I haven’t driven a car since 1991. Or, more accurately, that’s when my license expired. I did drive in P’town once in ’98 or so, but only because the friend who’d brought us to the A-house was asleep by the coat check and our designated driver was crying, so I had to. Needless to say, I’m a bit out of practice, so last week I began the process of remedying the situation by acquiring my learner’s permit. Seems that, here in the state of New York at least, once you let the old navigational expertise lapse for a couple of decades or so, you need to start all over again from scratch. This means enrolling in an actual course, watching that movie with my pregnant 16-year-old classmates, and finally re-taking the dreaded road test. It can’t be any worse than the first time 800 years ago, under the tutelage of shop teacher-cum-Drivers Ed instructor Mr. Lynch, presumably so named for his blithe mangling of the English language. He liked to sit on the edge of his desk – y’know, relating to the kids – while bestowing upon us drivers-in-waiting such food for thought as this: “Keep the speed going on. Or else you’ll be the kind of driver other drivers’ll kind of avoid to stay away from!” (Uh, got it.) Listening to some of the conversations in the interminable line at the DMV last week brought me right back to that innocent time. (One gangly adolescent minx to another, while pointing at the “slippery when wet” graphic in the manual: “No, that one means it’s a wind-y road.” [Beat.] “Right?” Get ready, America.)
To be fair, from what I’ve seen on my bicycling forays through the wilds of Westchester and Connecticut, driving has become much more complicated over the years. In my day, I’d just hop into my little yellow (née beige) VW Beetle and go – if indeed it happened to be going that day at all. I named her Leontyne, because of the squealing arias she would serenade me with shortly before spinning her monthly brake drum. She was a semi-automatic, meaning there was a shift but no clutch, enabling one to decide just how much noise the car should make and not much else. The cockpits of today’s mini space ships are a lot more daunting by comparison: there’s the driving part, of course, but now comes the added business of adjusting the satellite radio, dialing the phone (hands-free, of course – wink, wink), tuning in SpongeBob for the backseat audience, microwaving a hot dog and doing a load of laundry – all while yelling at the GPS and narrowly missing that dude on the bike. Driving’s hard, you guys!
When I told my dad that I was getting my license again, he fired back with, “Where are you gonna have room for a car?” I had been wondering why there seem to be so many more of them on the road nowadays: apparently they’re giving them away free to every newly licensed driver now. This is most welcome news, as I don’t expect to be in an income bracket any time soon whereby I can afford to have a car, much less buy gas for it. But my main inspiration for this rekindled quest for mobility stems from the composition gigs I occasionally have out in the hinterland. The regional theatres always rent cars for visiting artists, which up till now I’ve only been able to view (the cars, not the artists), and I’d like to change that. Besides, I’ve tried to get them to rent me a bike instead, which they tell me they’re not insured to do. As I prepare to rejoin the ranks of our nation’s distracted, multi-tasking motorists, I can certainly see why.