By on May 1, 2012

1990 Chevrolet Caprice Classic Wagon

I learned to drive in a Chevy Caprice wagon similar to the one above back in my high school driver’s ed class (circa 1995). It was brown with red interior (don’t hold me to the interior colouring, though), had an instructor’s brake, and its twin was white. Every morning I drove, I would walk from my home about a mile to my old elementary school, waiting for my instructor to pull out of the nearby school district vehicle pool with the Caprice, allowing me to take the wheel to my high school’s parking lot for extra practice.

While I did well in the textbook portion of the course, I received Cs and Ds, managing a B- on the final day of driving. The instructor was worried about my limited skills behind the wheel, and rightfully so; Mom didn’t even own a car, and to this day has yet to obtain her license.

I did get my license, and held onto it until shortly after moving to Washington State, whereupon I foolishly gave up my license.

Why? I still didn’t have a car — never had the means to purchase or maintain one — so it made sense to let that go. At least I lived in an area with decent mass transit, so I had that. That said, it was very stupid to give that privilege up.

I’ve been back in Louisville for over four-and-a-half years, returning home after a 29-year-long absence. My city’s transit is as decent as the one back in Tacoma, but that really depends on where you live in the city/county mashup. I also have family in Virginia, Florida and Kansas, necessitating that I fly, then be picked up.

That last part bothers me, especially if no one really wants to do anything. What if I want to explore Christiansburg (Virginia)? What if I want to see how much my old hometown (Augusta, Kansas) has changed? The latter doesn’t even have bus service from nearby Wichita; don’t even get me started on how horrible Wichita’s mass transit is.

So, that leaves me with only one option: Get my license back.

Last summer, I re-took the first step, renewing my permit I obtained three years’ earlier.

I honestly thought I would literally have to take the written test again, which involved going to a touchscreen terminal, and answering the questions correctly. Get enough right, and I would have a new permit.

Nope. All that studying of my old manual — the commonwealth’s budget is so shot that no new ones have been printed in quite some time — was all for naught. All I needed was to show up at the office at Bowman Field, pay my $12 USD, have my photo taken, and that’s it!

So, where am I now? Hoping I’ll find enough money for lessons soon. Having my last employer close their doors via Chapter 7 last summer didn’t exactly help matters. Maybe opening my high-end luxury clothing boutique in a former service station would help? Anyway, that’s where I’m at.

Who knows, though. I may end up on a scooter the way fuel prices are heading; everyone has suggested I obtain one. A motorcycle would be cooler, but that requires a driver’s license, then a motorcycle license. C’est la vie.

Photo credit: Greg Gjerdingen/Flickr/CC BY 2.0 and Cameron Aubernon

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44 Comments on “Driving Mlle Miquelon – Part 1: In The Beginning...”

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Hmmmmmmmmmm in NM a scooter over 49cc requires a motorcycle license period. But of course that is the beauty of our federal system, every state has slight variations on the rules.

    What do driving classes cost anyway? I was lucky enough to be in a public school sponsored program.

    Oh and I envy you getting to drive a B-body GM wagon for drivers ed, I was stuck with a sad little Chevy Corsica and a 300lb Athletic Director as my instructor.

    • 0 avatar

      My instructor was involved in the athletics department as well as teaching history or math (not sure which; it’s been a while), but thankfully did not weigh 300 pounds.

      As for the B-body, I definitely was lucky; the intended tool would’ve been a Chevy Astro van, but the signs made for the roof were not the right size. Thus, one last ride with the two Caprice wagons that summer.

      In Kentucky, like New Mexico and possibly quite a few other states, anything over 49cc on two wheels requires a motorcycle license, so we have that.

      As for classes, it depends. I’ve seen anywhere from $150 for 2 hours of driving to a $320 package that includes classroom work, 4 hours of driving, and the use of the car for the test.

    • 0 avatar

      Generally when people say “scooter” they mean something sub-50cc that doesn’t require a motorcycle license and not something like a T-Max or Silverwing.

