I failed my first drivers test.
I really did.
I was devastated! I begged my Dad to take me down to the DMV on my birthday so I could get my licence. Then I had to beg him not to tell anyone that I failed. Sadly, it was a full six agonizing weeks when I finally earned my ticket to freedom.
In fairness, I took my test late afternoon, when the sun was setting, and I could not see the red light on the fake drivers test course. I ran it. Apparently that'll fail you. Running a red light.
When I got my licence my Dad bequeathed to me his beloved old Toyota work truck. She was a sturdy gal. Back in those days cars ran until they literally fell apart. You just fed them some gas and oil, and they ran. And ran. Aaaaand raaaaan.
She had over 500,000 miles of experience on her. She wasn't much to look at. Her once blue exterior was savagely ravaged by cancerous rust.
The interior was just as rough. Her dashboard was cracked from hot summer sun magnified by the windshield. The seats were covered with a scratchy woven fabric that sent particles of dust floating whenever you sat on them. She smelled exactly how you would expect the truck of a hard-working construction man to smell. Sweat and sawdust, and the lingering aroma of talk radio.
Nevertheless, I was thrilled to own her. She was christened "Gwen." (It's a long story)
The first Saturday I owned her, I spruced her up good. I washed her, and even hosed out the interior. The rusted out floorboards were great for drainage. I polished the dashboard and gauges with Armor All. I attached all the key-rings I had been collecting for this rite of passage. I even added a Little Tree Vanillaroma air freshener to the rear view mirror.
I went into the house, drunk with freedom! And nonchalantly I announced: "Hey, I am going to THE MALL (in the BIG CITY!) anyone want to go?"
Finally, my younger sister fed into my ego, and said she would go. We donned our best duds, and headed off for the big city.
I guess this is the part where I tell you that Gwen was a stick shift. I had only driven a stick shift a couple of times. But I did real good! And really, you kill it a time or two...and it's all good, right? Everyone struggles with first gear. It's just hard.
I merged onto the freeway.
I did great. I checked my blind spots. I signaled clearly when I changed lanes. I kept the mandatory two car distance between myself and the other traffic. Gwen had a tendency to shake when she reached her top speed of 50. She shook a lot. Enough that eventually she shook the keys right out of the ignition. They almost went through the floorboards, had it not been for my plethora of key-rings, I am not sure how that would have ended up.
Everything was going great. Until I hit my exit. I merged off the freeway just as...
...the light turned red. I stopped, and my heart started pounding. This particular exit is on a HILL! And the realization hit me that not only would I have to do the whole first gear thing, but I would also have to NOT ROLL BACKWARDS.
A car pulled in behind me. Then another, and another, until there were a whole string of cars. Waiting for me to do first gear. And not hit them.
My palms were sweaty, and I was literally sick.
The light changed. I gave Gwen some gas. I eased off the brakes, more gas....too much gas....and killed it. "Okay, I can do this.." I try again. I kill it. Try again, kill...oh please...
By this time, the cars behind me are passing me, I am sure they were honking, I was so upset I can't remember. I just remember thinking that I would never get off of that hill. My sister was down on the floorboards. I figured she was just mortified, and trying to hide.
"GET UP! HELP ME!!"I was desperate.
"I AM!" she said, "I am praying!" She was desperate.
Finally, I got it.
I crested the hill, and coasted down to the next traffic light. It was just turning red. I ran it. It was survival.
We made it to the mall. We made it home.
It was a long time before I drove old Gwen again.
Eventually she took me through high school.
Eventually I had to share her with my younger sister.
Eventually, she went through more oil than gas, and started to die a slow death.
I drove her to my first real job interview, and my first job, and clear up until eventually, in 1991, I bought my first brand new car.