Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Now--weave through this obstacle. . .

Mary entertained her readers with a recent post; well, she always does but this time she treated us to a litany of cars she has owned. That got me to thinking about cars, which of course led to thinking about driving.

Then Beth recently wrote about a time-honored
rite of passage--you got it! Learning to drive. This is one experience that almost everyone in North America has had. With our long-time fascination with and dependence on cars, we all have had to learn to drive at some point.

This rite of passage is a terrifying moment for parents. When your child learns to drive, you experience new woes of parenting. It is almost tempting to urge your child to wait to learn to drive. When our elder child, our son, turned 16 in January, we were a little reluctant to push him to learn to drive in the dread dead of winter. But, our pediatrician (who was wise and had weathered being a father to 12 children) pointed out that learning to drive is one thing a child must do entirely on his own. You can't take the tests for him; this is one accomplishment that is the child's alone. Our son, and then our daughter, learned to drive and we as parents survived.

Now, zip back however many decades and recall your own learning to drive experience. I have been recalling my own rite of passage and it has a few more wrinkles than some. When I turned 16, I was living with my uncle and aunt. I wrote a little about these adventures in a
previous post. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of living with them (and they with me) was that they had never had children. So, when I asked to be taught to drive, my uncle balked. No, he flat out refused to teach me. He had a new Buick which he was reluctant to sacrifice to my pursuit of mobility. So, I had to wait until my parents came home.

As a result, I was 20 before I learned to drive. My dad taught me, and the car I learned on was a little Renault with a stick shift ON THE FLOOR. It was a fun car, but a bit of a challenge to learn driving on. I dutifully got my learner's permit, passing the written exam on the "book" aspects of driving with no trouble.

NOW CAME THE BIG TEST. Passing the actual driving exam. My dad and I went to the State Police driving center near Harrisburg. The car I would be testing in was the family car (not the Renault) which also had stick-shift, but the conventional kind then--on the steering column. The state policeman put me through the paces. Everything was going fine until. . .the serpentine.

This part of the exam required the would-be driver to weave through a series of traffic cones while shifting into 2nd gear before the second cone. I began weaving, trying to keep all the steps in mind, and could not get into 2nd gear in time. The car sputtered, and I failed. First time; second time; third time. Since the learner's permit allowed one to take the driving test for only three times, I now had to renew my learner's permit.

When I had rebuilt enough confidence to try again, I went to Carlisle where the driving test was conducted on the city streets. And I passed.

For a long time, I reflected on that experience. And since I have now been driving for more than 40 years, I often wonder what was the point of that serpentine test? In these 40 plus years, I have NEVER encountered strategically placed traffic cones through which I must weave. Nor have I encountered road conditions that remotely imitate that. And now I drive an automatic car, so being able to shift into 2nd gear isn't a requisite part of driving.

I suspect the serpentine was designed to cause a certain number of people to fail. It shook my confidence, for a bit. But, confidence restored, driving test passed at last, I made my rite of passage.

How did you make yours?


Climenheise said...

Driver's Test! You've given me my next blog! I don't remember the test in PA: I must ask Dad for details. But I do remember the test in Zambia: weaving backwards through three drums set some distance apart. I was spared that part, for whatever reason. Like you, I have no idea what road situation it simulated. In Zimbabwe the driver's test includes lining up at right angles to two sets of drums, so placed as to make a space just large enough to back into. One must then back into the space provided, turning and backing. At least that is something I can imagine having to do in real life -- but in almost 40 yearts of driving I've never had to back into a space at right angles to where I'm starting.

Mary said...

A serpentine??? No fair! I agree with your take on that one. Manual transmissions were tough enough back then and then to pass an obstacle course?

My 64 Chevy was an automatic. I still failed twice. After I parallel parked, my rear wheel was 2 inches too far away from the curb. (So what?) I failed the 4-point turn the second time because my wheel touched the curb. (So what?)

After the second failure, I no longer felt cool and was afraid to try again.

State laws are changing driving rules for 16-year olds as many are not nearly ready to drive. Parents can determine that before any tests are taken. Driving through a high school parking lot at dismissal was something I always tried to avoid.

Funny post, Donna. I enjoyed the history.

Dorothy said...

My gosh did this terrific post bring back memories for me Donna!! I failed my driving test twice. It was HORRIBLE...winter..ice and snow covered roads. I got stuck in the snow making a "K" turn. The inspector was very grouchy and mean. I was driving my father's huge 1956 Ford station wagon.
I'll never forget it! What days they were....March 1963.

Pam said...

Great story, one that will bring back memories for everyone.

I learned to drive in college, taught by a boyfriend. It was in MA where they have those hidious traffic rotaries, with traffic coming into the circle and going out and it's every person for him/her self. I nearly collided with a semi, jumped the curb and drove across the island and shot out the other side.

Lessons were dropped for almost a week.

possumlady said...

