Driving Along In My Automobile

With my baby beside me at the wheel.

I recently turned 31 years old. To the shock and amazement of most people, I do not have a drivers license. That’s correct. There’s no legal or medical reason I never drove. Mostly my lack of driving spawned from lack of necessity and tons of fear and anxiety. Anxiety can be a real bastard sometimes, don’t you think?

When I turned 16 my mother fully expected me to be itching to get my permit. My older brother went to the DMV on the day of his 16th birthday ready to take the test. Immediately after that he went to driving school and as soon as he could he got his license.

I did not. I turned 16 and vehemently protested AGAINST getting my drivers license. Cars in general intimidate me. They are death-traps waiting to happen (so I used to tell myself). My mother often told my older brother that it wasn’t him she was worried about, but the other bad drivers. This sort of planted my seeds in my head that no one knows how to drive definitively and that an accident is always bound to occur.

I have been in the passenger seat of cars my entire life. I’ve never been in so much as a fender bender while being the passenger in car. And in 30 years I’ve only been the passenger in the car while being pulled-over ONCE. You would think I would have NO anxiety about cars. That’s not the case.

When I was roughly 26 something in my mind clicked, and I decided it was time to get my permit. I was still a resident in Boston and I was able to download the Rules of the Road book and began studying feverishly. I took notes in a notebook and fully committed myself to learning how to drive.

It took so much courage to go take the permit test. I went with my older brother and his wife to the DMV. I took the test and failed. If I had gotten one more answer correct I would have passed but I had just barely failed. I was upset, primarily because I was asked questions about motorcycles and had purposely skipped that part of the book because I was looking to drive a car not a motorcycle. The DMV didn’t care.

That failure alone was enough to keep me from thinking about driving for quite a while. I was not ready anymore. It had taken so much courage for me to even get that far and the failure shot me backwards for a long time.

Fast forward a couple years later and a friend of mine asked if I would go with her to the DMV. She had to get something done for her car, and I suddenly and without provocation decided I was ready to take the permit test again. I brought all my paperwork and while she waited in her lines I took my test again.

I did so well that the test only took me a few minutes. After you get as many correct as you need, the test just stops. So after blazing through it I was done. The screen shut off, thanked me and asked me to see the desk clerk. She was amazed at how quickly I came out.

“Did the computer crash?”
“No…I passed.”
“That quickly?!”
“I’m sorry…should I slow down?”
“No…that’s fine…sorry I’m just surprised. Nobody has passed that quickly.”

Confidence back. So I had finally gotten my permit. I still had a lot of anxiety about driving but I had the little piece of paper that said I could. I had spent $35 to take the test TWICE but I made it.

My step-dad and older brother were nice enough to take me driving around quite a bit. We started in empty parking lots, before making it to side streets and empty areas. It wasn’t long before I was actually driving around my neighborhood. I made a point of not being the type of person that keeps letting my permit expire so I can keep taking the test. A permit in Boston lasts a couple years, so when I got close to it expiring I finally set up my driving test.

My friend Pearl was more than willing to let me use her car for the drivers test. It was $50 to schedule the test and I could pay the $38 licensing fee ahead of time to expedite things. So I payed $88 and had my appointment lined up. My appointment was in a town that I was not familiar with. My friend drove us half-way there before she pulled over and got it.

“You should drive the rest of the way just to get you comfortable.”

That’s a great idea. So I drove in a city I was unfamiliar with, using GPS to find my way and made it all the way there without issue.

We pulled up the the facility where the test was to take place, and if you looked at the outside of the building you’d swear it was condemned. All the windows were boarded up and there were old pieces of paper all over the doors. If I hadn’t gotten the address from a legitimate government website I would have been convinced this was a scam and not a government building.

Above the doorbell was a little sign that said NO ENTRY. PLEASE RING THE BELL AND WAIT IN YOUR CAR. SOMEONE WILL COME TO YOU.

s-k-e-t-c-h-y

I rang the bell and headed back to my car waiting in front of it. Two gentleman came out. One looked rather plump and jolly with a clipboard in hand. The other gentleman had sunglasses on, scraggly hair and looked like he was either drunk or hung-over. I’d like to say I could smell a hint of alcohol on his breath but it may be judgemental hindsight added to my memory because he was just overall unsavory. I prayed for the jolly plump man….who handed the clipboard over to the Sunglasses.

He had me test my blinkers and horn and told my friend to get in the backseat. We started the test and he had me take a right turn. I was feeling supremely confident because I had driven all the way there without issue. After that first immediate turn he said “Hey! You have no control over your vehicle! Do that again and I’ll fail you!”. I had no idea what he meant, I thought I’d taken the turn fine. Now I was on edge. He had me pull over and told me that if I couldn’t show him I had control over the vehicle the test would end. I nodded.

He had me take another right into a dead end street. He asked me to make a 3-point turn. I did. He told me “You didn’t use your turn signals when you made the 3-point turn. I should fail you for that.”

I honestly didn’t know you had to use turn-signals during a three point turn. I’ve asked other drivers who have unanimously told me that they don’t use turn signals during a 3 point turn, because you’re usually blocking traffic anyway, so why would you need blinkers? I have since googled it, and they say the first and last step should use the turn signals.

