Personal Archaeology 12: Things Left in the Wake

Driver's LicenseHad I really been on my game last month, I would have written about my high school graduation 25 years ago on June 25 instead of a week or two later.  As it happened, I didn’t do much to commemorate the anniversary on the actual day, aside from making a comment on a friend’s Facebook post.  I also listened to some Nineties music, but that doesn’t really count because I’ve been listening to a lot of Nineties music lately.  This is actually pretty significant because in prior “five year anniversary” years, I’ve done things like made mix tapes or playlists because I considered it a pretty important moment in my life.  At the same time, as I mentioned in my previous entry, 1995 was a very strange year for me; that summer was no different.

My journal doesn’t have much of anything about it because the last written entry is dated June 25 and I wouldn’t start journaling again until August 16 when I began typing my entries in MS Word.  So there’s about six weeks with this strange gap that even now I can’t tell you what happened other than I simply existed.  I konw there were a couple fo graduation parties and I spent a lot of time with my girlfriend.  But go beyond those moments when they flash through my mind and I have little to show for that summer.

Now, it’s possible that this was on purpose.  If I were to fast forward a year, I would watch that girlfriend and I go through a messy breakup and therefore I may have thrown away the pictures, cards, notes, or anything else from that relationship.  As it stands, I have only one piece of memorabilia from that summer: my road test evaluation.

Learning to drive was not a priority in my life.  I got everywhere on my bike when I was in high school and since I was not getting a car to drive, I didn’t see much use for it.  Okay, I was supposed to get a car but when I got behind the wheel of my mom’s 1987 Honda Prelude to practice driving with my dad, my knees were halfway up the steering wheel and my head was touching the ceiling.  My sister would eventually get that car and drove it until it died in 2003, going out in style when it threw its transmission on the Cross Island Parkway.  I tried to learn how to drive on my dad’s Accord, but gave up after a very frustrating afternoon of successfully navigating the stick shift for acceleration but stalling out any time I tried to brake.  And yes, to this day, I can’t drive stick.

I did take driver’s ed the spring of my senior year, so I did get some practice.  Our driver ed car was a Mercury Grand Marquis that you didn’t so much drive as you piloted.  And while I was scared out of my mind the first time I got behind the wheel, I settled in pretty quickly and became so comfortable in my driver ed group that when I was asked to pilot the Grand Marquis onto the Long Island Expressway, I had to be reminded to observe the speed limit and keep my hands on the wheel because I had gone into full “cruising” mode.  Granted, I don’t know how you could possible look cool cruising in a white Grand Marquis, but I certainly tried.

After getting my passing grade in driver ed, I put off taking my road test and getting my actual driver’s license until the summer, the motivation for finally getting off my ass being that I didn’t want to go away to college with this hanging over me (those were probably my dad’s words, anyway).  So I practiced on my girlfriend’s 1979 Chevy Malibu Classic station wagon (an “if you can drive this, you can drive anything” car if there ever was one), and on the day of the road test, I pulled up in a Mercury Topaz that we’d paid $19.95 a day for from a Rent-a-Wreck-type place*.

Passing the test wasn’t a done deal, though.  Yes, I’d had a lot of practice since those first driving efforts, but I had also heard a lot of stories from my friends about the particulars of the road test route, especially a school zone that snuck up on a number of them (although they apparently missed the huge school building they were driving near).  I had all of that in mind as I pulled up to the testing site and the DMV employee got into my car.

Now, if this were a movie, I’d have some epic road test story featuring the late, great James Avery in License to Drive or one that ends with “As far as you’re concerned, I am the messiah of the DMV” like in Clueless.  As it stands, this was an ordinary road test.  The woman who evaluated me just gave directions and showed little emotion.  I’m sure that I was the latest in a long line of nervous teenagers she had dealt with over the years and that’s why aside from my kissing the curb on the parallel park, nothing extraordinary happened.  I went around the block a couple of times before returning to where we’d started.  Then, she said something about my license coming in the mail in a few weeks and wrote “adequate skills” on the evaluation report.

I know I carried that test report around in my wallet after that because it was the proof I needed to show that I had my license and not just my learner’s permit if I ever got pulled over.  After the license came in the mail, I think I threw this in the same desk drawer that became home to other such objects like old membership cards and student IDs.  After that, it went into the “high school and college stuff” box that followed me from place to place over the years.  I finally threw it out, but before I did, I had to laugh at how it was another teenage milestone that I reached well after everyone else.



*An amusing aside to the “I had to rent a car to take my road test” bit:  it was the second car we rented.  The first was a 1987 Hyundai Excel, which was perfectly fine until I was practicing parallel parking with my dad and he was showing me how to correct my parallel parking so I wouldn’t hit the curb so badly.  We pulled over so that we could switch places and I could drive, but the driver’s side door was stuck.  He threw all of his weight against it and couldn’t get the door open.  This man bodybuilds.  So, picture Hulk Hogan inside a car that he could probably pick up and walk down the block throwing everything he had against a paper-thin door.  I’m surprised that the car didn’t tip over on its side.

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