Driver’s Test Blues

As many of you from my generation, I started driving long before it was legal to do so.

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While driving around town the other day, I passed a car marked “Student Driver.”  Whenever I spot or pass a car labeled as such, I back off and give them plenty of room.  The student driver in front of me that day hit his brakes as he approached Far Hills from West Dorthy Lane.  He started braking about 500 ft. or so before he needed to.  I guess he was playin it safe?

My recent encounter with a student driver set off some old tapes – tapes that were taken off the shelf of memories past, stored in the basement of my library of thoughts, and brought forward to conscious awareness the following chain of events:

As many of you from my generation, I started driving long before it was legal to do so.  I started driving before I turned 15 even though I did not possess a license or a permit.  So, by the time I turned 16, I already knew how to drive because I had been doing so for a year and a half.  I, thus, never took driver’s ed.  I didn’t need to.

After turning 16, I applied for and received my driver’s permit.  My dad taught me how to parallel park.  I learned how to parallel park my dad’s 62 Belair, with three on the tree, by practicing, practicing, and practicing some more.  I got really good at it.  Thus, when it came time to take my driver’s test I felt totally prepared.  I absolutely knew I would ace it.  I was so confident of my upcoming success that I made plans for later that evening.  And those plans involved me driving.

I studied for the written part of the test and passed it.  I also nailed the parallel parking portion of the test so by the time it came around for me to take the actual driving test, I was exceedingly confident.

I’m blanking on his name (Emmel, or Emeril I think?) but the State Highway Patrolman who rode along with new student drivers was a stone-faced, humorless, frowning, old misanthrope.  And he was scary as hell.  He frowned a lot and furrowed his brow while doing so, effectively turning him into an Ogre/Troll.

But I wasn’t worried.  Nope, I didn’t have anything to worry about.  Afterall, I’d already been driving for over a year.  My confidence level couldn’t have been higher.

My sardonic judge, jury, and executioner and I left the Armory parking lot around 3 on a Friday afternoon.  It was a beautiful late Spring Day without a cloud in the sky.  It was warm and sunny and a great all-around day for taking one’s driver’s test.

I pulled out of the parking lot and waited for Mr. grump-head to direct my path.  “Turn right at the next stop sign”, he would say, and I would do so.  “Go straight through the next light”, which I dutifully complied with.  We did this kind of thing for the next 10 minutes or so, and I was feeling really good about my performance.

And then at some point my driving evaluator instructed me to return to Go, and collect my $200 bucks – at least that is what I thought would happen.

We pulled into the Armory parking lot where I parked my dad’s car and waited for my slip of paper saying I was a new official licensed Ohio driver.  Emmel finished making a few more notes on his evaluation pad and then handed me my final grade.

I FAILED!!!!  I didn’t just fail by a hair – I failed by a friggin Greenville country mile.  “What?”  “What just happened here”, I thought to my lil ol failure self.  “How could I have flunked my driver’s test? I knew how to drive.  I was really good at driving by then.  But as it turned out, I was so good that I had developed some bad habits from prior driving.

Mr. Highway Patrolman looked at me as he handed me my failing grade and said, “you ran three stop signs during your driver’s test.”  I responded with a “what, no I didn’t.”  “You did not come to a complete stop.  A rolling stop does not count”, he added and proceeded to get out of my dad’s car.

One of the bad habits I developed while driving illegally was coming to a slowing stop at a stop sign, but not a full one.  I would slow down to a few miles per hour while approaching a four-way stop sign and if there were no other cars at the intersection, I didn’t fully lock my brakes.

So, in great despair that day I drove home and waited for the neighbor girl to get off the party line so I could call my friends and inform them that our plans for the evening had changed, and that I wouldn’t be driving, after all.

I still think about that day sometimes whenever I don’t come to a complete stop at a stop sign, which is most of the time.  Think about it for a moment – did any of you good folks flunk your driver’s test the first time around, or am I the only loser in the group?