I didn't get my driver's license until I was 19. I got my learner's permit at 16 but really saw no hurry in getting my license. Could not afford a car and there was NO WAY my dad would let me drive his so I didn't see the point. And, I will admit, that it did scare me a bit.

Even though I took driver's ed and behind the wheel training in high school, before I took the test at 19 I enrolled in a refresher course and that made all the difference! I passed first time around. But, no manual cars for me! I still don't know how to drive one.

Cathy said...

Donna - As I read this - my pulse increased with remembering the terror of that driver's test. I was so nervous - the examiner gave me my license out of either pure sympathy or because he figured I'd be too scared to disobey any traffic laws. He was right.

Do you ever wish you could sit and discuss this with your uncle? Poor fellow. My husband's dad was like that and I'll bet if he were living he'd do things quite a bit differently.

LauraHinNJ said...

I don't think I've tried to parallel park since I took that test.

My dad taught me to drive a stick shift - I had been driving for 5 years or so by that time. Not a happy memory. There was an awful lot of sputtering, stalling, and yelling!

Mary Carlson said...

Growing up in Baltimore and living by a bus line, I never had the aspiration to learn to drive until I was out of high school and had started a job outside of the city limits where no buses ran. And it was totally across town - I lived in the northeast part of town and the job was the far southwest part of town. My dad taught me, a good driver but too excitable to be a teacher. I learned to drive my dad's 62 Chevy Impala with an automatic. I took the test twice because I failed the parallel parking. I totally forgot about the serpentine until you had mentioned it.
After I got my license, my boyfriend (who is now my husband) tried to teach me to drive a manual with his 1959 MGA. I was terrified on the city streets - I would always stall because I'd popped the clutch and/or not give it enough gas...
Years later I tried again with my husband's 1966 1800S Volvo 5-speed. I'm only 5 feet tall and reaching the pedals was difficult. I always had to have a pillow behind me - not comfy at all. But I'm glad I learned to drive a manual - they're more economical on gas and less wear on the transmission. Back in the late 80s I bought a 1985 (used) Ford Escort 5-speed -- much better gas mileage compared to the '76 Ford van I had been driving. I now drive another 5-speed -- a '95 Saturn. Driving manuals today is so much easier than it was 35+ years ago.

mon@rch said...

I used an automatic car at the time but now use Standard! I had almost failed my drivers test due to doing what my drivers ed told me to do! Lucky, a few other classmates had taken their test earlier and the test guy asked why everyone was doing this! I told him that's what our teacher told us to do! So, he ignored me doing it!

KGMom said...

To All--I think I have opened a memory spring here, some good, some not-so. It is great fun reading all your recollections.

Daryl--I did recall you have a tale or two to tell on taking drivers' exams in Africa. Tell away!

Mary--since you were the inspiration for my post, thanks for sharing your experience.

Dorothy--the dreaded K turn. Another barrier par excellence.

Pam--you mean there are no more traffic rotaries in MA? Awww--they are so much fun. They still exist in DC.

Possumlady--no pressure to learn to drive? You must have been the exception.

Cathy--you asked if I wished I could talk with my uncle? No, I am sure he gave his decision no more thought. He rarely thought he was wrong. But he was good to me in many other ways, so no hard feelings. Plus it gave me & my Dad a bonding experience.

Laura--oh funny that you haven't parallel parked since. I pride myself in being able to parallel park, though it is a bit nerve-racking.

MaryC--yes, anyone with access to public transportation doesn't need to drive. My daughter's UK friends don't all drive, and were puzzled by the American demands to drive.

Mon@rch--I agree manuals are much more economical on gas, so good for you for driving one. The only other aspect (benefit?) is that many others can't drive manual, so they don't want to borrow your car.

nina said...

My driving test was the experience that you walk away from saying, "what just happened here?"
I got so hopelessly confused (I think my examiner really enjoyed this too much!) making left turns from 2 lanes into 1, 1 lane onto 2, one-ways, 2-ways, left here, right there, another left--GOTCHA!
I ended up driving on the wrong side of the road--immediate failure--where are we?

Body Soul Spirit said...

I passed my test in an automatic. (we had driver training at high school;- a great idea). When I bought my first standard, I drove to work early in the morning without stopping once! I had difficulty with that first gear. I learned fast because I had to, but would never have passed a test with that car initially.
Ontario has a graduated license system with one written test and TWO road tests. Very expensive and most drivers fail at least once.

Laurie said...

I passed my driver's test with flying colors on my 15th birthday. Later that day my dad let me take the car out. I had 6 classmates in the car, pulled out from the curbside and ran right into the town policeman.

Mary said...

Laurie, way to go! Were you lost, too?

dguzman said...

Serpentine? Weaving backwards? Sheesh! I just did the parallel parking (barely coming within "passing" distance of the curb), and that was bad enough! Of course, now I can parallel park with the best of them (years of city driving), so at least I've gotten to use those skills on which I was tested. Still, if I'd had to drive a big car or a stick, I would never have passed! Oy vey--the hot late summer days of 1980.