Monday, January 24, 2011

The Driving Test

Picture it, Persistent Reader:

Stephenville, Newfoundland, January 12'th, Ninteeen-Eighty-Eight. 

This was back in the day when it used to start snowing in November and didn't let up until April.  It was a time when the word "accumulation" really meant something.  That year winter had run its typical riot across the island, leaving ten foot snow drifts all about and roads dangerously slick with ice.

A perfect day for a driving test.  

Honestly, the roads were so bad that morning, I should have strapped on my Bauer's, skated down to the test site and endangered the structural integrity of one of their cars.  Better that then risk turning my own vehicle into an elaborate luge while en route.

The temperature that day was a balmy thirty-five degrees below zero, which I figure was probably about minus seventy-eight with the wind-chill.  My test was at 8 am and I gave myself a good hour to unearth the Wondercar, which was buried deep under a mound of ice, sleet and hail, perfectly preserved deep beneath the Arctic surface like a some sort of steel mammoth.

After I was finished excavating the vehicle I crawled down from the roof, brought the atomic batteries to power, charged turbines to speed and then prepared to ease her into Warp Factor One.  Given the condition of the roads that morning this translated into flying down the road at a blinding twenty-four klicks an hour.

On the highway.

At the Department of Motor Vehicles & Child Endangerment I was "warmly" greeted by "Officer X" (name withheld by request).  Instantly I was terrified by how sharp this guy seemed to be, despite the early hour.  My barely-conscious seventeen year old brain marveled at how anyone could be moving upright at such an ungodly hour, so I just assumed that he must have been hooked up to a coffee IV drip before I'd arrived.  Despite his irritating mutant ability to catalog every single mistake I made, his sloth-like demeanor kinda reminded me of Benicio Del Toro on Quaaludes.           

The test officer and I tried to pick our path carefully across the parking lot to get to the Ninjamobile.  I'd hoped to slowly drift into the driver's side door like a curling rock, but instead I lost my footing and power-bombed myself onto the ice-covered asphalt.  This promptly knocked the wind out of me and all I could do for about forty seconds was lay there make a mournful "hup, hup" noise as "Officer X" came to tower above me.  While I was ordering the bridge crew of my body to give me a damage report, "Mr. Helpful" just stood there staring at me, threatening to bombard my upturned face with nasal drip runoff if I didn't hurry get up and get out from underneath him.

I got to my feet and gingerly scuffed the rest of the way.  All this time I knew the instructor was probably thinking:

'Jesus Christ, he can't even walk his uncoordinated ass across the parking lot and I'm supposed to get into a car with him?  F$#@, I don't get paid enough to do this!'

When we were safely ensconced in our bucket seats, "Officer X" helpfully reminded me: 'Now, this is a driving test, not a flying test'.  He told me in no uncertain terms that any more deviations from standard procedure would result in instant failure.

Despite the dire warning, my confidence spiked.  After all I was now hermetically sealed in my familiar power armor; a steel roll cage of invulnerability.  In an instant I'd gone from being a soft target to feeling that regardless of whatever came next I'd certainly give just as good (if not better) than anything I could possibly get.  My instructor seemed to sense this unwarranted delusion of grandeur and despite the frigid temperatures, beads of cold began to manifest on his forehead.

Seat belt...check, mirrors...check, lights...check, tray tables stowed and seats in the upright and locked position...check, emergency exits and safety features of the vehicle illustrated...check.  The flight attendants in my mind completed final cross-check for departure and I began to taxi away from the terminal.

I began to come hard about at a sharp angle in order to give sufficient clearance to the vehicles parked behind me.  I brazenly turned to check the "objects-are-a-helluva-lot-closer-then-they-appear" rear-view mirror when suddenly I heard:

"Hay!  Hay!  Hay!  Hay!  Hay!  Hay!  HAY! HAY! HAY!!!"

