The Thinker

She’s got a ticket to ride

A gray Monday. It came with a spattering of rain, but that was not necessarily bad. If that meant that fewer people were at the local Department of Motor Vehicles office, then we would be on to enjoy the rest of the day all the sooner. Luck was with us. The parking lot at the Sterling, Virginia DMV was only half-full. We discovered why when we entered the building. Their camera was down, so no new licenses would be issued today.

So it was back in the car again. This time I drove us to the DMV office in Leesburg some fifteen miles away. Luck was with us again. The lot was only a quarter full. We had just explained our mission at the information booth (to get my daughter a driver’s license at last) when her number was called. We shuffled down to another booth. We did not have even ten seconds to work on the application.

Trying to get our daughter licensed has turned out to be a two and a half year endeavor. She may be eighteen, but she was never in a hurry to drive. We had to coax, nag and occasionally demand she set her heinie in the driver’s seat to get her any practice at all. She preferred to be chauffeured, no matter how much it annoyed her parents. Attrition and bouts of perseverance from her parents eventually succeeded in turning her into a competent driver.

Then I naively took her to the DMV for a driver’s test. Things had changed but I never bothered to read the latest regulations. I figured that at age 18 she was a legal adult so they would give her a written test. It would be followed by a driving test then she would get her license. That won’t work in Virginia until you turn 19. In addition to the formal driver’s education that she had as a sophomore (from a book and driving simulator only) the state said she was also required to get professional instruction. So despite the fact that she was ready for her license, we had to plop down $325 to the AA Driving School of Herndon, Virginia for seven chaperoned lessons.

Those lessons dragged on too. Meanwhile, we shuffled her off to work at odd and inconvenient hours, often picking her up after midnight when we felt like zombies. Her driving instructor had to work around her job schedule and she had to work around frequent inclement winter weather, which meant that it took nearly two months to get all her lessons. Can’t you just be licensed already? Finally, last Friday, on my 51st birthday, I got my real birthday present. She took her last lesson. Her instructor signed the special blue form. All we had to do was get her to the DMV to have her picture taken and license issued and she would be a licensed driver at last!

The lack of lines at the DMV helped but for some mysterious reason the Social Security Administration’s computers were inaccessible for a while, so we waited for forty-five pointless minutes until her SSN was confirmed. A few minutes later she was unceremoniously handed her official driver’s license. I felt like Pomp and Circumstances should be playing. If they only knew how long we waited, they would play the music! Instead, I suggested we celebrate her belated milestone in a mediocre fashion by stopping somewhere for a fast food lunch.

“Drive us home, licensed driver,” I said. She elected to go to our local Burger King. Still, I gritted my teeth. It was not that she was a bad driver; it is just that with probably something like 75 hours on the road, she was still very much a novice. I got in the passenger seat and tried to act nonchalant. Except along Sully Road, there were concrete barriers pushed up against the side of the road and she has a tendency to drive six inches from the curb. “Pull to the center!” I yelled as she nearly clipped those concrete dividers. For the rest of the ride home I bit my tongue. I have to let it go.

On our way out of the Burger King, she turned too tightly, causing a rear wheel to go over a curb. If only all her initial mistakes could be like these: minor ones that won’t hurt the car.

Let it go. I called the insurance company and had them put her on our policy. She will cost an extra $55 a month. As long as she is not in school, she can pay the cost of her own auto insurance. She can drive one of our cars, but only when we have an extra car available. We were not going to buy her one.

The weather outside looked a bit chancy, but I decided to bike to work today anyhow. I needed the exercise. For my birthday, I purchased a new 27-speed hybrid bike. While this was good for my cardiovascular system, it would leave her home alone with my car, my keys and the state’s permission for her to drive it anywhere she wanted.

I arrived home from work hours later to find my car in the driveway where I had left it, but it clearly had been driven. She told us she did not feel the need to drive a car until, of course, the opportunity finally presented itself at last. How could she resist? Tonight, rather than pay $2 to have her pizza delivered, she elected to drive and pick it up instead.

I am trying to turn off that parental part in my brain that tells me to keep fretting, but it is not easy. I have spent eighteen years fretting over her and trying not to let my obsessiveness get the better of me. The day had come. I had to trust her with a $22,000 hunk of metal and more importantly, her life, doing what for most Americans is the most dangerous thing they will ever do: drive a car. “Remember what I told you,” I said on the way home. “Driving is 99% boredom and 1% terror. Don’t ever get complacent!”

My wife has chimed in later too. “Drive like everyone around you is insane,” was her sage advice. This is good advice, especially in this area which is a weird amalgamation of people from across the United States and many foreign countries. It is not technically true that everyone driving is insane, of course, although it frequently feels that way. However, there are enough drivers driven by distraction where, if you are smart, you should realize that when on the road your life is always a couple second from ending. You survive by always driving soberly and always being mindful of the traffic around you.

So Rosie, stick to right lanes for a while if you can. Pass with care. That means always looking behind you. Don’t trust your mirrors. Stay in the center of your lane please. You will hit fewer potholes that way. In addition, don’t go anyplace unless you aren’t sure you know how to get back. And keep that cell phone with you at all times and keep it charged! God forbid that you should ever need it but the registration is in the glove compartment, along with the insurance card. Moreover, watch carefully whenever you park and whenever you back out too.

Yeah, I am going to do nag her for a while. Maybe she will tune it out. I cannot help it. She is too precious and she is our only child, after all. I know in time my anxieties will ease. Right now, I take many deep breaths whenever I hand over the keys. Relax, Mark. It’s going to be okay. Relax.

Yet my hands remain clenched.


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