By on November 3, 2013

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Editor’s note: Last year we ran a post from Tova Schreiber on what it was like to learn how to drive at 24. Now she’s back to tell us about having her driver’s license and driving.

I’m sitting at my desk, waiting for students to arrive and thinking about cars. Waking up at 6:00 on a Sunday morning is rarely fun, but I truly love what I do for a living. My fingers are stained from last night’s dye job, and they clutch a tall Styrofoam cup of hot chocolate. Together with a calorie-laden croissant, it’s a breakfast of champions that fuels my discussions as a teacher.

I filled the tank in my brother’s old Focus wagon a few weeks ago, spending what was small fortune to me to repay a favor of his. That car isn’t in great shape, but I borrow it whenever circumstances allow. It takes me to meetings, on errands, and through excursions with my darling nephew. It’s a rare moment that doesn’t see me begging to get behind the wheel, even if I’m only going to be driving for ten minutes.

Last year, I was a scared kitten. It was a few hours before Rosh HaShana and I had to merge onto the interstate for the first time. The driving instructor, a comedic sort, told me I should pray for a sweet new year. I just wanted to survive the freeway.

Things got easier. With time, my hands no longer shook or sweat when they gripped the steering wheel. My then-boyfriend’s ex-police cruiser, with its fearful acceleration, died a few days after I got my driving permit, so he bought a cute, easy-to-handle Hyundai and that’s what I learned to drive on.

There were many frightening moments in the past year. One evening, I was taking some friends to the pub when I suddenly heard, “Tova, change lanes! The lane is ending! No! We’re going to die!”

I did what I was told in the nick of time. We didn’t die.

This summer, a cute guy sat behind me in my Statistics & Econometrics course. I would lend him my notes, which everyone else wanted but couldn’t have, and tell him about my driving adventures. When I said I would soon be taking my road test, he was sure that it would be a second license for me at 24. His look of shock at my explanation (“Nope, I’m a new driver!”) was beyond price.

It’s all been an interesting journey for me. The day I passed my driving test is the day my relationship with my now-ex combusted. He still lets me drive his Hyundai, though, when we go out to dinner.

I’d like to get a motorcycle endorsement eventually and buy a small Honda bike. My parents don’t like that idea, although I rather enjoy the imagery of arriving at my weekday preschool classroom in leather chaps and a tough jacket. More than one person has told me to restore my dad’s ’66 Elan in the garage (pictured above); I fear it has been rendered irredeemable by feral cats. I’m still in love with Chevelles, talking K-cars, and vehicles with interesting cosmetic details like sequential tail lights and gull wing doors. Then there’s my friend’s old Firebird, which needs a few grand to run and many more to be worthy of the Woodward Dream Cruise. (In happier times, we’d goad Corvette drivers, almost all of whom were men with midlife crises, into racing against us. They were left in the dust every time.) As it stands, though, I am carless and moping about it. Moping about not having a car and craving those moments when I can control a huge machine! What a difference a year or two can make.

This summer was filled with milestones. I turned 25, graduated from college with an degree in economics (Detroit editor‘s note: magna cum laude), and began a modest teaching career.

…None of these things has given me the type of thrill and enjoyment that driving has. None of them. I finally came to understood the gravity of it on a warm evening a few weeks ago. I was driving home from a meeting with my boss. It was dark, and the streetlights shone down on the rings on my fingers, making them sparkle. I tapped the steering wheel, cruising along as Billy Idol crooned over the radio waves.

What set you free? I need you here by me! In the midnight hour, she cried, “More! More!
More!”

Flooring it, I merged onto the interstate and blended into the colorful stream of cars. The music surrounded me, claiming me as my own voice added itself to the din. I had power and speed and independence. I had myself, and I was driving. In the mad, rushing tons of steel death traps, I felt quite alive.

Getting over fear is a beautiful thing.

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14 Comments on “Ur Turn: Getting My First Driver’s License At 25...”


  • avatar
    Ambulatory Freak

    My sister is in a similar situation, she just got her license 2 months ago, at age 22. However, she is quite obviously a pretty poor driver still. She got a hand me down Ford Taurus she crashed into the side of a tunnel 5 weeks after she received it. That car had lived a long, hard life but it probably had a couple more years to give her. She has already scrapped the side mirror off my Dad’s van she is driving to her last student teaching assignment before graduation this December.

    It sounds like you’ve become a better driver quickly, do you have any advice to offer her? The tough love approach is going to kick in if she severely damages the van she’s borrowed, but we’d like to avoid sending a second car to the crusher if possible.

