Tuesday, January 08, 2013

WWPD Guides: OMG DRIVERS LICENSE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! edition

Prepare yourselves, WWPD readers, for what shall be the most momentous announcement of WWPD history: On this very day, I went and got a driver's license. It actually happened. After two failed road tests in Red Hook, after actually getting a car and practicing since June, after putting my husband through the unique agony that is teaching a loved one how to drive, after panicking just about continuously from the time I set up this road test, the day finally came, and I managed to not massively screw anything up. Yes, my foot was quivering on the brake, and yes, my shirt, if not the entirety of Mercer County, was drenched in sweat. But it's done! I'm so happy to never, ever, ever parallel park again. If this means not driving to Philadelphia, so be it.

So, now that that's out of the way, the official WWPD guide to getting a driver's license as an ancient person:

-The biggest obstacle to this ended up being my so-so proof of address (which turned out to be OK, long story), so I recommend holding onto recent first-class mail, in your current name, if you've changed it. Don't get tripped up by something you can totally control.

-Use lessons strategically. Learning to drive with lessons alone is theoretically possible, but it helps tremendously to get a feel for just basic maneuvering. To pay for this with lessons would get expensive rather quickly. But just practicing isn't ideal, either - you want, at the very least, to take a lesson right before the test. That way, someone who knows the local DMV gives you whichever tips, plus you've gotten over the most extreme nerves an hour or so before the test itself. The only downside is, the car will be unfamiliar. But if they're not too different (i.e. you hadn't been driving something closer to a truck), you'll be fine. Also useful: take a lesson where your instructor tells you you're ready, then practice for several months more, and only then take the test.

-Practice with someone who got a license somewhere with a much more difficult test than you're going to take. It helps to find a Belgian - their test is on normal roads, and using a manual. What you want to do, as with any test, is overshoot the mark in preparation. (I think my husband should be able to put 'taught badly-coordinated native-New-Yorker wife how to drive' on his CV. I think this counts as astrophysics.)

-With parallel parking, you will spend a lot of time perfecting the maneuver, but what you really need to know is how to correct for having entered the spot incorrectly. On my test, the parallel parking came immediately after a right turn, so there was no time to straighten out the car. I could tell how wrong the angle was, but figured once I was in the spot, using some combination of lesson-techniques and Belgian-driving ones, I'd get it in there. Which I did, but with a hubcap touching the curb. Which, with more time, I'd have corrected, but DMV examiners need to get on with the day.

-Pray for a lenient examiner. And I think this falls into Dan Savage's category of things atheists might make an exception and pray for.

-Re: psychology: one thing that can help or hurt, depending, is to remind yourself that everyone has taken this test and passed. This isn't like getting into college or grad school, or like getting any job whatsoever. This is open admissions, as it were. Remind yourself that you're not special, not uniquely incapable of doing this basic thing that everybody does. Unless you do have a condition that prevents you from driving safely, in which case don't drive. But if you're just run-of-the-mill clumsy, remember that this skill isn't the same as being good at sports or ballet. Don't assume that mediocre spacial reasoning, or a poor performance in high school physics, disqualifies you from the basic way Americans and many others get around.


caryatis said...

Thank you! Learning to drive (and preferably actually getting a license too) is my goal for the year.

Andrew Stevens said...

I keep meaning to get a license, but never get around to it because I know I'll never use it. Perhaps I should take this as inspiration and finally learn how to drive a car.

Jeff said...

I am weeping with joy.

I arrogantly hope I helped a little bit to push this issue forward to its glorious conclusion.

Flavia said...


I'm sure there are people who are just natively good at parallel parking, but in my experience you just have to keep doing it. It helps to live in a small/not terribly stressful city, where cars aren't all parked bumper to bumper--and where you don't have to hold up a line of traffic trying to do it.

Phoebe said...

Caryatis, Andrew,

As the proverbial motivational speaker who lost 200 pounds says, if I could do it, so could you. I was a hopeless case as you'd find. I'm still not entirely sure what parallel looks like, yet I can stay in my lane just fine.


Wish I could credit you, but I'd already signed up for the test!


Thanks! I see what you mean re: parallel parking, and think this may happen naturally in town, where some streets do fit that description. I'll just have to resist the lure of the not-so-expensive nearby parking lot...

Britta said...

Congratulations! Knowing how to drive a car is an essential life skill I think everyone should have.

I didn't have to PP for my exam, and I have been terrified of doing so ever since. Now that I temporarily have a car in Chicago I have to do it, and it's amazing how much easier it gets with practice.

