Someone on the Lost Ottawa page on Facebook posted a pic of her old learner’s permit / 365 in Ontario (your learner’s permit was based on a writing test and was good for one year i.e. 365 days, hence the name) and it got me thinking about my own experience of learning to drive.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have a big desire to drive. Partly because I never needed to — my brother was six years older, and if I went anywhere without my parents, it was likely with him. Plus, most of the time, we could just ride our bikes wherever we wanted to go. And there was an element that while we had two cars, my brother had first dibs ahead of me anyway, so I wouldn’t have likely been able to borrow it very often anyway. And to be honest, I couldn’t care less about cars for the look and feel. Sure, I like the look of some, particularly a few you see in the old car shows, but the real specs or the history rarely excite me. Even now, I’m not looking for a car with a big engine or sleek styling. Decent transportation, some cargo room, a bit of power to pass people on the highway, and I’m more than satisfied. So I wasn’t the typical teen clamouring for his license.
When I was about to graduate though, and dating a girl who lived a bit outside my main neighbourhood, a car started to look a lot more useful for going out to the cottage or even just getting to different movie theatres or restaurants. Get your mind out of the gutter, it was about transportation. She was taking lessons, and her brother got his license, so it just seemed natural to go ahead and get mine. May of 1987, a few weeks before my 19th birthday.
I had my 365 for a few months, and did some practice here and there. I had driven a bit before the permit too, but always out at the lake on private property. No real roads, which was fine with me as we always had big cars and the roads were dirt, bordered by large ditches. Once I had my 365, my parents let me drive on the backroads to get used to driving, initially to the store and back, and over time, I was allowed to drive further and further.
City driving was another ballgame. Everybody was busy, so I rarely got to practice. A few weeks before the test, I got my Dad to take me out a few times, which I found nerve-wracking. He wasn’t super critical or anything, I just didn’t want to screw up.
And while I was learning to drive, I was often driving a big huge Buick or a station wagon or a full-size Malibu. Big vehicles. We had Comets and Mavericks before that, and I would love to have done my test in one of those, but they were long off the scene before I was doing my test. The night before the test, it was time to try…dun dun dun…parallel parking.
So my Dad took me downtown Peterborough. For those of you who have been to Peterpatch, you know that the main part of downtown is about 8 blocks long, with two one-way arteries — George Street running south and Water Street running North. So we went to George Street and started practicing. With the street four lanes wide, I wasn’t blocking traffic while I was practicing, easy for them to go around, and guaranteed cars already parked on the street to park near. Plus there were lots of cross streets with cars parked, particularly up around Brock Street, i.e. all good locations to practice.
I was a bit nervous about this part. I knew some people who had done their test years before and failed the parallel parking aspect, and had to redo the test. I knew too that recently some people had passed their tests without even having to try parallel parking. It wasn’t clear that I would have to do it, but just in case, I needed obviously to practice. With a giant Buick. Fun times.
I wish I knew then about the technique people teach now of pulling up alongside, turning hard until you’re diagonal with the license plate, and then cutting back in. Nope, just angle as best you can.
And I got it on the first try. I even impressed my Dad.
Three more tries, and Dad was bored. So we went home. That was my training.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the test, it had been a few years since my brother had done his test, and like I said, I wasn’t really in a group of people bucking for their licenses at school, so no “common” reference point. I expected it to be a little more rigorous than my father’s test back in the war. At the time he did his test, you could drive with your confirmation to the testing centre for the actual test.
The testing centre was located in downtown Peterborough and so the guy told him to pick him up on the corner of x and y at 4:00 sharp. The guy got in, had my father drive a block and take one turn, another block for another turn, and a third block for a third turn. Basically he had him go around the block and stop next to a pub. He said, “Okay, you can drive, pick up your license tomorrow” and then he went into the pub. That was it.
Fortunately for all of us, it was a little more rigorous than that by my time.
For the test, I seem to recall borrowing my sister-in-law’s car, although I don’t really remember precisely. I just remember whatever car I used was smaller than the big ones that I had been driving. The tester had me drive down some side streets, take a few turns in a large neighbourhood, pull out onto a four-lane street with a series of stop lights, pass through a couple of busy intersections, a few more turns, and we were back at the testing centre, about 15 minutes duration. He said I took left turns a little sharp, and right turns a little wide, the same thing my Dad had said the night before, but it was all good. No parallel parking required, I just had to park it in a spot at the testing centre. All done. Passed the first time.
It’s interesting…I wasn’t very nervous learning to drive except for the size of our car. The big Buick just took up so much of the road that meeting anyone on the dirt roads scared the crap out of me, having to get over. But the part that was really interesting was a couple of people I talked to AFTER the test. They were really scared when they were learning because they have never driven ANYTHING in their life.
Huh? I had never really thought about it. I had driven bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, ATVs, quads, different types of boats, and snowmobiles. Probably a couple of other things I can’t even think of off-hand, like go-karts. So, sure, it was bigger, but moving up wasn’t that scary, except for the size of our particular car. But for people who had NEVER driven anything in their life before? Not even a bicycle in the one guy’s case? Unfathomable to me.
Anyway, that’s my story. What’s yours?