead them to a town. This method wasn't fool-proof, though; they had to backtrack on several occasions.









[wikipedia]







Although the ladies spent most nights in a hotel, few offered deluxe accommodations. They may have had sheets on the beds, but some of them also had bedbugs. One night, they had to sleep in the car.  (Yep, it was stuck in another hole.)

In Nevada, they were surrounded by a Native American hunting party on horseback, bows and arrows at the ready. Not to be outdone, in Wyoming, they were waylaid by an armed posse that was chasing a murderer.

[wikipedia]
When they arrived in San Francisco on August 7, 1909, they were met by a cheering crowd. (More women than men, I'll betcha!) Some newspaper articles, however, called the journey ridiculous, and beyond the capabilities of women drivers. 

Her response? The criticism, of course, merely whetted the appetites of those of us who were convinced that we could drive as well as most men... it's been done by men, and as long as they have been able to accomplish it, why shouldn't I?

This feisty woman, Alice Huyler Ramsey, was the first woman in history to drive coast-to-coast across the United States. (And only one man accomplished this feat prior to her: Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, in 1903) For Alice, this trip was only the first of many. Between 1909 and 1975, she drove across the country more than thirty more times. (She stopped counting.) In 1960, she was named the Woman Motorist of the Century by AAA, and in 1961, she wrote a book about her cross-country adventures: Veil, Duster, and Tire Iron. In 2000, she became the first woman inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame.

What a gal, huh? Oh, by the way, her husband, who became a U.S. Congressman, never learned to drive.

                             Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Men may or may not be better drivers than women, but they seem to die more often trying to prove that they are. [Tom Vanderbilt]

I have an idea that the phrase 'weaker sex' was coined by some woman to disarm the man she was preparing to overwhelm. [Ogden Nash]










68 comments:

  1. I did not think cross country was such a big deal at first, not thinking about the road conditions in 1909. Pretty amazing!

    Oh, no one ever learned to drive a stick without going through that herky jerky stop and go stuff.

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    1. Yeah, for someone like me, driving cross-country today, with decent paved roads, ample roadmaps, and a GPS, it's STILL be an amazing trip. (And I'll still probably manage to get lost.) But doing it in 1909 without any of those things? Boggles the mind.

      Maybe no one has ever learned to drive a stick without that awkward beginning, but that was my one and only attempt. My hubby was a natural, and I think expected me to be one, too.

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  2. I would tell you that I'm a VERY good driver, but that would make me sound like Rain Man!!

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    1. Nothing wrong with that! I LOVE Rain Man. :)

      (And I'm actually a very good driver now, too.)

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  3. I find it odd that a newspaper dared to say the journey was beyond the capabilities of women drivers, when clearly a woman had just done it!
    I never learned to drive a car and after all these years I probably couldn't handle a motorbike either, not with today's mad traffic.

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    1. I have a feeling women (and their accomplishments) were often disparaged, overlooked, and ignored back then.

      Wow! I'm surprised you don't drive. Then again, I didn't get my license until after we moved to Georgia, and might not have bothered at all if we'd stayed in Maryland. Up there, I could get everywhere I needed to go either by walking or by taking a bus or two, but everything's spread out here, and it's only been in recent years that there's been any kind of bus service in our county. Plus, my husband had to travel for work, so I had to take the plunge.

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  4. No wonder I love you so much! The roof is in good shape. Still laughing! I am also a bad driver with zero sense of direction. I get lost so often, I just consider it part of the journey.

    What an amazing lady! I can hardly make my way places with all the interstates and GPS.

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    1. Thanks! :)

      I'm a much better driver now than I was when I first got my license forty-five years ago. The sense of direction hasn't improved a whit, though.

      HA! Me and you, kid. It probably wouldn't be a good idea for US to take a road trip together...

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  5. Thank you for this excellent overview of the Maxwell. I wonder if Alice Ramsey's remarkable driving feats influenced the running gag about Jack Benny's Maxwell (which he was too miserly to replace). From memory (so possibly inexact after 60 years), I still chuckle over a bit of a skit Benny and Edmund Anderson on their tv show in the mid-1950's:

    "Mr. Benny, the Maxwell needs servicing."

    "Nonsense Rochester, it's in mint condition and gets us around town just fine."

