So, yesterday I made the mistake of suggesting that scaring people instead of trying to engage in honest political debate was really not such a great idea.
My point was that Rush Limbaugh and others have every right to criticize the President, I just wish they would do it with facts instead of fear; that really what they’re doing is what President George W. Bush suggested the terrorists were doing: trying to scare people so much they are unable to act, move on with their lives.
Some intelligent, perceptive commenter wrote in to ask why I hate America.
So, today I’ve decided to go in a different direction and try something light-hearted.
While I grew up just outside of Manhattan, I’ve spent most of my life in the land of, “If you can’t get there by subway, is it really worth going?”
It’s not that I was anti-car. I just didn’t see a need for anything beyond cabs and emergency vehicles.
The lack of a license originally probably stemmed from a laziness in high school — or rather a different set of priorities. I could walk to and from school, to and from the library, to and from the train station. I had friends who would pick me up, give me rides for the rest.
And then I was living in the City and people just assumed I was one of those lifelong New Yorkers who had never bothered to get a license. I saw no need to dissuade them.
The minute Amy and I decided we were going to move to Oregon, I knew I was going to be in trouble.
Regardless of whatever reasons I had had for not driving before, I was going to need to buckle down and figure it out.
Within 48 hours of moving, I was signed up for driving class. Amy and I agreed that if we wanted to stay married it would probably not be a good idea for her to teach me.
The first day, I remember waiting for the instructor to pick me up and focusing on what had been In fact, my one driving experience.
I was maybe ten years old and my mother’s parents were taking care of my brother and me. I had gone to the store with my grandfather to the store in his red Dodge Dart that I can still remember seemed bigger than a boat. When we got back in the car to go home, he directed me to sit in his lap. Neither of us wore seatbelts. I don’t know that it was a simpler time as much as it was just a different time.
I scooted across the front seat and into his lap. He told me to put my hands at the top of the wheel. He started the car and bookended my hands with his and together we drove the five blocks back toward his house. When we turned the corner and it was a straight 300 feet back to his house — and, I’m pretty sure, there were no other cars on the road — he removed his hands and I steered on my own the rest of the way.
My instructor, whom I’ll cal Mr. White because I can’t remember what his real name is and that was the color he turned every time he was in the car with me, convinced, I’m sure, he was never going to see his loved ones again.
It was a lousy experience made more difficult by the fact that no matter how many times I explained that not only was I getting my first Oregon driver’s license, I was getting my first driver’s license EVER, he couldn’t seem to get his head around that concept.
There was lots of, “Well, Mr. Miner I don’t know what they teach you in New York but that’s not how we do it in Oregon.”
Admittedly, I didn’t help the situation because for the first few lessons he was talking about things like staying in my own lane, signaling before turning and not running red lights.
But with each lesson, I got a little better. The problem was that because he couldn’t figure out that this was really going to be my first driver’s license, we spent very little time on basics.
After nine lessons in three weeks, came time for my road test.
It was pouring rain and I was not optimistic but I figured since it rains, let’s just say frequently, in Oregon, I figured I would have to suck it up. Sitting in White’s Toyota Corolla — a brand and make I still refuse to get in, the entire experience was so traumatic — I tried to figure out which was going to be worse: failing my road test or telling people that I had failed.
I had decided that both were pretty much going to suck equally and that maybe the best solution would be just having White drop me at the airport so I can just hop on a plane and head back to New York and subways. I would send for my stuff later.
“Are you Mr. Miner?” a balding man who looked twenty years older than I felt — even though we were probably around the same age — asked me, opening the passenger door to the Corolla. He had a clipboard in his right hand and a somber expression on his face. “I’m Mr. Adams and I will administer your road test. Before any driving, let’s just make sure everything’s in order.”
He spoke so quickly, so efficiently, there wasn’t time for me to charming, or at least try to be charming. I suspected that even if I had had all the time in the world, he really wouldn’t have given a damn. If nothing else, my lessons with White had taught me that driving instructors may be the most humorless of bureaucrats.
Adams walked around the car, making sure that all the lights are working, got in the car and directed me to back up, which I did but only after trying with the emergency break still on. Not a good start.
Pulling into the street, I made a left, another left, a right, switched lanes, parallel parked, pulled back into traffic, switched lanes and then he told me to head back to the DMV lot.
Since I could barely see the white lines on the road because of the rain, certainly not as well as I could see Adams overly dramatically gripping the handle above the door, I was pretty sure I had failed, something he confirmed for me moments later.
Thanks to the help of friends and maybe the sympathy of my second test administrator, I passed when I took it again three weeks later.
Since then, I haven’t hit anyone, let alone, killed anyone.
I know it’s keeping the bar low but it makes being disappointed that much harder.