Friday, January 30, 2009

The DMV Trilogy

The summer of 1999 was all about driving. After a full slate of horrible classroom sessions, on the road experience from Sears and practicing with parental guidance, at the end of August I was ready to take my drivers test. The only problem was that my town’s DMV had a long waiting list. The next available time to schedule a driving test was in the middle of October. I simply could not wait that long. I was already 17 years old and going to be a senior in just a few weeks. I opted for instant gratification instead familiarity, opting for a test the following week in Old Saybrook, a small town about 40 miles away. It was besides the point that I didn't actually own, nor have plans to get a car, I wanted to have the option to drive one if I was allowed.

There was no reason for me to doubt my abilities or to consider myself unprepared, even with driving on roads I had never seen before. I had been using my fathers bright red Acura Integra. It was a two-door car with a moon roof and small fin on the back, but more importantly, it was the older of my parents’ cars, which was why my sister and I both got to use it to train. The strict training regimen began with navigating an empty Caldor's parking lot on Sunday mornings and continued with my father setting up Rubbermaid trash cans in our street for me to attempt parallel parking between them. I hit the can on my first try, knocking it to the ground, but as I got better, I asked for him to move the cans closer together for more of a challenge.

The drive to Old Saybrook was long. My father drove, which in hindsight, it should have probably been me. I had been driving all morning and all weekend, and wanted to stay fresh, as if conserving stamina behind the wheel would make a difference.

An old man walked out from behind the counter holding an old fashioned wooden clipboard. He looked down and said "Lurie." It was my time to shine. The man was tall and lanky, probably in his 60's with a permanent frown. He wore a white short sleeve dress shirt with a dark tie. There was no small talk. In fact, there was barely any talk at all. He nodded towards the door and we walked to the car. Before I even had the chance to, he grumbled "seatbelt," while still looking straight ahead.

"Go left," he muttered, gesturing towards Interstate 95.

"There? On to I-95? Are you sure?" I said back nervously, assuming that sound actually emerged from my dry mouth.

He could sense my obvious fear. "Go left," he growled back in a more firm manner, this time while writing something down on his clipboard.

I had not thought that this would be included on the test, having never driven on I-95 during my practice sessions. Hamden was nowhere near not close enough to that highway for me to feel the need to try it. The closest I had come to highway driving was during my very first practice session at Sears, my instructor, Rosa, had me drive on the much smaller Wilbur Cross Parkway. The Wilbur Cross is a two-lane, 30 mile long continuation of Merritt Parkway (Route 15) from Connecticut to New York. No large vehicles are permitted and the speed limit caps out around 50 miles per hour. I-95 is a nearly 2,000 mile road from Maine to Florida with no limits of vehicle size and a notably higher speed limit.

I couldn't back down now. As I entered the ramp I knew that it was important to speed up so I could merge seamlessly. The intimidating highway drew closer, vehicles began flying by at speeds I had yet to reach. The white line to my left became dashed and I knew it was my chance to jump in, but for an unknown reason there was a fast moving semi-truck in the entry lane. Though I was still going slower than this truck, something in my brain caused me to believe I could outrun it, so I slammed down the gas. Blame it on pure inexperience or just never having been witness to the speed of a truck that large, but the race was not mine to win and I had to veer off into the breakdown lane. My life passed in front of my eyes at roughly the same speed of the giant semi-truck.

The instructor didn’t say anything, he just pointed forward as a gesture for me to continue. Once the coast was clear, that’s what I did. I made it to the next exit and followed his minimalist instructions. “Left. Right. Right.” He wasn’t much of a talker. When we made it back to the DMV I had to back into a parking spot with no cars on either side, and I nailed it. From the moment after the race against the truck I was flawless. Maybe he’d let me slide through and forget about my epic stupidity that could have easily killed us both. He wrote on his clipboard as I nervously waited. “Be more careful,” he said, the longest sentence he has spoken the entire day, handing me the failed test.

For my second try that November, I actually had more motivation to succeed. Homecoming was two weeks away. If I could get my license this time, then I'd be able to drive myself and my date to the dance. I had something to shoot for this time around, but still, my town had an obscene waiting list for appointments, so it was back to Old Saybrook. At least this time I wouldn't be going into it completely green. I took the wheel for this 40 minute drive to Old Saybrook, and though I was a little nervous, I was able to navigate I-95 without incident. When we arrived, I was thrilled to see a round, jolly man come towards me instead of the scary old robot. He clearly loved his job, making jokes and commenting on my fathers Marvin the Martian floor mats. He even told me to start the car while doing an impression of the character. I felt very comfortable with this situation. Perhaps too comfortable. The DMV brought was atop a hill which was at the apex of a near hairpin turn. This made seeing any oncoming traffic from either direction very difficult. After checking the oncoming traffic each way five times, I inched forward and a speeding minivan came around the curve, honking at me as it passed. The instructor yelled "Woah," and told me to stop the car. The once jovial man in my passenger seat then gestured to a telephone pole across the street. There was a large pink ribbon tied around it.

"That ribbon is for the last person who didn't check for oncoming traffic," he said solemnly.

In my mind, having the instructor yell out "Woah" and telling me that I was seconds away from reenacting a telephone pole memorial was not a good thing. I put him on the spot and asked him straight forward, "Did I just fail?" He said back to me, "Let's keep going."

I took a deep breath and exited the DMV parking lot. He informed me that it was time for a rematch with my old nemesis, I-95, but this time I was ready. It was the Rocky II of driving exams. I didn't accelerate or try to pass someone while entering - I was patient and more aware - I nailed it. I did everything perfect for the duration of the test. When we got back to the DMV I backed into the parking space perfectly, shut off the car and turned to the instructor.

"You failed right at the start," he said, handing me a familiar piece of paper.

For my third attempt, I finally got an appointment at my hometown DMV. It was now January. At this point I had already been accepted into college before getting my license. If I had anywhere specific to go, it woud have been embarrassing to rely on people for rides.

The day of the appointment the weatherman correctly predicted a huge snowstorm. I was scheduled at 3:00 that afternoon and the snow began to fall at 1:00. I went to the DMV with Dad about an hour early just to be safe, finding out that many people had either canceled or not shown up for their appointments. I was able to go out for my test at 2:15, in the midst of the wintry mix falling outside.

The instructor reminded me a little of the second test, except more straight forward. He wasn't as business-like as my first try, but I think he knew the snow was going to get worse before it got better.

Then came the shortest driver's test in history. We left the DMV, turned left, then right onto a rural street. Halfway down the street he asked that I perform a three point turn and head back to the DMV. I was told to back into the parking space, but due to the snow none of the lines were visible. The instructor told me to do my best. I figured as long as I didn't back up on the curb I was going to be fine. I backed in, not coming close to

The instructor opened the door and said, "Would it be really mean if I shoveled off the line to see just how accurate you were?" My jaw dropped as he started to laugh. He handed me the same sheet I had gotten every other time, except for the result. I had passed. Walking into the DMV, I found my father was the only person remaining. It was not even 3:00, and all remaining appointments were canceled and I was the last test done.

1 comment:

Ash said...

Oh Plurie! Third time really is the charm!