    "Sure, as long as we're going in a straight line. But when we need to turn a corner, we have to get out and kick the front wheels sideways!"

    Sound like Ms. Ramsey got close to that point.

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    1. And thank YOU for reminding me about Jack Benny's Maxwell, dude. I loved that show, but I'd forgotten the Maxwell jokes.

      Then again, after learning about Ms. Ramsey's escapades, maybe they weren't jokes, after all...

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  6. It is always lovely to hear about a determined woman excelling in a field people tell her is beyond her. Thank you.
    My sense of direction is excellent - but I am a non-driver. Himself has a truly woeful sense of direction, so we have an conveninet division of labour/skills.

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    1. Isn't it? It's nice to hear about any woman with that kind of assertiveness, courage, and determination at any time... but for her to be that way in 1909, when women were generally treated with such disregard? That's downright inspirational!

      Sounds like you and your hubby are the perfect match. It's a reeeeeally good thing my husband has such an eerie sense of direction. (I suspect he's a wizard...)

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  7. I've never heard of Alice Ramsey before - but she was obviously one helluva woman with a delightfully adventurous spirit. I can only imagine how primitive it was to drive across country in 1909, with absolutely no conveniences (not to mention ruddy roads). It must have been a fantastic trip!
    And she was still driving in the 1970's?? Wow!!!

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    1. Yeah, she must have been quite the gal, and her husband must have been pretty special, too, to allow her the freedom to be so adventurous. I think his attitude was even more rare in 1909 than adventurous women.

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  8. Hooray, Alice! This was a wonderful story. So glad you shared.

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  9. Wow, I'm so glad to learn about her. And how wonderful in that time that they had the kind of marriage where she and her husband were okay with them each following their dreams. One of my favorite movies growing up was The Great Race.

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    1. That's a spot-on comment about their marriage. There aren't many men in TODAY'S world who would be okay with their wives taking off on a 59-day excursion with friends while they stayed at home with the kids, let alone back then.

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  10. My son also remembers when my husband taught me to drive stick while he and his sister, both under four years old, sat in the back seat, having the most frightening days of their lives. He wrote about it on FB a week or so ago because he is now teaching his son to drive stick. He, of course was (kind of) exaggerating.

    I love this story about Alice. We don't think about women having great adventures back then, however, women's history, is not something that is taught. It made me proud to read and learn about her in this post. Kudos to her husband for staying at home with the kids also.

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    1. Yeah, I was (kind of) exaggerating, too. (But not by much!)

      Absolutely. Not only was SHE ahead of her time, but he was, too. And I'll betcha his friends gave him a ration of crap about staying home with the kids, too.

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  11. The roads had to be awful in 1909. Determination can go far no matter the gender.

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    1. Absolutely. Determination can move mountains. (Eventually.)

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  12. It reminds me of the time my brother wanted my mother to enter the mums' race - admitting afterwards that it was because she looked so funny trying to run!

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    1. HA! Your brother had a bit of a sneaky streak, eh?

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  13. Go, Alice! The first badass woman driver.

    My dad made me learn to drive a standard shift before he would let me get my license. All my friends had their licenses, and I was still doing the herky jerky. I didn't think I would EVER learn. About six months later (so I'm slow) it finally clicked. Now I'm glad he made me learn. Then, not so much.

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    1. Your dad was very smart to make you learn how to drive a standard shift. Funny thing is, before Smarticus and I got married, some of the guys I dated drove sticks, and they let me do the shifting. That was fun, and I used to fantasize about zipping down the road behind the wheel of a sporty 1954 MG convertible by myself, with my hair flying in the breeze, but... so much for fantasies. I didn't even get a license until after I was married and had a child, so instead of a sporty MG with a stick shift, my first car was an enormous Mercury Commuter station wagon with a baby seat in it. HA!

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  14. Hi Susan - I certainly hadn't heard of Alice - what an amazing woman ... fascinating to see that her husband never learnt to drive - that just might have been sensible! Brilliant story ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi-ya, Hilary. I thought it was kind of amusing that her husband never learned to drive. When he went to Congress, I guess he had a personal driver.

      Cheers back atcha!

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  15. great post and I love the old timey photos. Driving back in the day was hard work. I love the ladies road trip. Did they stop at a Buc-cees and buy cheetos? I admit to being a fairly safe driver during the day - night vision issues tends to limit my late nights - ha! Have a safe zoom zoom weekend

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.

