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?