Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/7/2019 (344 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Welcome to Jen Tries, a semi-regular feature in which Free Press columnist Jen Zoratti will try something new and report back. In this instalment, Jen Tries... taking a Class 5 road test.
The night before my road test, I dreamt I had to take it in a Little Tikes car.
If you grew up in the 1980s/’90s, you know the one — that red and yellow hunk of plastic you power with your feet, like a Flintstone. I don’t know what this means (it was a dream, so probably nothing), but clearly my subconscious was processing the fact that Monday’s test was my sixth attempt at getting a driver’s licence, at 34 years old.
The weather was perfect that morning. The traffic was light. My car, while red, had wheels. The woman administering my road test at Bison Drive Service Centre put me at ease.
I crushed the parallel park. I shoulder-checked like a boss.
And then, I made the mysterious decision to get into the wrong lane to make a left-hand turn. The steering wheel was grabbed. And I had failed. Again.
The road to getting my driver’s licence has been long, winding and, I regret to report, ongoing. I took three road tests between the ages of 16 and 18, and automatically failed them all for different reasons.
Test No. 1 was parallel parking.
Test No. 2 was going 54 km/h in a 50, which I think about once a week.
Test No. 3 was "rolling through every single stop sign," which was fair.
I was objectively not prepared for Test No. 4, which I took when I was 22 or 23. I have been at this so long that my original MPI testing location on Corydon Avenue doesn’t even exist anymore.
And then there was Test No. 5, taken at the St. Mary’s Road location a couple of years ago. I was 31, maybe. The parallel parking portion was a disaster, which meant I couldn’t proceed to the rest of the test. I drove back to MPI in my Ford Escape in a serious huff for the test post-mortem.
"Even though you weren’t successful, you still have to use your signal to get back into the parking lot," quipped the road-test administrator who was also, apparently, a comedian. "Any questions?"
Reader, I am not proud of what came next. After he left the garage, I burst into tears, ripped up my test paper into tiny pieces and then threw them on the waiting-room table in front of my husband with a not-quiet "let’s get the f--- out of here."
On the ride home, my husband broke the silence. "Well, I guess we can never go back to the St. Mary’s location."
After that, my plan was to ride out the clock until driverless cars happen. Not having a driver’s licence would be less of a big deal if I lived in, say, New York City, or even Toronto. It’s cosmopolitan, even, to not drive.
"In a city built for cars, not having a driver’s licence isn’t just inconvenient, it’s a source of near–constant embarrassment."
But in a city built for cars, not having a driver’s licence isn’t just inconvenient, it’s a source of near-constant embarrassment.
This is mostly because of the way other Winnipeggers react when I tell them I don’t drive. When I say I’ve bussed someplace, I might as well have said, "Oh, my skateboard’s just outside," or "Oh, I crawled here on my hands and knees."
I don’t love asking for help at the best of times, and I really don’t like being an inconvenience or burden. I’d sooner be launched from a cannon into space than ask for a ride. So, barring the many kind offers I receive from my husband, family, friends and colleagues, I’d contort my schedule to align with that of the bus.
I have travelled to the literal ends of routes for assignments. I have spent hours trying to get places that were a short car ride away.
One time, I attempted to look up a bus schedule servicing the address of a wedding shower being hosted in a new development in the suburbs. The online trip planner might as well have said, "LOL, no."
It’s also hard not to feel like I missed out on a formative rite of passage. Getting your driver’s licence is your first taste of adult independence and, for a person who is very independent in all other areas of her life, having to be driven around because you can’t seem to pass a test for teenagers is discouraging.
Still, I decided to get back in the driver’s seat because you fail 100 per cent of the road tests you don’t take — though, if you’re me, then you fail 100 per cent of the road tests you do take.
"I decided to get back in the driver’s seat because you fail 100 per cent of the road tests you don’t take ‐ though, if you’re me, then you fail 100 per cent of the road tests you do take."
But this time, I decided to be proactive in preparation for test No. 6.
In May, I took four hours of in-car training, which I actually looked forward to every week. Driving, it turns out, is oddly meditative. It forces you into the moment; you can’t really focus on anything but driving.
I built skills and confidence; going 80 km/h on Route 90 no longer made me feel like I was an extra in Mad Max Fury Road.
The thing is, it’s not that I don’t know how to drive. My driving skills are, to quote both my driving instructor and even my latest road test administrator, "pretty good."
It’s the test piece that trips me up, even though the worst thing that can happen is I’ll fail. Or run over a pedestrian, I guess, but that’s extreme.
In cognitive behavioural therapy, they often tell you to focus on the behaviour, which you can control, as opposed to the outcome, which you can’t, not really. Instead of putting all my energy into worrying about whether or not I’d pass or fail a test, I thought about all the behaviours a safe driver engages in. Shoulder checking. Signalling. Being aware of your surroundings. Trusting your own knowledge.
I didn’t nail the parallel parking section of the test because I got lucky. I nailed it because I know how to parallel park. Even though I made a mistake, and that felt bad, I felt good about my driving in general.
And sometimes, it’s about getting over oneself. Because, truly, there’s nothing embarrassing about being an adult beginner, or failing at something you tried.
Also, I know I’m not special. Lots of Manitobans take road tests, and about 49 per cent fail on their first attempt.
As for me, I’m going for Lucky No. 7. I owe so many people rides.
email@example.com Twitter: @JenZoratti
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.
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