Recently, I thought I’d try to renew my driver’s license over my lunch hour. Why in the world did I think that was a good idea, right?
Short-staffed as they were that day at the ol’ DMV, they got me out of there in about 90 minutes. That’s including me having to take an unexpected side trip to City Hall, a building I’ve never set foot in before, just to get a “Certified Copy” of my birth certificate. Because apparently a piece of paper your parents fetched from a fireproof box that actually has the words “Birth,” “Certificate,” “Certified” and “Copy” doesn’t count because it’s a scan, and scans aren’t “copies,” even though that’s exactly what a scan is, That was all news that left me standing there feeling like I really should have gotten around to reading “Catch-22” so I’d know if that’s the right reference to make.
Suddenly, all the folks behind the counter started making a fuss when a teenage girl came in to take her…you got it, driver’s license test. They must have all known who she was from school functions or what not, because they really made a big deal about her, bless their hearts, and bless the heart of that poor girl slowly turning a deep shade of crimson.
The day you take “the test” is a big day for every teenager. This is why I bring you, from the Dec. 10, 1983, Journal Gazette, a photo from that week’s MHS news page of the next batch of teenage motorists all strapped into their driving simulators. Lo and behold those sure look like the exact same simulators that I practiced on in the '90s, and that may very well be the same guy in the background, Mr. Young, operating them.
Oh, boy was I ever excited about those simulators. I mean, an entire class where you get to play a driving video game…and it pre-empts full-dress P.E., thus robbing me of another opportunity to catch an errant dodge ball with my face?
Turns out, it wasn’t exactly like shoveling quarters into Pole Position over at the Aladdin’s Castle, that’s for sure; more like moving one of those toy steering wheels along with a movie of a car driving down the street projected on the pull-down white screen by an ancient film projector. Heck, if I didn’t do the exact same thing with my Knight Rider toy dashboard when I was a kid, except that thing had laser beam sound effects.
There was some interactivity to this, as every possible driving mistake you would make was displayed on a screen the teacher could see at the back of the room, just so they could activate the proper “you screwed up” light on the dashboard in front you.
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If only I had a “you screwed up” light during my actual driver’s test, one cold winter day in 1994. I remember the time frame because the video for Guns N Roses’ “Estranged” was playing on MTV when I got home from my test, fresh with the news that I had just failed.
Yes, folks, you heard me. I failed it. Apparently, this is a rather uncommon occurrence. Well, bully for all you honor society suck-ups who nailed it the first time out. I’m guessing that you didn’t have to take your test in a ‘90s Chevy Blazer, a vehicle whose handling line wasn’t exactly forgiving to any young driver’s tendency to overcorrect, as I did when I outright failed the dreaded “simulated uphill park.” That’s where I cozied up to the curb, and had to say “Superman goes up-up-and away” to myself to remember what direction I was supposed to turn the wheels.
Ol' Supes let me down, because I kicked the pernundle into reverse and promptly backed that right front tire all the way up and over the curb and onto some poor guy’s front yard on Western Avenue, thus failing the entire test instantly. Of course, the humorless DMV operative in the passenger seat didn’t tell me that, instead letting me play out the string of wobbly corners and halting stop sign take-offs just so he could tell me once we got parked back at the DMV.
I was pretty inconsolable on the way home, if I remember right, which seems so silly now. I mean geez…all I had to do was just take it again except this time not drive into someone’s yard. But c’mon, I was freshly 16, moody, a writer-to-be, and listening to way too much “college rock.” I’m pretty sure I filled a third of a composition notebook with really bad poetry about it.
After that long night, I studied up, took a few more permit-enabled jaunts with the Pops, and nailed the test that second time. And by “nailed” I mean I passed it by one point, a fact that the second test-giver said with a wink and a smile, almost as if to say, “Hey, I think the Mattoon streets can handle one more driver who makes squirrelly turns and waits too long to brake, right?”
And with that first taste of glorious freedom I did what any kid would do: I fired up my newly acquired 1987 Dodge Omni (powder blue interior), picked up one of my buddies, and drove us both out to the mall to hang out at Mister Music and eat at Taco Bell. A great night, dampened only when I realized on the way back I had no idea how to defrost my foggy windows, leading to me slow-rolling the car past the Dairy Queen while wiping down the windshield with my coat sleeve. Thank goodness that wasn’t on the test.
So, wherever you are DMV girl, here’s hoping that you nailed that test, and here’s hoping there’s a record-store equivalent for you to drive your friends to this weekend. And when the day comes that you have to go back to the DMV for some reason, allow yourself more than an hour.
Oh, and the “defrost” button is the one with the squiggly lines.
"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at email@example.com.