I hit a turning point in my life when I got my driver's license. I turned left, I turned right, I even did a few donuts. har har. But really, learning to drive and gaining the independence that went with it, changed a lot of things for 16 year old Alison, not all of them for the better (you can't get lost driving around a city at night if you can't even drive to the city in the first place, and being late for curfew is a lot harder when your parents have to pick you up). However, it wasn't easy to get said license. There were the usual hoops to jump through, permit classes, written test, driving lessons. But then there was the driving test. Or should I says tests.
The first time I took the driving test I was a bundle of nerves. I took the test in my mom's Saab. It was still really new and was the fanciest car we'd ever owned. I loved driving that car. It was smooth, it had heated leather seats, a sun roof, and even a CD player. Woah. It also had a funny little quirk: you couldn't turn off the headlights when the car was on (we even looked it up in the car manual, you'd need to remove the fuse). But why should that matter? As it turns out, one of the first things on the test instructor's evil little checklist, after buckling your seatbelt and adjusting your mirrors, was "know how to turn headlights on and off". I couldn't. The test instructor, a grouchy gray-haired man, was not kind about this. One point off. And I hadn't even put the car into gear yet.
It all went downhill from there. It was bad. I stopped when there weren't even stop signs. Before the test was even complete I had lost enough points that he told me to just drive back to the test site. I'm pretty sure I cried. A lot. But in hindsight, I'm glad I failed that first time, somebody driving with that little confidence should not have a license. Then I took it again and passed and went on to live my life.
The second time I took the test, I did so at the same testing location, but this time I got a very nice woman as my testing instructor. I immediately explained about the headlights and she understood and didn't dock me any points. Then we went out into the street. I should mention, this wasn't a closed course. This facility tested you on real live roads with real live traffic and, in this case, real live construction detours. It was a little overwhelming, but I was feeling much more confident than last time. The instructor told me to take a right. I started to turn left (what 16 year old know their left from their right away?), at which point she yelled "NO! THE OTHER WAY!" Ok, I might be exaggerating, but however she said it the result was that I swerved to comply, cut somebody off (pretty closely), and immediately knew I had flunked the test. Again.
Failing twice is really, really embarrassing for a teenager. The prospect of failing for a third time scared the crap out of me. So for my third test I chose a different testing location, this time one with a closed course, hoping that would help break the pattern. It did (or maybe I was actually a better driver by then, who can say) and finally, I passed. It was November, 1999. 8 months after my 16th birthday. And I was never the same since. I love driving. And don't worry, I've gotten better at it in the last 14 years. I even know how to turn off my headlights.