As I alluded to in my New Year’s Day post, I have indeed travelled one step closer to possessing a Driver’s License. I am presently the proud bearer of a Pennsylvania Learner’s Permit.
(Actually, I’ve borne it for half a month now and still haven’t sat behind the wheel, but there has been snow on the ground for a third of that, and I spent some time in a state where I don’t have permission to wield a motor vehical. But, I digress. Maybe this week.)
I’ve had a Learner’s Permit before, as the kind man behind the counter at the DMV reminded me as he waived my “New Permit” fee. I was a little surprised that we haven’t reached some statute of limitations on that information, like maybe it would be kept on some moldy punch card in a box at the bottom of a shelf in some state-appointed information warehouse, all-but-forgotten.
But, no, he could see it right on his computer. My half-a-life ago Learner’s Permit, obtained in the same place, maybe on the same dingy little touch screen testing station at the end of the row.
I remember as an early teen I was obsessed with the idea of driving. I wanted my license badly, and all of the freedom and mobility that came with it. I would even have my own car – a boon most of my friends couldn’t boast; we had my grandfather’s boxy old Ford Taurus idly waiting for me to claim while he wilted away in a hospice.
I passed the permit test. I was fine at the actual driving, except for the occasional tangle with a corner in a tight turn. I just could not, for the life of me, park.
In my hazy recollection, that was the primary reason I didn’t take the test – I simply couldn’t park. Spacial relations is my eternal week spot, from geometry to packing a moving truck, and parking a car was like an awful pop quiz of exactly that. I had a lingering dread of time spent circling our block again and again in search of an open spot, and then being unable to pull swiftly backwards into one before another car could snap it up.
(You have to understand that, living in South and Southwest Philly, a significant amount of my life to that point has been spent searching for legal parking or monitoring our illegal parking lest we be ticketed.)
It was too much spacially-oriented pressure for me. Also, maybe I came to the realization that driving equalled more responsibility than freedom, and I erred for the path of the most freedom. After all, we lived in the middle of Philadelphia. Unless I wanted to make frequent trips to the mall, which – why? I was content to ride shotgun, occasionally reclining in the back seat with my guitar to score a car trip.
All of that flashed across my brain when I settled at the battered test screen a few weeks ago. It was the first test of any meaning I had encountered in over half a decade. Can you believe I was nervous about failing? I read and re-read the driving manual I-don’t-know how many times. I took the self-quiz over and over, writing a sentence about any question I got wrong.
I got a 100%, of course.
I trundled back through the sub-freezing wind to the trolley station in Darby, watching the landmarks of my teenage life slide by in my peripheral vision. I lingered at the station out of habit. It used to mark the outer bounds of my known world, the streets behind obscured like white spots on a map – there be monsters – up until the mall.
I slid my headphones on and cued up The Suburbs, beginning the long, frozen, uphill hike through three townships back to our house. A different direction, an older me.
Now, I reflected, driving means more freedom than responsibility.