      Most states will allow you to get a motorcycle license without a drivers’ license but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      Anyway, the situation is interesting — if parents usually do the majority of the driving instruction, and one’s parents don’t drive, that’s a significant barrier to getting a license.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        Ahem, Suzuki classifies a 600cc Burgman as a scooter, many motorcyclists think that anything with a CVT is a scooter, although some manufactures are starting to blur those lines. I mean a 250cc CFMoto styled like a motorcycle is still a scooter to me with its CVT trans, just much cooler looking. I don’t expect anybody to see me on my 150cc Roketa and say, Ohhhhhhhh look a motorcycle!

      • 0 avatar

        Semi-contra Dan, I think <50cc means "moped" (certainly, at least, the law around here, which has the same 49cc no-license cutoff, doesn't define those as "scooters").

        And "scooter" means "like a motorcycle, except usually underpowered, but most importantly ridden with your feet flat on inactive rests" (as opposed to on pegs, with a foot shifter).

    • 0 avatar

      I too drove a Chevy wagon for driver’s ed, circa 1980. The reason why I got “ssddled” with the wagon and not a Malibu was that the instructor asked if anyone had any driving experience, and I was the only student to raise his hand…..

    • 0 avatar

      I remember the car used for driver’s ed in high school – it had dual controls, just like an airplane. I never took driver’s ed. I was “taught” by watching my parents drive as a child and sitting at our upright piano at home and “driving” with the three piano pedals. It was always cool at 11 and 12 to shift gears and floor the gas on our piano. Then at 13, my uncle let me drive his Vega three speed stick around. I also got to drive my moms ’76 Olds Vista Cruiser around our church parking lot and other places where a license wouldn’t have been necessary.

      The day I turned 15, I got my learner’s permit. I turned 16 when I was in England. The day after I got home, I was driving around orange cones in the mall parking lot outside of the DMV with a large lady in the front, smacking her gum and fixing her hair. I’ve had a license ever since April 1982, 30 years ago.

      I think the longest I ever went without driving was the entire time I was in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in the Gulf War. The day I got home, my girlfriend met me at Camp Lejeune and I took the wheel after not driving for 8 months. It felt strange at first.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    How does one “give up” their license? Mine is in my pocket. Been there a while. In Texas, I just went to the DMV and did the written test. Then you scheduled a driving test and were done. I was over 18 at the time, so I don’t know if that had anything to do with it. Didn’t require formal lessons or instruction.

    I’ve only been in Washington a few months but haven’t really noticed mass transit in Tacoma. Though, being a southerner, I don’t really notice such things. Cool town though.

    • 0 avatar

      She let it expire and didn’t bother renewing. That’s the only way I know.

      At least in Ohio, I know of no way of “giving up a license” except letting it expire. Being a licensed driver is a status that is irreversible except by a court.

      I found this out because, when I was 16, I was in an odd situation–Divorced parents–my father made me get my license which I didn’t want, and my mother nor father wanted to pay for the insurance–and neither did I, I didn’t want the damn license in the first place. I looked into giving up the license and that’s when I found out there was no way of doing that. (My mother ended up paying for the insurance in the end.)

      • 0 avatar

        If only it were the case.

        Here’s where the “I’m an idiot” part comes in: When I read the Washington State manual — and according to my then-roommates — I had to have insurance when I exchanged my Kansas DL for a Washington DL. I may have read that wrong — the wording seemed confusing to me then — but either way, when I made the exchange, I voluntarily gave up the license for an ID.

        And that’s why I was a moron, and that’s why I’m here now.

      • 0 avatar

        I think the more interesting question is how you landed a gig at an automotive website when you don’t actually drive cars.

      • 0 avatar

        The editors were looking for a different point of view when it comes to cars, and I offered my lens to them. It may not be the lens for everyone, but it’s one more option, as it were.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to be rude or question why you are here.

        I meant, literally, how did this happen? Times and dates. Did you just out of the blue pitch the idea?

      • 0 avatar

        I asked Monsieur Baruth over Facebook a few months back if TTAC could use my skills gained as a fashion blogger (the aforementioned “lens”) for anything; this was before I realized I was a better cheerleader than a potential editor-in-chief, opting to open my own luxury fashion boutique instead of a non-profit photojournalism magazine.

        Anyway, we met up in person before the NYIAS, I decided to go for it, and posted my first article two weeks ago; I interpreted some of the latest and greatest from NYIAS through my Polyvore account.

        And that’s how it happened.

        PS – No worries. No offense taken.