He told me to drive back to the front of the building. We’d been in the car less than 3 minutes. When we pulled in front he said “You see that other gentleman on the steps that I work with. If he were in the car with you he would not pass you. You need to improve your control of the car if you want to pass this test.”

I was so relieved! This was like a practice test! He was letting me know that the other guy WOULD fail me so I hadn’t failed!

Precision of language sir!

In fact he had failed me already. He was speaking in some sort of alternate time line letting me know that even the other guy would have failed me.

He got out of the car, handed me my failed slip and walked away with his compatriot. My friend got back in the front seat and said “Do you want to drive home?”

“No…I don’t. I have no control over the vehicle apparently. I’m also a little shaken up from dealing with him.”

So we switched places and she drove home. I vented about how uncomfortable he made me, and she said that even she felt uncomfortable around him and she was in the back seat. That she had seen my drive HER car all the way here and she felt very confident in my skills.

“It’s probably a scam just to get you to pay to take the test again. He failed you so quickly he really doesn’t know how you drive after one turn.”

She was right, but he had the final say in it. That would be the last time I drove in like three or four years.

When I moved to St.Louis I was able to simultaneously transfer and renew my permit for $3. The Midwest is significantly cheaper than Boston. The permit is only valid for one year, but unlike Boston because I’m older than 18 all I need to do is pay the $3 and renew my permit again. I do not need to retake the test at $35 a pop. I’m sure the test here is significantly cheaper than $35 either way.

So I renewed my permit every year for the past two years even though I never used it. Until a few weeks ago. My boyfriend once again was talking about my need to drive. I assured him that I KNEW how to drive I just needed the experience behind the wheel. I told him he had no frame-of-reference for my driving and until he did he shouldn’t assume.

Now me, being a thick headed Italian, assumed this was the end of the conversation. Well he handed me the keys and told me to drive. I WAS NOT EXPECTING THAT! Who knew someone would finally call me on all my bullshit.

So I got in the car and I drove. I have a few hiccups and hangups still because it’s been years since I last drove and I don’t have years of experience under my belt. Yet, that night I drove around a little bit and gave him a feel for what I do know.

He wasn’t impressed, but he was relieved that I do know more about driving than he thought. I still need to work on my turns and the finesse of the pedals but I’m doing it. Over the past few weeks I’ve probably gotten about ten hours of driving. I find myself being elated over the little things that other people take for granted.

The day I drove to the grocery store, parked in the lot, and then drove home I was completely ecstatic. Now, I will say I drove like a 16 year old with anxiety issues, but I made it there and back without issue. There’s both a sense of pride and a sense of shame in it. I’m 31 years old and I don’t have a license…but I’m working on it! You should see me stop at a stop sign it’s incredible!

I almost felt embarrassed by me excitement because most of my coworkers and friends drive, and not only do they drive, they’ve been doing it for ages. They lose that sense of excitement with driving because it’s such a common part of their day that they don’t even THINK about the act of driving anymore.

I must say that I’m slowly getting over my anxiety of driving. I’m finding that I’m a little too confident and maybe a little too aggressive with some of my driving, but I’m still in the learning phases. It went from something I feared to something I’m almost coming to enjoy. I only have a permit, so I can’t drive alone but my boyfriend has been my co-pilot the whole time. He has a way of talking me through it and giving me honest and helpful feedback.

One of my co-workers asked me: “What did your boyfriend say the first time you drove?”
“BRAKE! BRAKE! BRAKE!” that seems to be his mantra lately, but I don’t blame him. I will say though that there is something so incredible when you finally face and conquer a fear. I find myself less anxious every time he hands me the keys. I don’t let the mistakes tear me down like I did in the past because I need to learn something.

I am not flawless. I am learning and it’s OK to make a mistake. Everyone had to start here, they just started about 15 years prior than I did.

This all ties in to my previous post about change, I always imagined I’d be one of those people who never drives. Where I lived it was completely viable because everything is within a mile of my Boston home, and walking a mile is no big deal to me.

Here, the closest things are about two miles away. And although I make that walk frequently because I enjoy walking, the idea that I’ll be able to DRIVE places is almost exciting to me yet. I still have to work on a deal of my anxiety but I know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. I also know that as kind as I am to other people, I deserve to show myself some of that kindness on occasion too.

So here’s to making changes and conquering fears. I knew either way the next few months would be filled with changes. I didn’t expect so much to be happening in 2019.

If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would end up 30 years old in Missouri working as a cook and learning to drive I’d probable have laughed at you, and told you to re-check your crystal ball.

Yet here I am, making it happen one day at a time. When you just ride the roller coaster of life, you’ll be amazed at the things that can happen to you.

Your homework from this post: Get excited about something easy that you did today. Look at yourself in the mirror and say “Hey! I made it through four loads of laundry today! That’s incredible!” Hype yourself up because you changed the litter box. Pat yourself on the back for going to work this morning. You know what “I did it!”. Whatever it is you do today, be excited about it. It might make you feel that much better about having done it.

P.S If you’re a teenager reading this post please go get your license as soon as you can. If you’re an adult and haven’t done it yet then seriously consider it. They have done studies that confirm the older you are when you get your license the more difficult and fearful it becomes. Do yourself a favor and get it sooner rather than later, even if you NEVER want to use it, you have it if you need it. The worse thing that will happen is you’ll open more doors for yourself.

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