Phoebe said...

Oh, and I really do see a parallel (heh) with massive weight loss, or quitting smoking. No one is giving out awards to normal-weight non-smokers. But when a 29-year-old who's failed two prior road tests gets a license, it's the event of the century.

Miss Self-Important said...

Fact: you never have to actually parallel park, at least not in tight spots. I have had a driver's license for 11 years, and I have never done it. You just have to be willing to walk a little farther, like maybe sometimes one or two miles. But it's worth it! Exercise!

Phoebe said...


So were you not even tested on it? Does this mean my mistake was not trying to learn in Illinois?

Jeff said...

IT's obvious what has to happen next.....

ROAD TRIP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Time to take a nice ~14 day drive around the old US of A. Parking should not be an issue.

I'm sure you'll be able to produce some trenchant commentary from, say, an Arkansas interstate truck plaza, or a jerky shack in the Nevada high desert.

If you need help funding it, set out one of those blog tip jars and we'll all chip in.

kei said...

Congratulations! I remember the joy of passing my own test back in the day. I wonder if passing the test later in life is more joyful than earlier, like the inversion of when adults get a childhood disease like chicken pox and the experience is worse than if they had it as a child? Sorry for the strange comparison but I'm trying to imagine the quantity and quality of your joy!

Re: parallel parking for an Illinois driving test, it was at least true in 2001 that one did not necessarily have to parallel park. I made 1 right turn, 2 left turns and parked back into the lot from which we departed. My mom was sure I had failed because we got back so quickly. But this may have been linked to having a young, lenient examiner, and also possibly to a lenient exam system. I heard the test got a little harder the following year, but the only evidence I know of was that they now ask which way to turn the wheels when parked on a hill. I still don't know the answer to that question since I avoid driving beyond the Midwest. Anyway, who cares! You have a license!

Phoebe said...



The Illinois circa 2001 test does sound pleasant. No 3-point turns, even! No curvy road!

Re: how to describe the joy, it really is this odd thrill where you know all you're accomplishing is something everyone else your age did over a decade earlier. But I am proud, considering I went into this with almost no sense of driving from the passenger's perspective, either. No idea of how roads worked until last September, when I started biking to get around. The lessons I took in NY, for many reasons, never accomplished this.

And I wasn't proud of not having a license. It's such a basic life skill, so whatever I gained in native-NYer authenticity, I lost in the inability to go to the supermarket alone, to rent a car when traveling, etc. I didn't - don't - see not having a license as a viable way to stick it to Car Culture. Yes, it would be great if society were laid out such that cars were rarely if ever necessary. But given that it's not, it seems important to be able to get around a locale that isn't MTA- or CTA-accessible.

Miss Self-Important said...

I did not parallel park in my driving test. It was a lot like Kei's. I later failed the vision test when I was renewing my license and it was renewed anyway. So I suppose I should add that being able to see is not necessary for driving either, although that was not a specific difficulty you complained about.

Phoebe said...


No, that was my one advantage - no, privilege in this process: perfect vision.

Britta said...

We didn't have to PP, but we had to back up 90 (50?) feet parallel to the curb, which was also pretty stressful as I recall. I do think that PP is something with a very steep learning curve, I went from not being able to do it to being barely adequate in a month of having to do it.

I had to get a IL driver's license, the the DMV employee testing my vision was a 50 year old guy who awkwardly tried to flirt with me, in part by needling me about believing in evolution after the Piltdown (sp) man was proven a hoax (don't ask how this came up).

Phoebe said...


I'd never heard of DMV interactions being anything but no-nonsense. But I can see how, if flirting were to happen under those lights, it would be awkward.

There was also a straight-reverse, but not right next to the curb. That would have not happened for me - my biggest problem in the car is not knowing when I'm parallel. I can stay in the lane fine going forward, after a massive amount of practice, but I suspect that I'd need the same number of months' practice to do the same going backward.

Oh, and Kei, re: parking on a hill, just before my test started, my instructor told me that by the way, I might need to park on a hill. This happens 1% of the time or something, when they cycle in an examiner from a site where that is on the test. Well, I'd never parked on a hill, nor had I ever given thought to the physics behind how one might do so, and as you know, me, with physics, not so hot. It sounds like it's simple enough, and it wasn't ultimately on my test, but I do wish I'd heard about the possibility sooner.

Anonymous said...

Having previously stuck my foot in my mouth in regards to commenting on your adventures in automobiles, I'll just say congratulations.