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Opinion

The road test, a teenage ritual

Examiner filling in driver's license road test form

Examiner filling in driver's license road test form sitting with her student inside a car. Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto / humonia

Fifty-five years ago, I got into my father’s lime- green 1960 Rambler American to take my driver’s exam in Lindenhurst. I crossed my fingers that the finicky starter button would work.

It did, and my father and I got to the test site on time. The streets seemed quite narrow to me, and the test would take me down a main street. Although nervous, I was determined to do my best. Parallel-parking was my nemesis, and I hoped that I my tires would not hit the curb.

When I was practicing for the test, my father, far from being the best teacher, was rather vocal about parallel-parking. His fearful cries could be heard along the streets of Woodward Parkway in South Farmingdale, my hometown, or in the large empty parking lots where I first put my foot to the gas pedal.

I cringed when he said, “Step on the gas! Check your rear-view mirror! Step on the brake!” I was convinced that no one could do all those things at the same time. I had seen the driver’s education films showing bodies decapitated in accidents and came away fairly intimidated.

During my test, I drove cautiously, probably a tad too slow, without the benefit of power steering or electronic helpmates. I kept my hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel, checked my mirrors, stopped at stop signs and signaled for turns. I was satisfied with my performance up to that point, but then it was time to parallel-park.

Fortunately, the parking area had no curb, just something like a mound of dirt at the edge. I pulled up next to a car, checked my rear-view mirror and began to back inward. Somehow, I nailed it on my first try, lining up right behind the car in front of me. Minutes later, the tester announced I had passed. I knew that my life had changed. I had earned freedom of movement and felt a sense of maturity.

I thought of that day in September when my eldest grandson, Hayden, 17, called to tell me he would be taking his driver’s test. Hayden seemed confident, although he had failed his first road test in June. I empathized, thinking he might have many of the same fears I did years ago. I encouraged him, though I was not so sanguine about his chances. I was so wrong!

When he called to share the good news that he had passed, I was elated. The streets of Centereach, where he took his test, had been kind. I asked Hayden whether he felt some of the things I did at his age — freedom of movement and a sense of coming of age — and he assured me he did. He was learning responsibility.

Before passing the test, Hayden had worked hard at fast-food places to raise money to buy a car. He settled on a blue 2010 Prius that sat in his driveway anticipating that he would drive it one day soon. It had 98,000 miles and smelled musty, but he was proud that it was his.

After the road test, our family gathered at my son’s house. It was the first time I saw the car, and I congratulated Hayden with a hug and kiss.

“Drive me somewhere,” I said.

“Where?” he asked.

“Anywhere!”

Three of his cousins piled in with us, and I took my first ride with my grandson. We didn’t go far, just around the corner along tree-lined streets of Commack.

He performed beautifully, and even parallel-parked at the end of our ride.

Now that he has a car — and a license — he has promised to visit me and his grandmother.

“I’ll come every week,” he said.

“Sure about that, Hayden?” I said.

“Well, maybe once a month.”

Reader Sy Roth lives in Mount Sinai.

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