August 10, 2007
So I was so excited about having my learner’s permit that I only waited a year and a half before getting serious about finally getting a license. You’re probably thinking that was a really long time, but, hey, I’m the sort of guy who would procrastinate but I can’t seem to get around to it. Why so long? Part of it at least is that for a long time I was sure I was cursed. I don’t believe in fate or destiny or Emily Post, and yet I believe we have to play the card we’re dealt. Mine just seems to be all jokers. But I digress. It goes back to the first time I took the driving test, back when the car I was using was a Model T, and I didn’t even get out of the parking space.
Then there was the first car I owned, or, more specifically, the first car my parents bought for me. It was a 1968 Mannar, the official car of Sri Lanka, and I’m pretty sure it had been driven to the United States. The seller was offering it for a song but, after hearing me sing, he asked for three-hundred bucks instead. It sat in the garage for a while and then was eventually given to a guy who drove it until the engine exploded, which was the second day he’d had it.
I needed help. I needed driving experience, but where does someone my age go for driver’s education? It’s not like I live in New York where, if you suddenly discover at 3:00am you need a fake schnozz and glasses, a plate of calamari, and some mulch, you can either run down to the all-night novelty-seafood-and-garden-supply store on the corner or you can call the one that delivers. No, I live in an area where, if there are stores within less than a mile of a neighborhood the developers make sure to put up a twenty-lane road between them so you can’t even drive over if you live nearby–you have to sail down the road to the exit ramp, get on the interstate, go to the next exit, turn around, and come back just to get to the other side of the street. I called several places where they either laughed at me, told me they had fake schnozzes and mulch but no calamari, or had their phones disconnected.
Finally I reached a guy who didn’t discriminate in his driver training business. Amazingly he called me one afternoon while I was on the bus. And you’d be surprised the nice things people will do when you’re driving around in a car that has STUDENT DRIVER pasted on its windows in big yellow letters. People were so considerate: they did things like tailgate, pass me on a double-yellow line, and even pull their car off onto the shoulder and let it burst into flames–all to assist me in my education! Finally I went to take my test. I filled out the forms and did the prerequisite half hour of throwing up in the bathroom. My instructor told me the tester would be very businesslike, very professional, so it didn’t surprise me when we got in the car and he said, in a very businesslike and professional way, "Damn, this is a really nice car." Then, in between pointing me along a route that took us on six right turns in a big circle around the building, he asked me tough questions about the weather and whether I liked baseball. I tried my best to get the answers right, fearing that the curse of either my driving history or the Chicago Cubs would sink me. After what might have been the longest seven minutes of my life we pulled back up to the building and he said those magic words every one of us wants to hear: "Come on in and get your license." I’m licensed. I’m official. Not only can I drive, but I can do it legally now. Like most other people I have a little plastic card with the worst picture of me ever taken and a number that’s ten pounds less than my actual weight. I’m ready to get out there. I have a license to drive. Consider yourself warned.