Today I took my second road test. Only two forces motivated me to make this happen: 1) I interviewed for a summer job that would involve investigating outbreaks all around Northern California, for which driving is required. 2) About a year ago, this guy at the DMV read me the riot act about not getting my license. I was going in for a Non-Driver ID, because I wanted to get on a plane without using my passport, when the guy behind the counter asked, "If you already have a permit why are you getting a non-driver ID?" "Because I'm scared of cars," I explained. "What?" "I'm from New York," I further explained. "Oh? What part?" It turned out that the DMV guy had been born in Queens, and once we had established that bond he felt free to lecture me. "Why are we not taking care of this?" he admonished. "It would be a beautiful thing, a beautiful thing."
Well, when I showed up for my first road test last August, two men were handling them. One was the Queens ex-pat, and I got the other guy. He was perfectly nice, but I felt from the start that this was a bad omen. "When I get the guy from New York," I told everyone later, "Then I'll pass." Today, I got the guy from New York and was therefore out of excuses. His name turned out to be John. He introduced himself and asked how I was doing today, and I answered truthfully, "I'm terrified out of my mind."
"Try to relax," he said, "Just do what you've been doing over the past weeks or months."
"Years," I corrected.
"I got my first permit when I was seventeen," I said, "But I never scheduled a road test
till last August."
"How old are you?" he asked.
"Twenty-five." I am pathetic, but have not yet been reduced to lying about my age.
John cracked up. In fact, my palpable anxiety was a source of grand amusement to him. As we started out onto the road, he counseled me repeatedly to breathe. Soon he had me pull over so we could practice backing up.
"Were you under the impression that you couldn't stop at that red?" he asked.
"I ran a red light? You mean I failed already?"
John was nonplussed. "You didn't fail. Were you under the impression you couldn't pull up by that red curb there?"
"Didn't I tell you to relax?" He was laughing again.
"Yeah, but don't take it personally if I don't."
For the next twenty minutes we drove around downtown Davis. When I made left turns, John would typically give a sensei-esque grunt and ask what I was doing with my hands; apparently my hand-over-hand technique is unacceptable. He asked a few times whom I had been driving with; I quickly blamed Mike and April, and told him about the $70 I wasted on a driving lesson from the professional who yelled at me and charged me for the time it took to go to McDonald's.
The last time he objected to my hands I asked, "Is that the kind of thing that can get me failed?"
"We'll talk about that when we get back to the DMV," he evaded.
"Are we going there now?" I asked miserably.
"Soon," he said.
We had not yet gone onto the freeway, so I knew this meant I had failed, but try as I might I couldn't figure out what major error I had committed. I hate crying in front of other people, but I was tearing up as we pulled into the DMV parking lot.
"What's the most times you've ever known someone to have to take one of these before they passed?" I asked John.
"Are you comparing yourself to other people?" he asked, "Cause the only comparison we want to be making is Anna to Anna."
"I just want to know I'm not alone," I whinged. "Take pity on me."
"I do," he said pointedly. I stopped the car and he started going over my errors on his checklist.
"I can't even tell what I did," I told him.
He was again nonplussed. "You can't remember anything about the drive we just took?"
"I mean, was it one big mistake or an accumulation of errors?"
"It was a couple of things." He pointed to my scores. "Do you remember the pedestrian in the walkway when you were turning left?"
"Yes," I sniffed. John seemed concerned that I was openly sobbing now, and as I reached for the tissues in the back seat I said, "Don't worry, this has nothing to do with you, the crying. In fact I want to get you again next time. You helped me relax more than anybody has yet."
We reviewed the case of the pedestrian in the crosswalk. "Was she in the zone of your car?"
"I didn't think so, but I guess I was wrong."
"No, actually she wasn't in your zone, but just be aware of that kind of thing. Pedestrians are always a wild card and if she'd suddenly decided to turn around we'd have been in big trouble."
"But that wasn't the major thing." Good grief. My automatic fail wasn't the big thing? "Show me how to steer a left turn." We went over hand over hand again, and for the first time I understood the point of it. After that we reviewed some other details of my drive. Finally John asked me, "Is there anything you did today that makes you think you can't handle this?"
"Well I didn't know I did anything wrong with the pedestrian."
"Okay, and now you know."
"Okay," thinking well bloody fantastic.
"I'm telling you all this because I don't want you to rely on your husband or your friend for your safety. Only you can take charge of your safety."
"Okay," I said again, still sobbing.
"Anna!" John exclaimed, finally giving in to his exasperation. "What we have here are eight minor errors."
"Which means you can go in there and get a license."
"You mean I passed?"
"I mean, we're going to get a driving license today."
"But we didn't go on the freeway," I protested.
"That's not part of the road test!" He was really laughing at me now. "We don't go on the freeway." Without stopping to ask, I gave John the biggest hug I've ever given a stranger, though actually I was sobbing harder now. "So you thought that was all just terrible?" he asked. "The drive was actually pretty smooth."
"Wow, I'm really a big pile of crazy," I observed. "Have you ever had someone cry because they passed before?"
"I've seen it all," said John. "Emotions run high. It's okay to cry. There's no crying in baseball, but there's crying in drive test."
So today I bring to a close the nearly nine-year-long odyssey called Learning to Drive. I am a licensed California driver. Pedestrians, and fellow drivers: Vaya con dios.