      • 0 avatar

        @Cameron Miquelon

        Ahh. So Mr. Baruth is involved in this. You do realize that you’re one of his imaginary girlfriends right?

        It all makes sense now.

        Drama or Vodka?

      • 0 avatar
        Jack Baruth

        Strictly speaking, Ms. Miquelon can’t be an imaginary girlfriend: she’s a real person.

        Vodka, Drama, Curvy, the Wicked Witch of the West Coast, et al only exist in my fevered imagination, of course.

  • avatar

    Getting around on a scooter for a few months isn’t too big of a hassle, especially with the warmer months upon us now. Find an early ’80s 49 cc Honda 2 stroke scooter for a few hundred bucks, install a new spark plug and you’re pretty much set.

    The cool thing about Honda 2 strokes, is that you don’t have to mix the oil and fuel as they are in separate tanks. Most decent motorcycle shops can get most major components you’d need to keep it running.

    I rode mine for years, but I’m on borrowed time with head injuries and concussions so I’m a cager for life now.

  • avatar

    Anybody know what year that woody/mactac is. I know it not Oshawa built,maybe Alington? I’m guessing an 88.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      When did sealed beam headlights become part of the design? That would be a huge clue. I thought that Willow Run (Ypsilanti,MI) built B-bodies till just about the end of RWD production.

      @86r, OK so 87, 88, 89, or 90 because 91 was the debut of the new body style. (FWIW I really desire an 89 or 90 model for the fuel injection the SBC finally got. I still love the boxes more than the whales that followed.)

    • 0 avatar

      It is indeed a 1988 model.

      The composite headlamps debuted for 1987, in 1988 a brushed aluminum trim piece covered the C-pillar. In 1989 rear-seat shoulder belts were installed and were easy to spot. And in 1990, the dreaded door mounted front seat belts were installed.

      Leave it to me to know such useless trivia…

  • avatar
    George B

    Mlle, my former girlfriend (from Louisville) has a similar problem. She let her license lapse after a traumatic accident and now is caught in a Texas catch 22. She need to show proof of insurance to get her license so she needs to get a car to get the insurance. End result is the financial threshold for legal solo driving is high.

    I learned to drive at 15 in a high school class. That was late for Kansas where most used to get a restricted license at 14 and farm kids were expected to start driving at about 12. Every family seemed to have at least one beater back when insurance and registration were cheap. The informal rural teaching method was for the kid to learn to control a car on deserted gravel roads, learn to drive in sparse traffic on rural asphalt roads, and then get the school training for the license.

    • 0 avatar

      “[..] Texas catch 22. She need to show proof of insurance to get her license so she needs to get a car to get the insurance.”

      What is it about some states that makes them create third-world administrative rules?

      What does having a license to do with owning a car? If Mademoiselle Miquelon would like to buy a Texas-preserved Caprice wagon for old time’s sake so her friends can chauffeur her around, who says she needs a driver license of her own? Why would she? Have her sort it out with her insurance company.

      If she wants to prove to the state that she posesses the minimum skill level needed for driving, why does she need to own a car?

      Just because something makes sense for 9 out of 10 of us doesn’t mean it has to be made the rule.

      I ran into that with an old friend and roommate who was handicapped and needed hand-controls. This was in my adopted state of Michigan, home of the “right to drive.” Of course, being the car nut he is, he needed a not-quite street-legal 83 Firebird with some, um, modifications. So it took him forever to get the car to a state where he could pass the driving test — because the first thing they do on that is test THE CAR, as if that had anything to do with it.

      Of course, it all worked out because before he got his license he caused an accident and totaled the ‘bird… since he only had a German (or int’l, I forget) license, the points never showed up on his record. Again with the third-world treatment…

      He came to his senses, more or less, got an ’84 TransAm that was more or less legal and finally got his license.

      There wasn’t much of this that wasn’t Clown College.

      • 0 avatar

        Erm, as much as I would like to buy a Texas-preserved Caprice wagon, I think George was talking about his girlfriend who is also from my city re: her licensing issues.

        Luckily on my end, all I need is my father’s Explorer SportTrac for the trip back to Bowman Field for the driving test, as Kentucky isn’t as “archaic” as Texas seem to be. On the one hand, it would be cool to have my dad help me out. On the other, though, it would also be cool to go through a professional driving school. We shall see.

