Shared Stories: Learning to Drive in the U.S.

Anthony Kingsley’s deadpan description of learning to drive in the United States offers perfect episodes for a comedic film – and it even ends on a suspenseful note.  Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Anthony R. Kingsley
I grew up in Ireland during WWll. When I was about age six I used to listen to the American Forces Network (AFN) Stuttgart and Frankfurt and developed a dream that one day I would go to the United States.
I moved to England where I got a job with a construction company. The pay was OK but not enough to save for moving to the USA. I got two more jobs: bartending during the evenings and selling in a Department Store on weekends. The money from these two jobs went into a separate account. 
As time went by and the savings were building up, I decided to make a bet on a horse named Damredub. Damredub won at a good price. And the savings account got closer to its goal. 
I went to the American Embassy, applied for an immigrant visa and showed my bank accounts to prove I had enough funds to support himself. My passport was stamped with a visa. I advised my three employers of my intention to leave. 
On April 28, 1965 I boarded the 53,000-ton ocean liner, the SS United States. I could have gone on the Queen Mary, but the SS United States offered a 10% immigrant discount. 
As we pulled out of Southampton the captain announced that we would arrive in New York on May 3 at 6:00 am. The next five days were spent on the water with six meals a day – wow – what luxury!!
On May 3 I was up on deck as the ship passed under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the entrance to New York Harbor at exactly 6:00 am. I saw all these car lights and wondered where all these people were going. The answer was, of course, people heading to New York City for work. 
After I cleared immigration and customs, a big burly stevedore picked up my meager belongings and carried them out. Not knowing the value of the currency, I gave the stevedore a tip based on English values. The stevedore very nicely handed the tip back and said, “If that is all you can afford son, you need it more that I do.”
A friend of a friend picked me up and took me to an apartment in Brooklyn. After searching for a few days, I obtained a job with Chase Manhattan Bank. But I had to pay the employment agency one month’s pay. 
My neighbor Frank offered to teach me to drive but I said No, I wanted to learn in my own car. After a few months I bought my first car for $300 – a 1960 Plymouth Savoy with huge fins at the back. Off I went with Frank and suddenly I saw a car in my rear-view mirror right up on my tail, so I nervously pulled over. There was no car – what I saw were my own fins.
I got my license and Frank asked me to drive him into New York to buy something. I dropped Frank off and continued driving around the block again and again. Then red flashing lights appeared behind me. I stopped and handed all the paperwork to the officer and was directed to go sit in the police car. The other officer drove my car to the police station.
After about two hours, they said I was free to go. When I asked why I had been picked up, the answer was because I was driving around and around in front of a bank.
While at Chase, my supervisor told me that if I wanted to get ahead I would have to go to college. I applied to Queens College but I was refused because I had no education paperwork. So, I took and passed the GED and was accepted to Queens College. 
In November 1965 the Great Northeast Blackout occurred, cutting power from Canada to Pennsylvania.  And where was I at the time? Stuck down in the metro. It took me five hours to walk home. 
I left Chase to work for an engineering company but Chase asked me to come back and work from 6 pm to midnight on a special project. I accepted so that I could build up my savings. 
In 1969 I was on the freeway when I was hit from behind by a truck. The company would not settle so I sued them. I went to court and the company made an offer. I refused. The judge said I should accept it because there was a five-year backup in the courts. I took the judge’s advice.
After four winters of cold and snow and with no car it was time to say au revoir to New York and head west. So where to go - Los Angeles or San Francisco? A flip of a coin decided – Los Angeles it was! I got a job with a mining company headquartered in Los Angeles and travelled to plants in California, Nevada and Arizona. 
I also transferred to California State University, Los Angeles. In 1982 I graduated with an MBA completing the requirements for both the Accounting and International Business options.
In 1989 I got a job as the Chief Accountant for the State of YAP in Micronesia. But despite the warm water and swaying palm trees, I left after three months.  
I got a job as the assistant controller for a demolition company. I met a wonderful woman from the Philippines, to whom I am still married, bought a house, and decided that my wandering days were over.
But alas, settling down was not meant to be.