DMV — Being a teenager, the one milestone that somehow seems more important to me than the bat mitzvah or even high school graduation is the attainment of a driver’s license. It’s a symbol of independence. However, it’s also a complete hassle to obtain.
A year ago, in the summer of 2011, I began the process to join the ranks of the other 69,963 16-year-old drivers in California.
There were many steps I had to take to achieve that lofty goal. With the recent drastic increases in teen driving regulations, it’s no wonder that the number of 16-year-old drivers has decreased by nearly 10,000 over the past 5 years, according to Department of Motor Vehicles statistics. Today is no longer the day when a 16-year-old can go into the DMV, get their license in their hand 15 minutes later, and drive off into the night with their friends. That would give those irresponsible, speeding 16-year-olds much too much freedom.
And yet I decided to go through with it. I signed up for online driving school in June of last year after I turned 15 and a half, which is the minimum age one must be to attain a learner’s permit. I began learning the rules of the road, one slide on www.driversed.com at a time. Most of the information wasn’t exactly surprising: red means stop, green means go. Simple enough.
I finished online driving school after only two weeks, but once summer got into full swing and then the school year began, I realized that I had put off taking my actual permit test for too long. I finally got my permit on Jan. 3, and only made three errors out of the allowed eight I could get and still pass it.
The actual test was easy enough. Now the real driving began.
Since I had never gotten in the ever-so-daunting driver’s seat before, I required special attention. My mother being too neurotic to get through my inexperienced driving without having a nervous breakdown, and my father being too much of a choleric to not explode at the sight of my awful technique, my uncle agreed to teach me. He was a driver for the Israeli army for many years; how difficult could teaching a 16-year-old girl to drive be, anyway?
After spending a half-hour driving around aimlessly trying to find an empty lot, we finally found one at the Broad Stage on Arizona Avenue and he began to teach me.
“The one on the left is the brake, the one on the right is the gas,” he said, snickering at the idea that someone could possibly not know that.
It turned out that going 10 mph in an almost empty parking lot was enough to make my heart race. I slowly learned how to make left turns, then right turns, then even — to my horror — U-turns. My uncle used cones to make lanes for me, and I made lane changes.
Finally we made it out to the actual streets. And when faced with an oncoming car on a very narrow street, my uncle, the Israeli army driver, screamed like a little girl. So much for my previously held image of learning how to drive: a sunny, smiling 1950’s couple in a red convertible, complete with a poodle skirt and swift, easy turns on empty roads.
As horrendous as I was in the beginning, I slowly but surely progressed. Soon my uncle didn’t have to grab onto the door handle and yelp out prayers in Hebrew (which, as I discovered later, were in fact curse words uttered in Arabic) every time I turned right, seemingly headed straight for a parked car. And I drove and drove, eventually even with my parents. I racked up the 50 hours of driving practice I needed my parents to sign off on before I could take my license test.
I took my three required two-hour driving lessons with Westwood Driving School as well, and after six agonizing months of pining for a driver’s license to call my own, July 3 — the very first day I was eligible to get my license — came along.
It is well known among my Palisades Charter High School peers that passing your behind-the-wheel test at the Santa Monica DMV is a far-fetched, futile dream. Almost everyone I know, even Santa Monica locals, take their driving tests in far and distant lands, like Culver City or Winnetka, a DMV notorious for passing just about anyone.
I made my appointment for July 3, at the highly recommended Culver City DMV, and asked my parents repeatedly if they had paid the registration and taken care of the insurance.
On the morning of July 3, my mother informed me that my father had not paid the registration after all. I was furious, but still hopeful — they paid it that very morning and we took the confirmation page with us to the DMV, with high hopes.
After waiting in the office for half an hour, the ever-feared DMV employee behind the desk informed us that our lowly confirmation page was useless. We had to wait for the stickers to come in the mail before I could take my test.
And so we left the office, went home and rescheduled for the next Thursday, July 12, hoping that the stickers would come by then.
On July 12, I sat in the living room watching “Mad Men” and glancing at the mail slot every 30 seconds, hoping that I would see a stream of envelopes coming in, and among them two very special ones from the DMV, containing the sticker to my happiness.
The mail is usually delivered by noon, and my appointment was at 2:30 p.m., so I was cutting it close. By 1:30 p.m. I became so frantic, I might as well have been Woody Allen anxiously stammering away to Diane Keaton. Finally, at 1:50 p.m., the mail arrived, along with my stickers.
My mother and I drove to the DMV, and an hour and a half after my appointment time, my driving test finally commenced. I still cannot fathom why we had to make a 2:30 p.m. appointment only to be actually tested at 4 p.m., but I suppose that the inner workings of the DMV will forever remain a mystery to all.
I got my license that day. And with it, the fulfillment of my adolescent dreams. Now I will not have to endure my mother yelling into my ear at every single corner on Pearl Street that “there is a stop sign there!” when I drive.
But now the wait to actually have a car to call my own begins.