This post is part of Sian’s Storytelling Sundays, a meme that takes place on the first Sunday of every month. Stop by & check out all the stories we are sharing this month.
Last month I shared photos of the things in my small memory box. This month I am going a little more into depth about one of those things.
The learner’s permit.
As you can see from the stamps, it took me two tries to pass my driving test. Despite copious amounts of practice.
You needed to be 16 in West Virginia in 1983 to get a learner’s permit, but most of us learned to drive a little earlier than that. Especially if your birthday was in the middle of summer like mine.
See, we live in the mountains & in the winter you were dealing with not just winding mountain roads but snowy & icy winding mountain roads & the more practice you had on them, the better.
My dad took me out, in his enormous car (a Lincoln I think) to a snow & ice covered empty parking lot 6 months before my 16th birthday. It was my first time driving. He had me practice stopping & starting, slowly & quickly and sometimes while I was driving around the parking lot he’d startle me so the car would skid so I’d get used to the feeling & learn how to react. Then, after a couple hours of that he let me drive on the road, from the exit of the place back to the entrance. It was a distance measured in hundreds of yards but felt like miles. It was terrifying, but it went well.
Come spring he took me out in my mom’s manual transmission car to learn to drive a stick.
It did not go well.
I managed ok in the flat parking lot, but then I went out on the road and had to stop on an uphill incline prior to turning left. I could not manage to get the car into first without drifting quite far back, almost into the car behind me. This stressed me out so much I finally just floored it and narrowly missed being hit by a car coming from the list. My dad just lost it and then I burst into tears and it would be 6 years before I tried driving a manual car again.
That would go equally badly as I repeatedly stalled the car out in bumper to bumper traffic and swore off ever driving a stick again.
To this day, more than 20 years later, I feel all panic-y when ever I sit behind the wheel of a manual transmission car. Even if I don’t have to drive it.
So the manual transmission was given up as a bad job and shortly after my 16th birthday in July I began taking driving lessons. Not that I really needed them, but they made the cost of adding me to the car insurance less.
Shortly after school started I went with my driving instructor and 3 other students to take my test. There were also several other of my high school classmates there that day as the state police only did tests every other Friday. One week you took the written test & then you came back the Friday after next for the driving part
The test was at the state police barrack, which, like many buildings in West Virginia, was built halfway up the side of a hill. The road ran across the base of the hill in front of them. You got into the car in the parking lot by the barracks with the cop, backed out of the space, drove down the side street to the YMCA parking lot, stopped at the stop sign, turned around in the parking lot, came back up the main street, past the front of the barracks, where everyone waited & watched, up to the next cross street, did a u turn, drove back to where you were just below the barracks and parallel parked between some cop cars in full view of everyone waiting to take their test.
I passed the written test with flying colors.
I pulled out of the parking lot with aplomb. I stopped for the prescribed 5 seconds at the stop sign & did a 3 point turn at the YMCA with no problems. The U turn did not phase me.
But then came the parallel parking.
I pulled up beside the front car just fine. I backed into the spot ok. I spun the wheel and came forward to straighten out with no problem. Then I went to back up to be in the middle of the space. I hit the gas and SMASH! hit the car in front of me because I hadn’t remembered to put the car in reverse.
In full view of about a dozen people from my high school.
I looked at the cop sitting next to me and said “I failed didn’t I?” “Oh yes.” he said.
I got out of the car to the sound of applause.
Which made it slightly less embarrassing. After all, if you are going to fail, fail in such a way as to get applause.
Two weeks and many many parallel parking attempts later, I was back to try again.
I got the same cop! He took one look at me & put on a motorcycle helmet before getting into the car with me. “I remember you.” he said.
No pressure or anything.
Once again I managed all the other parts of the test just fine. I was extra special careful parallel parking & didn’t need to back up after straightening out the car. I ended up in middle in two moves. “Impressive.” said the cop. “I’ve been practicing.” I replied.
To this day I can parallel park the mini van in two moves 80% of the time.
I am a fearless parallel parker.