Today I became a licensed driver for the first time at the age of 61.
Today I saw Mr. No smile for the first time. He even shook my hand and patted me on the shoulder when I got out of the car on Chrystie Street in front of the driving school.
I have to say though, that I was totally surprised I passed after the running commentary by the DMV examiner.
“You gotta step it up” Was the first criticism. I was turning too slow.
“You have to wait till you’re in the middle of the intersection before you make a left hand turn.”
I parallel parked where she indicated, the thing that makes me most nervous. I thought it was a little flakey, but she made no comment and nodded once when she opened the door to check how close I’d gotten to the curb.
The “broken U turn” as they like to call it was also tough, I didn’t really have enough room but I got through it, again no comment.
As we were driving back there was a stop sign, there are only stop signs in Fresh Meadows where we were, and I’d already done three stop signs. Remembering my friend Ezra’s admonition to get right up to the sign I was creeping up on it slowly when she hit the dual brake on her side.
“You have to come to a full stop. It’s a stop sign, not a roll through sign.” I thought that alone was a fail, and wanted to say “I was going to come to a full stop when you stomped on the brake,” but I kept my mouth shut.
Then she made a mistake, I saw the street we started from and put on my right turn signal, and she says, “Make a left here.” Confused, I flicked the signal left when she suddenly said,
“No, right. I meant a right.” I recovered in time to switch back the signal and make a smooth turn onto the street and pull over. I put the car in park and waited as she typed in her little machine. She printed out the slip, tore it off, and said,
“You have a pen? You have to sign this, this is your temporary driver’s license.”
I was flabbergasted, open mouthed. I’d done it. I took out my pen and scribbled something resembling my signature since my hand was trembling ever so slightly.
I got out of the car and beamed at the dour Mr. No.
“You pass?” He asked.
“Yeah,” I said showing him the slip. He smiled for the first time in the ten or so hours I’ve spent with him and shook my hand.
Jennifer, a willowy Asian woman in her 30’s who was also taking the test with Mr. No’s car was waiting across the street.
“Did you pass?”
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s great! You gotta give me some of your luck!”
I put my hand up for a high-five, and she slapped it.
“You’ll be OK,” I told her.
Jennifer was very nervous; she’d taken the test five times already. Her turn came and she got a different examiner, a young woman with dyed magenta hair. Jennifer got in and they drove off. Mr. No motioned to me to come across the street with him to wait. We would get in the car when she returned and go home.
I decided to time her and set my stopwatch.
“Ten minutes,” Mr. No said. At 4 minutes 22 seconds the red Corolla came around the corner. Jennifer pulled up and I could tell by her face it wasn’t good news. The examiner was speaking to her, and tore off the little slip from her machine and handed it to Jennifer. Jennifer got out of the car and slammed the door. She got in the backseat and started arguing with the examiner.
The woman was very patient, explaining that Jennifer had made some unsafe turns and needed to work on that. She finally got out of the car and handed the paperwork to Mr. No.
He and I got in the car and Jennifer declared she was done.
“Fuck this. I don’t need a driver’s license anyway.”
“Don’t give up.” I said.
“Sleep on it, and think about what the examiner said, and give it another try.” We drove back to Manhattan in silence.
That was the way I felt the first time I failed the test in 1992. I got out of the car and slammed the door and sulked all the way back to Manhattan.
I’m glad I passed the test, and I have to thank my good friend Ezra for letting me practice in his giant SUV that’s a lot harder to drive than the Corolla.
And Danusia for insisting I make the effort. And Mr. No for being such a dour hard-ass.
Mostly I’m glad I don’t react emotionally to criticism anymore.