V&R Stories: The Driver's License Experience

What is one of the rites of passage for teenage boys and girls?

Hopefully, one of them is to take their first driving test from their local licensing authority. When they turn 16 years old (or whichever is the legal age to drive in your state, province, or country), they would have fulfilled all of the prerequisites to do so. Every class, booklet, simulator, behind-the-wheel training, and the official written test – all in the bag before they present themselves to become a licensed driver.

It may be the happiest day in every teenager’s life. It may not be. In my case, it wasn’t.

On February 5, 1980, I went down to the State of California Department of Motor Vehicles office in Canoga Park. It was a full service facility that is always busy. I was prepared to wait in line to submit my paperwork and wait in a seating area for the big moment.

Everything went according to expectations. I was in the waiting area for my driving test. Mom had me do the test in our 1972 Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight Luxury Sedan. The big Olds – known as the "Queen Mary" at the time – would be the instrument that would either earn me a driver’s license or a lifetime of using the Southern California Rapid Transit District in shame.

I remember being nervous. Perhaps, even scared. I was taught to physically drive in smaller cars than the Olds. During Driver Training classes at Reseda High School, we were subjected to blue Plymouth Volares as our on-road classroom. The Los Angeles Unified School District would rotate mobile classrooms and vehicles between area high schools every month or so.

During my sophomore year, I was not a good student. In September of 1979, my mother had her second stroke, which debilitated her by permanently numbing one of the sides of her body and slurring her speech by aphasia. I was lost. I perpetuated into a complete idiot. That was exhibited during Driver Training at Reseda.

Later, my mother enrolled me into the California Driving School, a huge private driver’s training school with an excellent record of on-road instruction. I was taught how to drive in a Datsun B210 sedan – much smaller than the LAUSD’s Volares.

I thought I had my driver’s training down. I thought I was ready for the driving test.

The moment came when my name was called. We went to the Olds to do the short on-road test with my examiner. I was still nervous.

Without going into details, I failed my driving test with the State of California. The Olds was not damaged. Nor was the examiner.

My downfall that day was inexperience for someone that was supposed to have enough experience to pass the test in the first place. I rarely drove the Olds to practice on, which would not help my cause. Compared to the Volare and the B210, the Olds was perhaps too big for me to become competent enough to be given a driver’s license.

I was ashamed, but I was determined. My mother and brother suggested I take more courses with the California Driving School to get that confidence back towards being competent on the road.

Still, I was gutted. Not to the point of wanting to do something drastic that would put me in another place from where I am at today.

Two months later, I went back to do my driving test again. This time in the California Driving School Datsun B210. A smaller, more familiar car would probably help me to resolve where I failed in order to pass the driving test.

My California Driving School instructor came with me. We went through the paperwork and waited for the examiner. I believe I got a different one – can’t recall, really. Regardless, I was ready. I wanted to get this crap off my back!

My examiner and I stepped into the California Driving School Datsun B210 and did our on-road test. It felt better. I had a better grip on what was expected of me this time around in the Datsun than in that huge Olds.

And, I passed on my second time.

The California Driving School instructor dropped me back off at home. I showed off my temporary license to my family. This is where it gets fuzzy. I doubt if I asked for the keys to the Olds, but I did take the Queen Mary around the neighborhood as a celebration of accomplishing this rite of passage.

From that point, I felt as I stepped a tad closer to adulthood. In a sense, things turned around for me. I still had some issues I needed to address, but it would take years to resolve. Well…decades.

These memories were brought up just recently, as I renewed my Minnesota driver's license. I did not wait that long as the Hennepin County Service Center in Minnetonka, but I have to wait for it. Like California, Minnesota mails their licenses out. Since there is a backlog of license applications, my temporary paper license extended my legal driving privileges into April.

My license expires on my birthday – February 5.

I could get into the issues that may pose. For example, trying to get through the Transportation Security Administration checkpoint before boarding a flight somewhere. That’s going to be fun when I head to the Chicago Auto Show this week.

Rest assured, I hope nothing frustrating and inconvenient happens between now and the arrival of my new RealID driver’s license. How bad could it be? I got my license on passing my second driving test, right?

Forty years of being a licensed driver. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Photo by Randy Stern

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