Whenever I see the student driver label on a car, I am grateful. It lets me know when someone “new” is behind the wheel. Learning how to drive is one of the first huge responsibilities that young people learn to take on. My father spent time instructing us about driving, long before we got behind the wheel. My brother did not seem as eager to drive as I was though. I remember the anticipation building up before my sixteenth birthday. Our school had a driver’s education program that taught all that was needed for the written part of the exam. After turning sixteen, I begged my mother to take me in for the written test at the first available opportunity.
I was so excited I could hardly stand it the day I went in, waiting in the lengthy line at the DMV until it was finally my turn. I passed the written exam and made my way to the next counter. My vision had changed enough by this point that they made me wear my glasses, the ones I was too cool to wear in school. By the time we left there, I had my learner’s permit in hand. It was my turn to be behind the wheel. Mom told me I could drive home and handed me the keys to freedom as she moved to the passenger side of the van. I gripped the steering wheel tightly and felt the pressure as I drove out onto the road. I don’t know whether the car had proper alignment or if it was just me being nervous. Whatever it was, had me wondering how on earth to keep the van between the lines. It was an utterly terrifying and yet gratifying experience.
Once we got home, there had to have been grip marks on the steering wheel at ten and two! With my hands finally loose, I was able to peel my mother off the ceiling. It was exhilarating for us both, but I think my mom a lot less. I am not sure who was more terrified, me or her. I think she was only glad to be alive. There is nothing like putting your life in the hands of a new driver. She wanted to share some of the joy with my dad as well, so he took me as well.
Everyone I knew who had already passed the exam gave me tips on what to expect. One of the things that caused most people to fail was parallel parking. I practiced over and over again. At first, I lost the confidence of people who functioned as my orange cones when I nearly hit them. I didn’t lose hope and simply replaced them with objects that knew no fear. The worst part of the whole exercise was the vehicle itself. It was a smaller sized van but the trouble with it was the shape of the front. It was not flat like most cars, nor short like some minivans. Instead, it had a long pointy front that I found it difficult to judge where the front bumper ended. But after enough practice, I was confident I could get it right.
After two weeks of practice, I was ready to take the driving part of the exam, so we went back to the DMV. Let’s take a moment here to appreciate and share sincere gratitude for the people who bravely sit in the passenger side, with clipboard in hand, as the student drivers nervously proceed with their exams. Everyone knows that more practice helps but there is still stress no matter how hard you study and practice what to do. For me that day, I carried out the man’s request as instructed and pulled back into the DMV with no trouble. It was a thrilling experience to have passed the driver’s exam. I walked out of that building with a shiny driver’s license and a huge smile.
A whole new world opened up to me. My dad helped me with my first vehicle. It was a small, black truck. It was a stick shift, but I quickly got the hang of it. After I demonstrated that I was responsible, they let me go off on my own. Back then I had an insatiable desire for exploration. I must have driven on every road in my small town and many in surrounding towns. With some roads came new experiences. Fortunately, my bad experiences happened out in the middle of nowhere. Physics can be a quick lesson that does not require studying to understand.
For example, I once went around a ninety-degree turn in those early days. There were warning signs indicating a sharp turn, I just didn’t realize it was that sharp! To make matters worse, there was a lot of tiny, loose stone on the road which caused me to skid when I applied the brakes too hard. The road went left, and the truck went straight, right into a field. I was fine and no one else was around. So, I quickly got back onto the road and continued driving. That day I learned to pay much closer attention to street signs. There I was, thinking the people who put them up were idiots. It turned out they knew exactly what they were doing, and I became the one carrying the fool’s card. In only a brief time of driving, I thought I figured everything out. It turns out I was just getting started with a whole lot to learn!