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The Column

The Drive to 25
8/8/04

The road conditions have suddenly become unsafe for driving. Please stay in your houses. And stay out of your living rooms, because I might crash through those. That's right, I can drive. Well, I am allowed to drive. Whether or not I am able to is still being questioned.

This week, just about a month before my 25th birthday, I got my driver's license. For those of you just tuning in, I grew up in New York and never needed one. For those of you who have been with me a while, I know I promised I'd get one by New Year's. What I didn't realize is that my friends were terrified of me practicing in their cars. (Good call, guys).

I tried to get my license earlier. I got my New York permit four years ago, and drove occasionally with my father. My mother wouldn't ride in a car with me. Which makes sense because she gets nervous riding with someone who DOESN'T have the potential to kill everyone in a fiery crash.

So I kept driving with my father whenever he could, and took the test this May--WAY before I was ready. I took it again a few weeks later, which was only a little bit less WAY before I was ready. It was like a 12-year-old taking the SAT. Sure, he might be able to finish the test. But he's not getting into Harvard at 12. Penn, maybe, but not Harvard. (Sorry. That's just leftover spite from losing so many basketball games.)

After that second time, I decided I would actually pay for some lessons. I had not yet had any official car lessons. When I went for my 5-hour certification class (a requisite of a New York license), I was the only one who showed up. So the instructor signed my papers without the class and told me to go home and not tell anyone about it. So keep that quiet, okay?

I took two lessons once I moved to California for $85 a piece. The lessons consisted of one hour of lesson and one hour of sitting in traffic while we went to pick up the next student. My friend Heather was nice enough to give me one last day of driving before she took me to my test. She also took me home once her turn signal burnt out ON THE WAY TO THE TEST, preventing me from taking it. In New York, you don't need a working turn signal to take the driver's test, but you do in California. That's odd, since no one uses them anyway.

So I scheduled another exam, and this time I paid $70 to have a driving school take me there. I failed that one when I didn't stop for a fire engine traveling in the opposite direction three lanes away. I didn't know that rule, and so I learned to stop the next time. And I also learned that taking the test with a driving school also included an hour of lesson before the test. Which was $15 cheaper than straight up paying for a lesson. So it was cheaper to just keep taking the exam until I passed. So I did that. A few times.

That's right - I failed the road test four times. Is that a record? Possibly. I've never heard of anyone failing it more. Probably because the people who failed it five times either keep quiet about it or stop driving when they crash into someone's living room.

I had to go to the DMV ten times to complete this process. There were the five tests, the time I couldn't take the test, the time I got my New York permit, the time I got my California permit, the time I tried to get my California permit but went to a DMV that no longer gives permit tests, and the time I tried to get my California permit but didn't have a CERTIFIED copy of my birth certificate. I did bring a "copy of a birth certificate" like the instructions said. When I asked if they understood how that can be taken to mean a "copy of a birth certificate" they agreed, and said that they'll change it as soon as I go home and leave them alone.

10 visits to the DMV. And wow, was it worth it. I love the freedom of driving, and I love not having to ask people for a ride. But what I love most is not being made fun of anymore.

When I was 20, I made a list of things I wanted to do by the time I was 25. I posted the list on my wall, and would check things off as they happened. Interview a hall of fame baseball player, visit more than 30 states, write a book. Sometimes someone would see the list. Everytime, they'd skip right over the cool stuff I did accomplish and say, "Woah, you don't know how to drive? What's wrong with you?" And this was in New York.

So a big middle finger to everyone who thought I couldn't do it, especially several driving examiners. I finally passed (thanks in big part to my friend Neil, who let me co-opt his car for a weekend) and I rented a car for a few weeks while I look for something more permanent. I've already put almost 300 miles on it, and I intend to put a few more.

How many miles is it from here to your living room?

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