Assuming that the dude didn't have a fetish for equine dietary preferences, I whipped my head back around.  It didn't look good.  If not for the dulcet screams of my terrified passenger, the portside bow of my Autobot would have taken the side off of a Porsche 944.

After a reproving and somewhat dazed frown from "Officer X" I gave the drunken helmsman in my brain a hasty course correction and slowly edged out straight.  But I was now coming out too straight and I narrowly grazed the ass-end of Datsun pickup truck behind me.  Honestly, there was less room in that place then the average impound lot.

With me nerves already on life support, I didn't like my chances with the next vehicular Olympic event: parallel parking.   Undaunted, I edged up,  my bumper next to the far pipe representing the boundaries of the sweet spot.  I rammed her in reverse, cut her hard, and then slowly rolled back.  Satisfied by my depth in the spot, I cranked the wheel in the opposite direction, leveled her out, pulled ahead a bit for good measure and put her in park.  My self-satisfied grin quickly withered when I turned to see my instructor looking as me like Ben Stein.

"The pipes are supposed to indicate where cars are parked both in front and behind you.  The white line on the ground by the bank right there is meant to represent the curb.  The idea is to park directly between the pipes and not on the curb."     

"Okay," I replied, suddenly alarmed by the white line intersecting my front windshield.  "If that's the case, where would I be now?"

"You'd probably be in somebody's mailbox," came the deadpan reply. 

'Your sister's a mailbox...' I muttered just under my breath.

Despite the double-barreled blast of wide-assery I still managed to nail it on the second attempt.

"Haw!  In yo' face, dawg!" I shouted at my tormentor.  He said nothing in response, choosing instead to etch a cryptic note on his little wiener clipboard with his little wiener pen.

The next Herculean trial was backing into a spot, once again represented by four impossibly-skewed metal poles, conveniently camouflaged by some chucklehead who obviously decided it was a bright idea to paint them all snowdrift white.

But as I got ready for my own version of the Death Star trench run, I heard my Dad's voice whisper in my ear, Ben Kenobi-style: "Remember...Use the Rear Brake Light, Luke!"

As a side note, dontcha think it's kinda weird that my own Dad used to call me Luke?  I know we didn't hang out together constantly or always see eye to eye, but, c'mon!  You think he'd remember the name of his only son!  Hell, his only kid!   

Sorry.  Regardless of this heinous insult my Dad had been an incessantly patient and wise driving teacher.  One of his best chestnuts of sage advice (besides "Y'know, you can always drive ten kilometers over the speed limit on the highway and the cops won't stop you") was: "When backing up, just make sure that the brake light in the middle of the rear window is positioned exactly between the white lines of the space."

So, I took a deep breath, let go of my conscious self and acted on instinct.

"Wait!" yelled my instructor as I started to edge back.  "Are your eyes closed?"

"Well, yeah," I said plaintively.  "My eyes can deceive me.  I shouldn't trust them."

"Really?  Is that so?  Well, I'm tellin' you to keep your friggin' eyes open, there, Dr. Spock."

Despite being handicapped by having my peepers at maximum aperture I still backed up perfectly between the pipes!  It was on to the road test...

Intoxicated by a heady draught of self-confidence I also killed on my road test.  Not, killed, literally as in vehicular manslaughter/ran over a pregnant woman, I mean that I did so good that my instructor had to pass me!

So, folks, the lesson of the story is: even when you seriously cock up at the start of something, just keep pluggin' away!  Sometimes when you think you've already failed, the pressure is suddenly off and you end up pulling through.  Or, at the very least, keep on sloggin' through 'cuz it's always good experience for next time!

Or, maybe the lesson of the story is: don't be afraid to really suck at something in the beginning 'cuz then there's no where to go but up. 

Whatever.  Happy motoring, folks!

EPIC: My Dad was a cool teacher an all, but nowhere as pimp as this dude:

FAIL:  I can't tell if this kid is a genius or deserves a kick in the knutz...

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