Friday, September 30, 2011

Road Test

I was about 17, when I went to my first concert. I was with a bunch of friends and we drove what seemed like a million miles from suburban New Jersey to the Nassau Coliseum to see Jethro Tull. There were maybe eight of us and we situated ourselves inside of a flower delivery van that one of the kids drove for his job. There were no seats in the back of the van, just hard corrugated metal and errant Baby’s Breath. The drive was long. It was raining. And I remember that bumpy, endless trip as being not only one of the first times I felt really grown up, but also my first introduction to that particularly unpleasant trifecta of physical conditions: hungry, cold, and wet.

Fast forward to last Friday, where I find myself in a similar state, although this time I am not in the back of a cold, steel flower truck, but rather in the driver’s seat of a friend’s Honda Civic, parked at the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, trying to kill time with my now-17-year-old while we wait for an hour for the MVC Gal to emerge from the small concrete building beside us and take my son for his road test.

I am wet because it’s pouring. The conditions couldn’t be worse for driving except maybe if it were a blizzard. We’ve borrowed my friend’s car because you need a hand brake between the two front seats in order to take the test and my car has an emergency brake accessible only by foot. There is no back wiper on this car and it’s raining so hard you can’t see out the rear window. “Am I going to be able to parallel park?” my son muses. “You’ll do the best you can,” I say.

I’m cold because I’m not dressed appropriately. The tee shirt I have on is too light and the denim jacket I brought is not warm. We blast the heat but it’s barely addressing the problem, because my jeans are soaked from ankle to thigh due to my myriad sprints from the small concrete building to the big concrete building along with my hemispheric jogs around the car from passenger to driver’s side and back.

These sprints and jogs are the result of my major shortcoming in life: I am plan-impaired. I tried to overcome my handicap for this particular excursion, but I failed.

My first mistake was not paying a driving instructor the $100 fee to just pick my son up from school, bring him for his license, and then deliver him back home again. When they told me $100, I thought it was outlandish. Highway robbery, if you will. And I resolved to find a car with an appropriately positioned break and do it myself.

Finding the car took two minutes. My friend was happy to oblige. I also prided myself on taking my son’s Learner’s Permit out of my glove box and sticking it in my wallet, as I suspected he might need it and wouldn’t I feel terrible if we’d gone all that way only to find his paperwork was left in the wrong car?

I was also proud of myself for researching what documents were needed to obtain an initial license. I was surprised to find that the Six Points Of Identification were required for 17-year-olds, although I don’t know why I should have been. No matter. I had plenty of time to fish out his birth certificate and Social Security card, get a school report card the bore his address along with a school ID card. I even called the school to say I was signing him out for the day and the secretary armed me with a letter verifying his enrollment. “Sometimes they ask for this,” she said.

I retrieved him from school, stopped at the deli so he could get a bacon-laden snack, and we headed off. We waited our turn in line and it wasn’t until we had pulled right up to the Road Test Stop Sign that I could read the instructions underneath: Please have your Registration and Insurance ready.

I knew right away they did not want my registration and insurance; they wanted the ones that went with my friend’s car. This was the one stone I’d left unturned.

In a somewhat miraculous turn of events, my friend had just yesterday put her registration card into her glove box, a habit that I never subscribe to (and, I guess, neither did she). However her insurance card remained with her.

The MVC Gal was about to make us reschedule, but then she said my friend could have her insurance company fax a letter (to the big concrete building) and I could pick it up and bring it to her (in the small concrete building) and once that happened, my son could take his road test.

When I picked up the fax, I did not stop at the vending machine to get myself a snack because it was 11:50 and I was trying to get back to the small concrete building before noon, which is when the MVC Gal takes lunch. Miracle Number Two was that, in spite of out-the-door lines and stolid bureaucracy, I actually had the fax in my hands exactly four minutes after I called my friend to arrange it. However, by the time I reached the small concrete building again, it was 11:56 and the MVC Gal had already reheated last night’s General Tsao’s Chicken and sidled up to the folding table. I watched her tuck her napkin into her collar as she gave me an almost authentic look of regret.

“Come back at 1:00,” she said.

I was afraid to leave our spot in line, so we stayed put while she had her lunch inside the warm, little concrete building and I ate the only thing I’d taken with me from home: Trident gum.

Once she showed up, the rest went pretty smoothly. My son made only one mistake (put your blinker on for a K-turn) and I committed a few social faux pas, but two hours later, we walked back out into the rain, license in hand, and I snatched my rattling last breaths (with deep-sea-diver sound) as I watched my baby’s world expand in vastness before my eyes.

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