You know that person who goes to the DMV on their 16th birthday because they’re all stoked to take their road test? That wasn’t me. I had a master’s degree and a husband before I had a driver’s license. I was 27 (yes, 27) when I finally finallllllly learned to drive.
Of course my inability to pass a road test was a running joke in my family. It didn’t help that the first time I backed out of the driveway, I took out the driver’s side mirror on a post. It also didn’t help that someone kicked a dent in our front bumper when I got alittletooclose to him in the crosswalk. It especially didn’t help that I never paid attention in Driver’s Ed because my teacher gave us extra credit for doing book reports on Reader’s Digest novels. I got an “A” in Driver’s Ed because I did five book reports. I’m pretty sure that a thorough understanding of Sybil by Flora Rheta Schreiber was the most enlightening thing I took away from that class.
I grew up on a peninsula that liked to call itself an island so there wasn’t a huge need to drive unless I wanted to get the hell off of it. Sadly, for me, my desire to leave Coronado didn’t come until years later. In my teen years, I was perfectly content to traverse the 7.72 square miles of my hometown in flip-flops.
My mom had concerns about my lack of enthusiasm. Enter private lessons. There are two things I remember about that experience: freaking out about having to drive my instructor through the narrow drive-thru lane of some fast food restaurant in I.B. and being forced to parallel park at the beach while a group of cute surfers stood on the curb watching, laughing and clapping at each failed attempt. I sweated and cried and begged my instructor to please let me practice somewhere with less of an audience. He said no because he was a dick. After however many hours I had to have behind the wheel to pass, he handed over my completion sheet, strongly suggesting that I not take my road test any time soon. I didn’t tell him I’d already scheduled an appointment for the next day.
I failed. Duh.
I made four more attempts before finally giving up. I tried every DMV in San Diego, having heard rumors that some were more lax than others. My finest moment was when I jumped the curb coming out of the parking lot of the San Ysidro DMV. I was instructed to make a U-Turn at the first stoplight and return to the lot. Automatic fail. There’s a line in “The Breakfast Club” where Brian says, “I’m a fuckin’ idiot because I can’t make a lamp?” And Bender replies, “No, you’re a genius because you can’t make a lamp.” I liked to think that was why I couldn’t drive. I was a fuckin’ genius. Nevermind that I had never paid attention to anything anyone had told me about what to do behind the wheel of a car.
When I started my undergrad studies at UCSD, I took the bus. I spent about an hour and 45 minutes, every morning, taking the bus from home, through Downtown San Diego to college. This was before the whole revitalization really got going downtown so the things I saw out of my birdshit-stained bus window at 6:30 A.M. woke me up in a way I hadn’t expected.
My writing suddenly got grittier. I loved it. I still think that some of the edgiest stuff I ever wrote was during my final year as an undergrad. I wrote about addicts sleeping in puddles of their own piss. I wrote a comedic short story about a serial killer that I later extended into a screenplay. I wrote about prostitutes and rent-boys. I wrote about what I saw outside of that birdshit-stained window every single day.
And then I was off to grad school at USC.
I lived in graduate housing so I could walk to classes and my job on campus. On rainy days, I took the tram. Let me say that to this day, I still almost throw up in my mouth a little when I think of the smell of a crowded tram with fogged up windows, blasting heat and the overwhelming stench of 800 sorority girls drenched in different fruit-scented body washes from Bath & Body Works.
I went to grad school. I wrote some more. I got my degree, got a job and got married. God dammit, I had to learn how to drive. I called California Driving School because they had a full-page ad in The Yellow Pages (remember The Yellow Pages?) with block letters advertising how they specialized in “the nervous adult driver.” Perfect. Sweet Jason showed up at my house every Sunday and we drove around the streets of L.A. in a bright yellow car with a huge “Student Driver” sign on the roof. One day I was driving through Skid Row and, because I was a rule follower by then, I waited patiently for a nice old lady in the crosswalk. Jason told me that even after she’d passed my car, I had to wait until she completely cleared the crosswalk and was standing on the sidewalk before I could proceed. She took about an hour. The car behind me started honking. Some guys walking by yelled at me, “Bitch, don’t drive in the hood ‘til you knows how to drive!”
That was awesome.
Finally, I’d logged enough hours with Jason that I felt confident that I actually knew how to drive. I scheduled my road test, but all the old anxiety about taking out car windows and almost running over peds xing came flooding back the morning of the test. I threw up right after breakfast. Jason said that was good (not sure why).
I passed my test with a score of 99. I totally would’ve gotten 100 if I hadn’t taken that right turn so wide. Regrets.
special shout out to all my “Drivers” over the years: Jon, Julie, Brooke M., Brooke H., Gus, Lisa, Mariano, Emily, Cecilia, Kelley, Joanna, Vanessa, Tori, Melanie, Dana, Nannette, Josh, Maury, my mom & my brother. I might never have graduated college or made my doctor’s appointments if it hadn’t been for you guys. P.S. Sorry for all those times I got carsick.