    • 0 avatar
      Tova

      My advice (since you asked):

      1. Be confident. Know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there without relying on GPS applications. Have faith in your skills, and don’t doubt yourself unless you have a real reason to. Too much timidity can get you (or others) killed.
      2. Understand that freeways are designed for speedy travel. Learn to embrace high speeds when appropriate. Drive on the freeway often (during low-traffic hours, at first) to kill any fear of it.
      3. Don’t get *too* distracted from driving. Check your rear-view mirror, speedometer, and other specs frequently to avoid surprises. DO NOT TEXT. If you can avoid it, also avoid taking or placing phone calls. Obey the law as much as is possible.
      4. Make driving enjoyable for yourself, while also avoiding too much distraction. If you’re nervous, play your favorite music (quietly). You can drive with a friend who is fun but who will also help you pay attention to the road.

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    I got my license the day I turned 16, drove a few miles, and did a big smoky burnout. I’d already had six cars to my name by the time I was 25. Half of them I still have…..

    I guess this is becoming more of a thing now with the economy about scuttled and no real recovery….. anywhere in sght. Cars aren’t cheap, but getting your license still is. Seems like something you should get ASAP, rather you can afford a car or not. My next milestone is getting my CDL, which would be helpful, although not necessary. However you’re under a lot different rules and tougher regulations than with a regular license, so I’ve been putting it off. Maybe this winter.

  • avatar
    claytori

    If you already know enough to floor it in the acceleration lane to merge onto the freeway, you are ahead of 2/3 of the drivers on the road. It is actually much easier to learn to drive as a teenager… when you are young and stupid and have little fear. As an adult, you loose these qualities and it slows your learning. I remember my dad teaching my mother how to drive when I was a child. My sister and I in the back seat thought we were destined to be orphans.

  • avatar
    GST

    Wonderful story!

    It comes while I debate whether or not to offer to teach my teriffic daughter in law how to drive a stick shift. Her husband, my great son has a nice A-4 manual. She is biking and riding the bus.

    Maybe a good idea.

  • avatar
    th009

    I do approve of the choice of Billy Idol as driving music!

    Good writing, as GST said, I look forward to more of the same.

  • avatar
    Onus

    I still remember my first time on the highway. I got my license when i was 18, I’m 21 now.

    Driving my mom’s zj grand cherokee with lose steering was not fun. Still isn’t. I much prefer my f250.

    I hate people who can’t get up to speed before they get to the highway. My truck takes likek 12+ seconds to get to 60 and these idiots only go 40 onto the highway where everyone is going 70+. It’s quite annoying.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Amen!! I remember a line from my driver’s ed textbook from high school! (How quaint!) “Once you’re in the acceleration lane–accelerate!!!”

      As often as not in Northwest Ohio, I have my four-way (hazard) flashers on while entering the freeway, usually at 45 or 50mph, with a 65mph speed limit and traffic moving 70mph or higher. (Had an incident back in the 1990s where I was behind two lanes of traffic doing 50mph merging into 65+ traffic, and to my horror, I saw an 18-wheeler whose driver hadn’t been paying attention, and had all 18 locked, complete with a trailer that was just starting to sway a little! (No mandatory ABS or VSA on semis back then.) So any time I’m forced because of the idiots in front of me to drive below the speed limit, my hazards are activated.)

      In sum, you aren’t going to waste that much gas getting up to speed! IIRC from driver’s ed., you should be matching the speed of traffic on the freeway into which you are merging!!

      If we have problems teaching people THAT concept, it’s no wonder that people can’t heed “drive right, pass left!”

  • avatar
    AJ

    It just sounds like you’re having an early midlife crises of your own. Missing what you wish you had done earlier are you? But don’t worry as it may not last. IMHO, women generally look at a car as either how good will it make them look, or that it simply gets them from point A to point B “when I floor it.” There is nothing wrong with that, it just goes to show that there are more differences between boys and girls then what your professors told you. Now restore your dad’s car and then come back and tell us about it. I’m bored.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    My previous roommate did not get her license until she was in her early 30’s. No particular reason, just never happened. Which is REALLY unusual in Maine, where getting anywhere by public transportation is problematic at best. She actually did get her learner’s permit a couple times over the years, just never got around to taking the test.

  • avatar
    old fart

    Great that you’re driving , it opens a whole new world and independence. Also nice to see someone use the Chevelle name instead of automatically calling it a Malibu like too many of today’s writers do.


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