Driving Miss Fits

Books and songs and Bollywood movies can be made about my quest to learn how to drive. I’ve driven good cars (a ’99 Lexus ES 300) and bad cars (’97 Pontiac Sunfire). I’ve gotten a license in 1997, became indisposed for two years, finally took a road test, and then had my license expire, forcing me to do the whole graduated licensing thing all over again. On a lark, I ducked into a DriveTest centre on New Year’s Eve 2002, and got another “G1” learner’s permit. But it took my pilgrimage back to TO to get a hold of a car and actually practice for the roadtest.

So I’m sitting in my Dad’s Buick, nervous as heck, waiting for the driver examiner for my G1 Exit exam. It’s stuffy and humid inside the car. I’m at Victoria Terrace, a slightly dilapidated plaza and home of the Metro-East DriveTest centre. During the day, it’s a virtual death trap for pedestrians and parked cars, with barely competent drivers weaving in and out of the lot and making cringe-worthy attempts at parking. I’ve noticed that cars in the surrounding neighbourhood have been parked with their rears close to driveways: the better to keep novice drivers from trying to parallel park with your car and hitting it.

We’ve been told to drive into the back, park forward against a fence, sign in with the dispatch and wait our turns. I take a look around at my fellow drivers. Many have inexplicably brought their entire families to the driver’s examination centre.

In my first test drive in Toronto, my entire family sat in the car with me. Never again. My sister would squeal every time I passed a parked car, claiming I was “too close”, while my mom would scream “You just failed! You are a failure!” at every mistake, real or imaginary, I made. It was there that I noticed that a backseat driver’s level of opinion is inversely proportional to actual driving experience; my mom couldn’t do a parallel park with a shopping cart.

When I booked June 21st as the date of my test, my mom asked, “So soon?” To be honest, I wanted it done and over.

My dad, bless him, is a better mentor, and we practiced for several months. The only problem is, he got obsessive as the exam date crept closer. I ended up driving through downtown during rush hour, and performing incessant back-in parkings for hours at a time. He devised stranger and stranger tests of skill. I once had to parallel park with an eighteen wheeler.

So back to the present. The examiner arrives, plops down in the leather passenger seat, and immediately goes for the automatic seat controls. I hope I get brownie points for not arriving in a rusting Toyota subcompact like everybody else did.

The road test started out as a test of my intestinal fortitude. I braved a minivan making a left turn on a red light, two yahoos cutting me off in opposite directions as I cross the intersection, and a garbage truck stopped dead not nine feet from the light. We continued on southbound, made a left into the residential area, navigated the tree-lined streets, performed a curb park and a three point turn, and then came back to Victoria Terrace.

He chewed me out on not heeding right of way to a car approaching from 100 yards away, and then chewed me out again for being too timid at the next intersection.

Anyway, I passed. Onward to G2.