Trigger: Reviewing the previous post.
1981 again. This time, it's the day OF my 16th birthday. I don't have my official driver's license yet, but I'm going to take the test after school. The excitement is pulsing through my body.
Of course, I've had my learner's permit for a while. But the actual learning has been... a bit lacking, at least from an official standpoint. I had already taken the requisite semester of Driver's Ed in school, but that was basically a joke. This was the one elective class that EVERY student opted for, so the classes were always packed. I believe there were 50 people in ours.
The class was "taught" by two coaches. Each day, each coach would take 3 students out to practice driving an actual car, and the remaining 44 students would sit around and pretend to read driving manuals and learn the info needed to pass the written driving exam. Nobody actually did anything. It was recess, you just had to sit at your desk.
So with the mathematics involved in that arrangement, I only actually got to drive 3 times. The first time, it was me and two of the biggest jocks on campus. So they talked shop with the coach, and I was basically on my own. I don't think the coach said more than two words to me. I just drove around until time was up.
The two subsequent times were a little better, had some non-athletes with me, so the coach managed to acknowledge my presence. But he was drunk both times. This was a football town, and coaches were gods, so he could do whatever he wanted.
And therein lies my official training. A total of 50 minutes of actual road time, jocks talking shop, and drunkenness. I'm sure the insurance companies would be thrilled to know about that.
My REAL training took place on the country roads way outside of town. That wasn't necessarily a good thing (see previous post), but at least I got a little bit of experience.
So the sacred day arrives wherein I can become a licensed driver, a pivotal, milestone moment. As mentioned, pulsating excitement. I mean, this is big, dreamed about for years. But first I've got to get through the day, slog through all my classes.
Most of the school day is a blur, but one thing remains clear for some odd reason. We're sitting in Advanced Biology, and the teacher, Mr. Armstrong, is discussing his recent bout with food poisoning, the result of a visit to a new sandwich chain in town, Schlotzky's. Because of his knowledge base, he can describe exactly what happens to the physical body in such a scenario, the buildup that leads to eventual vomiting. And he goes into detail.
Slightly repulsed, oddly fascinated, generally over it, I get through it. Just before the hour is over, one of my lab buddies turns to me and asks, "So how does it feel? Being sixteen?"
I pause, and then I'm honest. "It feels the same. I was really expecting SOMETHING to happen. But I really don't feel anything. It's weird." He looks at me a little distrustfully, but doesn't say anything. In the future, on his birthday, he will fess up to the same thing. Where was the magical something that you should feel?
I shouldn't have hoped for "something" to happen. Because it did. Just not in a good way.
I finally get through the day. Time for the driving test. My step-dad picks me up for the journey to the DMV, which only heightens my nervousness, due to our very strained relationship. So much drama with him, real and imagined. Mostly real.
We get there, and the place is swarming as we get in line. It seems every two minutes someone is racing in from the driving area, clutching the prize of legality. I just try to breathe.
Finally, it's my turn. I'm assigned to an officer and we march outside to step-dad's vehicle. There has to be an inspection of the car, something I hadn't realized. I'm so used to beer cans rolling around in his car that I didn't notice them on the drive over. But I certainly notice them when they spill out of the car as the officer checks the turn signals. Miraculously, he doesn't say a thing about that. Then he walks around behind the car.
"We've got a problem," he says, scribbling something on his clipboard that has an air of finality. Dread builds. "Your license plate is expired. Can't take a test in this thing." And then he just marches inside, done. Nothing to him. Everything to me. This is MY day. And it's been taken away.
We stand there a minute, me and the one who has never considered me more than baggage in his marriage to my mother, looking at each other. I don't want to give it to him, but I think there is the tiniest spark of concern in his eyes, and a little smidge of shame. But it might just be the beer.
"I'll fix this, we can come back," he says.
"Okay," I say. Not what I WANT to say, but it's all that I'm allowed. And then I open the passenger door and climb in. Instead of the driver's side, where I should be on this day.
And so it goes.