I aced the driver permit test; got all 20 questions right. I thought all the answers were just common sense. I figured that my path to my driver's license was going to be smooth and simple, but little did I know.
I sailed through the test, unlike the enormous lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles office. You'd have to stand on one line to find out what line you really had to stand on, but having a lot of time on my hands and being 16, everything was an adventure.
I can't recall how fast I actually received the piece of paper that officially gave me permission to take a two-ton machine and learn how to maneuver it around curbs and kids, street signs and telephone poles, lawns and more kids, an occasional cat or squirrel; and all the while trying to look cool while doing it with my mother sitting in the passenger seat praying to St. Christopher.
My mom drove the 3-year-old, 1970 green Ford Torino to the empty parking lot of Smithtown Central High School at the end of our block. I got behind the wheel, and my life would never be the same.
As my mother continued to pray, I adjusted the seat and mirrors, put on my seat belt, then reached for the key and gave it a half turn and the 302-horsepower V8 roared to life.
Foot on the brake, I grasped the shifter on the column, pulled it down and put it into drive. FREEDOM. I took to it like Mario Andretti's cousin. I did a few laps around the school and I was doing pretty well. God bless my mother, but she wasn't a great driver -- safe but not great -- so in my first five minutes, I surpassed her driving skills . . . at least I convinced myself I did. Then, somehow I convinced her to let me venture out into the neighborhood and do a little cruising.
Eventually, my parents let me take the car and drive around with my 18-year-old friend Buddy. I'm not sure it was legal, but I didn't question it, and we cruised all over the place with the Delco AM radio blasting.
One time we drove through the Village of Belle Terre. Someone told us that Linda Lovelace, the porno queen, had a pink mansion there. I'm not sure if we found the pink mansion, but we did find the bluffs at the end of the village road overlooking Long Island Sound.
Well, the Village of Belle Terre didn't want the likes of me and Buddy or any other outsiders hanging out in their multimillion-dollar-estates incorporated village.
The bluffs had "No Parking" signs all over the place, but I wanted to walk to the edge of the cliffs and have a look. I left Buddy in the passenger seat with the car running and started to walk to the cliffs. I got about 25 feet when, out of nowhere, a Belle Terre Village cop pulled up in Belle Terre Village cop car. Snagged! I got a $25 parking ticket, and I didn't even have my driver's license yet.
My date for my driving test finally arrived, and my father and I got to the Riverhead DMV bright and early with what we thought were all the proper forms. There were a few DMV "Testers," and as I was waiting for my turn, one of the Testers started yelling at one of the kids about a form he was missing. "YOU CAN'T TAKE THE TEST WITHOUT THE MV FORM. YOU HAVE TO RESCHEDULE." That would take two weeks to do. I instantly looked for my aforementioned form, and I, too, didn't have it.
I started to freak out. I was hoping they would forget to ask me for it, so I nervously waited on line and prayed I didn't get the mean guy. It came to my turn and I ended up with a different instructor, but he, too, asked for the form and I told him I didn't have it, but he said, "That's OK, go to the office and get one and bring it back filled out and get back on line." When I got back on line, I prayed again, but not hard enough: I got the Bully.
The man was just plain grumpy. We got into the car; I put on my seat belt, adjusted the mirrors, started the car, then waited for his instructions.
"OK, pull out and proceed down the road. . . . " We started and he then instructed me to turn left. Well, I saw a small side street left turn, then an intersection with a traffic light left turn a few feet further. So, I thought he must have meant the intersection left turn. As I drove past the small side street, he barked, "Where are you going? You missed the turn. Geez, OK, turn right up here."
The right turn was like a backward 45-degree turn. I had the light, but I wasn't sure if I had clearance to make the turn because there was a school bus waiting at the red light.
My options were to wait for the bus to move or give it a try. So I gave it a try and made the turn, with my right wheels jumping the curb, then driving on the sidewalk.
Grumpy Bully Tester said, "Go back to the start . . . carefully." Guess what? I failed.
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