      I find the idea of those four feisty ladies trekking across the country on their own intrigues me, too. Alas, I fear they had to make the entire trip without a single Cheeto. (the horror!)

      I'm a safe driver, too. It was just that first year or two... However, like you, my night vision leaves something to be desired, so I rarely drive after dark.

      HA! You have a super weekend, too. Zoom, zoom. :)

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  16. I loved that one, Susan! I had never heard of Alice, but she looks dishy in that car - and what an accomplishment! Setting an example for women - and nowadays almost everybody does drive.
    Just this morning I impressed my son by telling him, that when I was quite young (and drove a sports car) tried to enroll in a Cosmopolitan car race through deserts - and was very disappointed when I was not chosen.

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    1. Thanks, Britta! I'm glad you liked it.

      Well, aren't you the adventuress? Too bad you weren't chosen to be in that race, but I hope you at least have some pictures of you with that sports car. I actually participated in one race before Smarticus and I got married. It was a road rally. He was the driver, and I was the navigator. Hilarious, huh? But somehow, we actually won first place!

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  17. Personally, I think women are bad drivers, but men are too aggressive in their driving. Women should not be allowed to drive trucks on city streets, they seem oblivious of the size of their vehicles and of the lines on the street showing lanes. They do better in small cars. I am female and have been driving since I was 15 on a learner's license, but I have also have driver education in school, and have taken defensive driving courses. I think self driven cars are the way to go as most people do not know the basic rules of the road!! In a test with a room full of men with driving experience - I scored better than all of them. I was 22 at the time. They couldn't believe it. . .

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    1. I don't know that I'd make a blanket statement about which sex is the best at driving, or the most reckless, whatever, but I know that I, personally, am a much better, more aware, and more careful driver now than I was when I started. Experience and maturity must count for something.

      I also don't doubt that you're an excellent driver, in spite of your statement about women being lousy drivers, but I don't think your gender has anything to do with it. It's your willingness to learn and follow through, which theoretically, anyone, of either sex, could do. A man is just as capable of doing something stupid... or something smart... while sitting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Whether that vehicle is a big rig, a school bus, or a cute little sports car.

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  18. What a fascinating lady! In none of those pictures does she appear to be any less feminine than her counterparts.

    What a delight to imagine the dialogue between those four during those long 59 days!

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    1. Isn't she, though? Not only does she look feminine, but she looks supremely self-assured.

      HA! I agree. I wonder if that long trip brought them closer together, or induced them to get as far away from each other as possible when it was over...

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  19. What an interesting story. She and her friends were quite brave. I'm not sure I'd want to drive coast to coast even in this day and age!

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    1. Thanks. I'm glad you liked it.

      The only way I could handle driving cross country is if the trip were made is short hops. After three hours or so, I'm ready to get out of the car to move around.

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  20. One of my lady friends who is ten years older than me ( I am sixty six) drives across the USA and has a friend in almost all of the states. She can still change a tire and knows almost every detail of most cars, most models and the year that they were made in.

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    1. Wow, your friend is some kinda impressive lady. Something tells me she's also independent, assertive, and a neat person to know.

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  21. Wow - what a gutsy lady and what a great story! My mom never learned to drive, but she's 82 now and still rides her bike everywhere.

    I still drive a stick shift. My youngest son was too impatient to learn it, so he never asked to borrow my car before he got his own. Ha!

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    1. Riding a bicycle everywhere, rather than sitting behind the wheel of a car probably has a lot to do with your mom still being in good health. Good for her!

      Good for you, too. I reckon I'm too old to learn how to drive a stick shift now. Not much point, anyway, because all of our vehicles are automatics. :)

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  22. Another great post - some laughs and some history - I love it.
    Those hats.....no wonder they are laughing in all the photos!....I'd laugh too at the sight of those hats!

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    1. Thanks! I'm glad you liked it.

      Um, good point about those hats. I've worn some pretty wild hats in my life, but never anything quite as... how shall I put this?... nothing quite as ugly as those. They are pretty darned laughable. :)

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  23. Wow what a fascinating woman! And unfortunately you were right, I'd never heard of her. Grrrr.
    I think maybe we are related somehow. I never got the hang of a stick and can easily get lost any time I leave the house!

