I’d never even sat behind the wheel of a car until I got to Texas. And big, wide America doesn’t take well to passengers. I don’t know how to look after a horse, so I figured I best learn to drive an actual car.
I started the traditional way: driving around and around a parking lot. I had that “turning left” thing so perfect, I was thinking of a career in NASCAR.
Then, on to the next step: the theory test. In reality, a multiple-guess exam done electronically. I’d read the manual and my memory is only semi-impaired, so I got the pass grade I needed.
Next-next step. Texas really really wants me behind the wheel of a car. The exam couldn’t have been easier and the driving test? Read on, and be afraid on Texas roads.
I booked four lessons. Four. I think they were each 1.5 hours long. And this is what we did.
Lesson 1: drove around a quiet residential area. Impressed the socks off my instructor. So, no time to waste.
Lesson 2: freeway! The freeway takes us to another residential area where I practice driving very slowly and stopping very deliberately at stop signs. I reverse into a parking space. I drive around again.
Lesson 3: freeway to residential area again. It rains. Texas rain. It’s biblical. I start to shake as I’m doing 70 on busy Texas freeways on only the third occasion I’d ever really driven a car.
My driving instructor is a stern older lady who is doing this after retiring from being a prison guard. Really. Nearly the first thing she tells me is: “Sometimes people do dangerous things and I have to shout at them. It’s nothing personal, so don’t take it personal.” Her side of the car has a brake but no wheel. I have the only wheel.
So, here on Lesson 3 she tells me to pull over. Asks why I’m so nervous today. I explain…the rain, the cars, the speed. This is only-
She tells me that tomorrow she’s booked my test. I’ll be fine.
Lesson 4: a quick drive around the suburbs again and then a pep talk from the ex-prison-guard. She gets out, the examiner gets in. I do the parallel-parking thing. Then I pull into the street. Stop at the traffic light. Turn right after the examiner reminds me that we can turn right on a red in Texas. I then do a basic left-left-left-left around a little block of houses, stopping well in front of every stop sign, turning my head to check for cars coming out of side streets, maintaining a super-safe 20 MPH at all times. Then we come back to the examination building, the examiner gets out, shakes my hand.
And then I get my permit.
Look at Texas roads. Look at the pick-up trucks, the people-carriers, the soccer mom vans, the sports cars, and the beat-up cars the kids drive to the high schools. And wonder how many of them learned to drive after 5.5 hours sitting next to an ex-prison-guard and a half- hour test. Be careful out there.