On The Road (Finally)

You’re not alone if you felt anxious getting your driver’s license or driving for the first time.

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Unlike most of my millennial peers, I did not relish the process of obtaining my driver’s license.

Sure, the thought of being able to roam from place to place freely sounded convenient, but the reality of it was terrifying! Although my fear of driving has largely dissipated, I still see my car as a nice but necessary evil.

In the seven years I’ve been on the road, I’ve been in accidents — some the fault of others and some not–braved the highway, been stuck in the snow and trapped in miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic. But I have to admit, my journey to receiving my license has been the most harrowing of all my driving mishaps.

Firstly, I avoided even discussing the prospect of getting my learner’s permit or taking driver education classes. In Rhode Island, you can take driver education and take the test for your learner’s permit at 15 years and 10 months, but it was not until my younger cousin was preparing to take that first step towards driving that my parents all but forced me to tag along.

So there I was, already a year older than my driver’s ed classmates learning about passing fellow drivers on the highway, yielding to pedestrians and watching countless ancient, nightmare-inducing videos on the dangers of drinking and driving.

On that first fateful day, my instructor asked me if I was “tall enough to drive.” I just had to remind myself I simply had to survive 33 hours of torture in a sweltering week during my summer vacation. Afterwards, I would be a step closer to independence and closer to getting this whole thing over with. I aspired to get my license about as much as I look forward to flu shots and blood work.

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I passed my written learner’s permit test with flying colors, two weeks after completing the course, but this success was bittersweet for me. I dreaded those required driving lessons with the local driving school and even more so with my own parents whose driving styles differed so dramatically. I came up with every excuse to avoid practicing, and so it should come as no surprise that my first attempt at my was nothing short of anti-climactic.

It was a bitter Friday in late January. Snow was falling lightly and I was so nervous I could not even remember how to defrost my own windshield. Thankfully, the examiner was kind enough to simply say I did not take the test and I would have to reschedule, instead of failing me. I returned from the car my parents had bought for me sobbing — not because I would not be driving home unsupervised, but because I would have to do this again.

My mother reminded me to reschedule my driver’s test every few weeks and each time — one way or another — it never came to fruition. My permit expired two times before my mother put her foot down and took me to get my permit for the third and final time.

Rumor had it that there was a branch of the DMV whose test course was easier than the site closest to my house. Naturally, my parents and I all felt that the hour drive would be worthwhile if it could increase my chances of coming away from the experience a licensed driver. So once again, my mother chauffeured me to the DMV, pointing out all the rolling fields along the way, while I silently picked off all of my remaining fingernails. I attempted to assuage my nerves by repeating to myself that in two hours — either way — I would be on my couch watching a Jersey Shore marathon.

My scheduled time slot was near and I could feel my whole body vibrate with anticipation. We drove up to the line of cars to test the functionality of all the lights and as luck would have it… I had a taillight out. My mother sped to an auto repair chain down the road and we made it back in time for me to take my test–much to my dismay. My mother tried to encourage me by saying that I got the “nice” examiner — but she was wrong!

I made several critical errors during my test. I could hardly focus on anything but the palpitations I seemed to be experiencing. I felt short of breath and certain that I would vomit if I turned the wheel too hard. I half-wished for a sudden bout of…anything.

As much as I did not want to fail, I didn’t really want to continue the test. Maybe that’s why I got points deducted for speeding! Not that I did it intentionally, but on a subconscious level, I wanted to usher this test along. I then made a wrong turn and was warned that I could not afford another mistake.

I steeled myself for failure. I was instructed to back up straight along the curb of a side street–probably the one thing I did correctly and confidently–and then park in the lot of the DMV. I turned off the engine as I was told. The disgruntled DMV worker turned to me and delivered her verdict.

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“Well, I should fail you but your permit expires in a few days” she said hotly. I was stunned–relieved but stung all at the same time. Surely, I was one of the worst drivers in history, at least by the looks of this lady next to me. The examiner exited my Jetta and reiterated to my mother her opinion on my driving, adding accusatory questions towards my mother.

“Why hasn’t she gotten her license already? She’s 20.”

My mother did not dignify her question with a response and instead encouraged me to look at the examiner’s criticism logically. My mother was clearly more excited about my “successful” (by the skin of my teeth) pass than I was.

“They cannot give you a license just because your permit is expiring,” she said. “Everyone would have a license if that were the case. Think of the lawsuits!”

We waited for three hours to get my photo taken. As if it were a reward for all my trepidation, the picture on my license actually looks as if I’m thrilled to be officially on the road. My mother then asked me if I wanted to drive home, which I sharply declined. Later that day, my mother hurried off to work. As she passed by the kitchen on her way out the door, she proposed the unthinkable.

“I’m going to leave the keys on the counter,” she said. “‘Cause you can legally drive now. And you have your own car. So you can go anywhere you want,” she stated, her explanation fragmented and slow — as if I did not understand the implications of having a car and a license.

As soon as she locked the door behind her I rushed to the phone to call my dad. We were going out to dinner to celebrate.

“What time can you pick me up?” I asked.

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