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    1. I'm glad you think she was a fascinating gal, too. It's kinda fun to find stories like this.

      HA! Maybe we should start a support group for Directionally Challenged people.

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  24. Susan that was a really interesting story... incredible that she did that in 1909 and truly awesome that her husband was okay with it as well... xox

    I never learned to drive, I had a few people try to teach me but never really give me a chance... the only time I should not have been behind the wheel was when my sister tried to teach me with a clutch... much like you I was sputtering around... I never got the hang of it... oh and don't get me on directions... lol... are we related, lol ... xox

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    1. I'm glad you liked it, Launna. Yeah, she and her husband were both trend-setters, in a way.

      Hmmm, seems like I've got a lot of company with that direction-finding stuff. (Or, should I say direction-NOT-finding...?)

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  25. Loved this story! Thanks for sharing it.

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    1. Cool! I'm glad you did; I enjoyed sharing it. :)

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  26. Wow, what a journey. It looks both fun and dangerous. I would've followed telephone poles, too. I'm glad I read this since I had no idea about this group of women. I never learned to drive a stick.

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    1. Fun, dangerous, and a huge gal pal adventure.

      Good to know I'm not the only one who never learned to drive a stick. (I still kinda wish I had.)

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  27. Thank you! I never knew any of this before! To think my dad was 3 when they did this journey. There's a photo somewhere of my grandmother driving a Model T in 1911, she had a small wreck driving alone in upstate NY that made the NYC papers in 1918! :)
    x

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    1. You're welcome! :)

      Wow, your father was born in 1906? He must have had you really late in life. It'd be cool if you had that 1918 newspaper. Your grandmother must have been an adventurous gal, too. :)

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    2. Yeah, 52 when I was born, 55 when little brother came along. I can't imagine, especially with the older boys being 9, 11 and 12. He must've been nuts! My Nana, his mother, was born in 1872! And I remember her. Makes me feel ancient. :D

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    3. And I was treated like an old bag on the maternity ward for having our last baby when I was thirty. :)

      You're not ancient. If you are, I've even MORE ancient, and I categorically refuse to accept that.

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  28. I've read about Alice Ramsay before. She was awesome!

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    1. Of all the people who read this blog, I'm not at all surprised that you are the one person who has read about Alice Ramsey before. :) (I hope you taught your students about her, too.)

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  29. Hi Susan! What an incredible story! How adventurous of the women to take such a daring road trip, and I also got a kick out of her husband never learning how to drive. I had to sneak away with my boyfriend to the DMV, and for months my parents wouldn't let me drive farther than across the street. This was both entertaining and educational which is something you specialize in.

    Julie

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    1. Hi-ya, kiddo! It's great to hear from you again. I hope all is going well with you.

      I'm glad you liked the story. It cracked me up that you played a Sneaky Pete (Penelope?) to get your license. I wonder if your mom has ever let you forget it. HA!

      Thank you, ma'am. Maybe I should have been a teacher... :)

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  30. I dislike both cars and driving (stick or automatic), so I wouldn’t have been game for the trip, but Alice was one very impressive lady. Can’t imagine 59 days on the road. I still have nightmares about my six day drive from CA to GA. Of course Alice and her compatriots probably didn’t have their pets with them. :)

    VR Barkowski

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    1. You just described what would be a horror to me... driving cross-country with pets in the car. The only thing that'd be worse would be doing it with kids. (At least, dogs and cats wouldn't talk, complain, bounce around, and fight non-stop...) (Not that MY kids would do any of that... HA)

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  31. I'm impressed that Alice knew how to change tires. What a woman!

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  32. I never learned to drive a stick either but I sure know where the gas pedal is.
    "It's the little old lady from Pasadena...go Granny, go Granny, go Granny go." (Anyone here old enough to remember that song?

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    1. HA! Heck, I'm old enough to have WRITTEN that song...

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  33. That's truly inspirational. We have to learn to drive stick/manual here in the UK and I did, but I gave up after a year because of my anxiety. Driving is tough!

    Raindrops of Sapphire

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    1. I still regret not learning how to drive a stick, but it's probably a little late for me to consider it now. I actually love to drive, though, when there are no other vehicles on the road, and every traffic light I pass is green. (You know... in my dreams...)

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