The drive to drive, or lack thereof

Most people are probably familiar with the concept of the game, “Never Have I Ever.” Basically, the idea is that people go around in a circle (or other preferred polygon) and say things they have never done. If you’ve done it, you signify by putting down a finger, taking a drink, or, in most cases, both.

For the last six years, I’ve always had an ace in the hole for “Never Have I Ever,” something I had never done that virtually every other adult had.

You see, until very recently (this past Wednesday, in fact) I had never gotten my driver’s license.

That factoid usually elicited a range of reactions, running the gamut from shock to strident disbelief. And really, who wouldn’t react that way? According to a study from the Federal Highway Administration, 87 percent of eligible drivers were licensed in 2006, a staggering proportion that somehow fails to fully encapsulate the car-crazy culture of the average American. Perhaps it’s the antiquated romanticism of the “open road” that harks back to the mobility modus operandi that has been ingrained in the American psyche since the days of Manifest Destiny, or perhaps it’s because the nation’s largest transportation network was built to accommodate the quick movement of supplies in the event of a Soviet invasion. Regardless of the reason, most Americans live in a constant state of bona fide four-wheeled frenzy.

Then there’s the social stigma around being an unlicensed teen. If I had a nickel for every time I heard someone tell me I had to get a license because it’s a “rite of passage,” well, let’s just say I would be more fiscally comfortable with my decision to major in journalism. I didn’t know a single other person of legal driving age at my school that wasn’t licensed, and the vast majority of them had their own cars, to boot. This, despite the fact that fewer teens are driving now than they were two decades ago, according to a study from the University of Michigan.

I wish I could say that I refused to get my license out of some noble interest in the health of Mother Earth (I am from Flagstaff, after all) or that I didn’t want to support an automobile industry that was quickly running out of gas (pun very much intended), but the simple truth is that I was never that interested in driving. I got my permit, but let it expire after exactly one driving excursion (the most memorable portion of which was my sister yelling at me to flip off someone who had cut me off).

And yet there I was, fresh off two jaunts around my neighborhood (never exceeding 20 miles per hour) and ready to take my written and road test at the local MVD. Ready to be tested in all manners of horrors I had never faced before. The phrase “parallel parking” was enough to make me break into a cold sweat. I told myself over and over that I knew how to drive, there were plenty of defeated video game levels that stood as a testament to my abilities, even if I could count the number of times I’ve driven on a paved road on one hand. The written test was a breeze, most of driving is pretty logical anyway (except for the stuff about children’s car seats. I’m just going to have my kids in full-body restraints while in a car until they leave for college, just to be safe).

Then it was time for me to get behind the wheel. First up, parallel parking, a bridge you have to cross to even get the privilege of taking a road test. Fun fact: You automatically fail that portion of the test if you so much as nudge one of the orange pylons that encircle the testing area. I suppose it’s preparing you for the real world, except replace “fail that portion of the test” with “get sued into oblivion by someone who is very protective of their car.”

Then there was the actual test, which provided myriad milestones for me as a driver. For instance: stopping at a traffic light, leading into an intersection to make a left turn and going above 25 miles per hour. Needless to say, I passed, with the lone critique that I should relax behind the wheel a little bit more because I looked nervous. I wonder why…?

And thus did I finally complete my “rite of passage,” only six years, four months and 16 days after most seemed to think I should have. Now it’s time to celebrate the finishing touches on my ascension to manhood, to revel in my newfound freedom and heretofore unimaginable independence.

Uh … anybody want to give me a ride?


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