L is for Learning to drive: I get my license. Twelfth of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.
Getting a driver’s license was a must for suburban teens during my high school years, because without wheels you could barely go anywhere.
Applying for a learner permit was the first step – so I signed up and took the written test once I turned 17.
The day my permit arrived in the mail, my mom was all smiles when she picked me up at a friend’s house – located atop Endwell’s steep Country Club Road – and handed me the keys. She regretted it as soon as we set out.
Mom gives up
My previous road experience was on a bicycle, so when I followed Mom’s instructions to turn the car left and go down the hill, I didn’t know to turn the wheel back and we veered into the (fortunately empty) oncoming lane!
“Turn the wheel right!” Mom bellowed, and I quickly complied. I did better after that, until I took the off ramp a bit fast onto Main Street and she yelled, “Slow down! Hit the brakes!” Back home, she turned to me, grabbed the keys, and announced, “That’s it, I’m never taking you driving again!”
Up next was Dad, who always flew off the handle under stress. He had to teach me our Fiat 500’s four-on-the-floor stick shift as well as parallel parking. His safety plan was to start me out in various parking lots.
Dad gives it a try
My nerve-wracking stick shift lessons took place in Endicott’s Kmart Plaza parking lot across from the Philadelphia Sales store – where cars appeared from nowhere and sped across at all angles.
Dad had me putter around shifting gears to learn clutch control — but the car bucked, and I kept flooding the engine and stalling out.
“What, again?” Dad would yell, exasperated. Then we had to sit with the car off while the fuel levels settled down. Eventually, though, I got the hang of it.
Next up was parallel parking. In an empty grocery store parking lot, Dad described imaginary cars between which I had to park.
But as soon as I backed up or started to turn in, he’d yell, “No, no! You’ve hit the other car!” Now I was exasperated. “Dad, there are no other cars!”
Drivers Ed to the rescue
Luckily, there were enough of us Baby Boomers learning to drive that our high school had a dedicated Drivers Ed teacher to put us through our paces and teach us all those hand signals we’d never use again. That meant my parents were off the hook, and I could relax behind the wheel.
As the time neared for me to take my road test, some guys who’d already gotten their driver’s licenses described what to expect — though I wasn’t sure I believed them.
“First, you’d better hope you don’t get The Whistler,” one student warned. “He clicks his pen over and over and takes off points for everything.”
Then another student told me, “Watch out for that guy they hire to ride a bike in front of you when you do your K-turn.”
C’mon, really? Surely they were exaggerating.
I decided to take my road test in our Rambler station wagon, which had push-button transmission, so I wouldn’t lose points on clutch control. The morning of the test, with Mom now brave enough to ride along, I parallel parked all around Endicott for one last practice before pulling up next to the George F. Johnson Memorial Library for the road test.
The Whistler comes through
The DMV guy climbed in with his clip board and, sure enough, he was whistling! As his pen started clicking, he instructed me to head up to the light and turn left. A million turns and hand signals later, when we were on a side street for my K-turn, I had to smile as someone indeed rode by on a bicycle!
Finally, he had me pull up next to a car for my parallel park – and it had a sloped back with no rear window to line up to. Yikes! But I did my best and made it into the spot.
With that, my road test was over — and a while later, my probationary driver’s license arrived in the mail. What a thrill — I passed on the first try! And after six months, my license would be permanent.
To celebrate, I drove on my own over to an ice cream social at the fire department in the little red Fiat my friends later dubbed the “Molly Mobile.” Shifting gears smoothly, I didn’t flood the engine even once!
Up next, M is for Madame Defarge of AP English. Please stop back!
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