I got my driver’s license when I turned 16, but I had been driving since I was about 12. I would meet my Dad about a quarter of a mile from home on his way home from work. He would pull over, let me in the driver’s seat, and I would drive the rest of the way home. Of course, he was right next to me with his hand ready to grab the wheel and his foot ready to hit the brake if needed. When I was a little older, about 14, he would let me drive the car home after we completed our morning paper route. It was still early in the morning, and there were very few cars on the back roads between Cordova and Collierville.
In the summer of 1976, about six months after I got my license, my Dad asked me if I wanted to work for my Grandpa for a couple of weeks. Grandpa had a vending machine route that he had gotten through an organization for the blind. He had lost an eye earlier in life and couldn’t drive. His regular driver was going on reserve duty for two weeks, and Grandpa needed a driver. The money was pretty good, and it sounded like fun, so I headed off to Scottsboro, Alabama to be his driver.
The vending machines were all located at the construction site for the Belmont Nuclear Plant. I don’t recall how many drink machines there were, but we would fill them twice a day, and each trip we would start with a full truck. The truck was a full sized Ford Econoline van with no windows on the side panels. Grandpa’s garage was fully stocked with all kinds of canned sodas. We would load up and head to the construction site with a heavy load. It took a few days to get used to driving the long wheel base, but my confidence grew with every trip.
The Pepsi truck made regular deliveries to Grandpa’s garage, but due to the hot summer temperatures, the workers were buying a lot of drinks. One afternoon, the inventory in the garage was running low, and there wasn’t time to get a delivery truck before the next morning’s route. So we had to make a trip to the local Pepsi distributor to replenish the stock.
We arrived at the warehouse and Grandpa got out of the truck and told me to back the truck up to the warehouse door. With no side panel windows, I had to rely on the side rearview mirrors and the rear windows to see what I was doing. I told Grandpa I couldn’t see where I needed to stop and he said, “Just listen to me. I’ll tell you when you need to stop.” I pondered that statement for a second or two, and then put the truck in reverse. I heard Grandpa calling, “Come on back, come on back”, and then BAM! I hit the wall and immediately heard Grandpa cursing and swearing. I drove forward a couple of feet, and got out of the truck to see what damage I had caused. As I walked toward the rear of the truck I heard Grandpa say, “Boy, I thought you said you could drive!” I said “But you told me to come on back and you didn’t tell me to stop”, to which he replied, “Boy, you know I can’t see. Don’t you know better than to take directions from a blind man?”