I finally got my driver license in the mail. And I was surprised that it says just that- DRIVER license, not DRIVER’S license, like I’d always thought. It took 33 years from the first time I took a road test, but I did it. And it makes me walk just a little bit straighter. And not just because of that constant pain in the small of my back that forces me to walk chest out, shoulders back.
I can’t wait for someone to ask for my Driver license, I may just rent a car and run a red light so a cop can stop me and ask to see the license. Or apply for a store credit card.
The first time I was behind the wheel of a car was when I was really small, four or so years old. A guy at some parking lot on Smith Street in downtown Brooklyn drank with my dad, and he would let me sit in his lap with my hands on the wheel while he parked cars.
My parents did not drive, so ergo, I did not drive. It was hard enough for my dad to try and teach me how to ride a bike when I was 14. All my other friends learned how to ride a bike by 9 but I didn’t get my first bike till 14, a hand-me down from a family friend. After 15 minutes my dad lost patience and walked away and left me to my own devices. It took me a half hour of pushing off with one foot till I got the hang of it, so I essentially taught myself.
When I was in high school, most of my classmates went to driver’s ed after school in our junior year. I never knew I could have taken the same driver’s ed course, it was just something that would never be for me, driving or having a car.
At the age of 25 a friend finally tired to teach me how to drive, in a big ford pickup truck with a manual transmission. I found it too frustrating and scary so I just quit.
A year or so later I got a roommate in the army who owned an El Camino and he taught me most of the basics, and we were doing alright until one day on some highway in North Carolina I made a turn off the exit a little too fast. I’m surprised I didn’t flip the car or hit anything. My roommate Neil made me get out of the driver’s seat and never let me drive the car again.
In 1992 my then wife had a friend who worked for the parks department and he told us he could get me a job as a parks inspector, but I needed a driver license in order to get the job.
The job was a lock, he was the one doing the hiring, but I had to get that license. I got my learner’s permit and various friends tried to teach me to drive in various cars, like a Honda Civic and a compact BMW. A guy I worked with at a shoe store at the time had this big Impala and he gave me sort of formal lessons for $10 a lesson. We would drive to the Sanitation Dept. course out on Ward’s island to practice.
All of this wasn’t enough since I failed the road test after trying to cross a street from a stop sign as a car with the right of way was coming. Didn’t even get to park or U-turn.
I remember I was so angry I got out of the car, slammed the door and swore I’d never do it again. Who needs a car in New York anyway? Who needs a license if you don’t have a car?
This summer a friend wanted me to fly to Florida to renovate an apartment he owns in Miami for him.
“I’ll fly you down, rent you a car so you can drive to get whatever supplies you need, and you can stay in the apartment till you’re done.”
“I don’t have a driver’s license,” was what I had to say.
When I told my wife Danusia she said,
“You should get your license anyway, whether you do the job or not. If you sign up for driving classes, I will pay for the first five.”
It took a month or so to find a school that would fit our budget, and get over the fear of doing it, but I signed up at the New East driving school in September. The Florida job fell through but I figured I’d get the license anyway.
Danusia always does all of the driving whenever we travel, and I always feel kind of guilty that I can’t pull my own weight and share in driving duties.
So I took the lessons, if you read this blog you know that story, and if you are reading for the first time you can scroll back and get the story of Mr. No and the red Corolla.
I failed the first test in early October. I knew I wasn’t ready but sometimes you get lucky. But when I failed this time, instead of getting mad and slamming the door I started planning for the next test. I took the examiner’s comments to heart and got a friend to let me practice in his car. I took a refresher lesson from Mr. No two days before the next test. And I passed.
The young woman who shared the car with me did not pass, for the sixth time. She was very angry and sulked all the way back to Manhattan. She said the same thing I’d said 33 years ago,
“Who needs a driver license in New York anyway?”
I gently told her not to give up, to keep trying till she made it. I know someone who took the test 11 times before she passed. And I would have kept trying until I passed. But that’s just me now, and I’m glad my attitude has changed.
Somewhere between 1992 and now something in me changed, I discovered that accomplishing things raises my self esteem and that in turn leads to even more accomplishments.
One of the first things I accomplished 15 years ago when I decided to get clean was to get proper ID. I had nothing, just a methadone program ID, which is worth nothing in the scheme of things. And that’s when I got my non-driver ID. I went to DMV, waited in long lines, filled out the paperwork, and got my picture taken.
Ironically, it’s that same photo that’s on my new license. They wouldn’t take a new picture. At least the address is current.