      • 0 avatar

        “Luckily on my end, all I need [..]”

        You are missing my point, which was generic rather than specific to your situation or one state.

        The point being that the rules about driving are arbitrary, acrane, and don’t hang together. Hence my “thirld-world” comment.

        The license to drive, the ownership of a car, and the requirement to register and insure a car are largely independent.

        And yet, in order to preserve your license status, you had to, or thought you had to, procure a car and/or insurance.

        In order to pass a driving test, the car you bring to the licensing office has to pass an inspection — as if a blown headlight had any bearing on ten minutes of driving in broad daylight.

        When you buy a car, you need to register it immediately, whether you actually drive it or not. I ran afoul of that once when I bought a car and stored it in the garage over the winter months. Had I not left the “date” field of the title blank, I would have had to pay several hundred dollars worth of a “driving uninsured” administrative fee.

        At the same time, here in MI at least, a full 1/3 of all cars are driven without insurance. Michigan requires drivers to keep their address current with the Sec. of State, but somehow we can’t figure out whose insurance has lapsed and take their license plates off.

        It’s like we had to make up all the rules in ten minutes… back in 1950.

      • 0 avatar

        It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? My state requires you to prove insurance coverage when you register the car, not when you try and get your license, which seems to make a lot more sense.

        (Then they screw you with a stiff “gotcha” fine if you cancel the policy before returning the license plates to the DMV, even if you sold the car before canceling and just couldn’t get to the DMV for a week, but I digress…)

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      I read through the Texas licensing requirements and it may be possible to get the license without the insurance, but I remember having to present proof of insurance at the time of license renewal. The car used for a driving test needs registration, valid inspection, and insurance but it may be possible to have that in the name of someone else.

      As a practical matter, a Texas driver’s license is the ID one uses to buy alcohol, get into nightclubs, get on an airplane, and write checks. Don’t exceed the speed limit by more than 10 mph, stop when required at intersections, and stay within your lane and it’s possible to avoid interaction with the police.

      • 0 avatar

        It is very problematic renewing a Texas driver’s license without proof of insurance. Trust me, you do not want to get sent to the back of the renewal line.

        DPS does issue non-driver Texas I.D. cards, which will be the minimum I.D. needed to vote in this state, in addition to getting into nightclubs, get on an airplane, cash checks, etc.

  • avatar

    The first week after I got my learner’s permit I towed a 24 foot trailer. This is because my parents are insane. I also don’t know if this was even legal.

  • avatar

    I had the pleasure of learning to drive in a then new ’81 Buick Century sedan. Those were decent enough cars to learn on back in the day.

    In the summer of ’82, I learned how to drive a 3spd manual while visiting relatives on my Dad’s side in N. Georgia. They at the time owned a campground and my cousin Ron then, and may still have a ’76 Jeep CJ-5.

    It was a rust brown color and had the tan vinyl interior, inline 6 and the 3 on the floor. The synchro for 1st gear was going so it would pop out of gear if you tried to engine brake.

    Since he’d removed the release lever for the foot actuated parking brake, I had to learn to literally start up the jeep on an uphill incline without its use.

    Fun times and yes, I got decent with it by the end of the summer, and it had a small utility trailer hitched to it as we used it to do the garbage run, once or twice a week and down to a pit near his parent’s simple white house where we’d dump it and then burn it.

    Remember, this WAS country livin’ at its finest back then. :-)

    Good luck with getting your license.

  • avatar

    I took my drivers test in an ’83 Ford Country Squire. White w/ fake wood grain sides.

    It was a small test track. I made the three point turn in five. It took four tries to parallel park. Ran over a cone. The car stalled. I missed a stop sign. Turning signal was broke. Power steering pump whining the whole time…The officer passed me.

  • avatar

    I learned to drive in a beautiful 1967 Olds convertible supplied by a local car dealer to my high school. The driving instructor was a riot, a good time was had by all.

  • avatar
    Dave W

    I learned to drive in a ’68 SAAB 96. The first time I reached a stop sign in the (Nova? Monza?) drivers ed car I commented to the instructor how different it was to have power brakes as he peeled himself off the dashboard.

    2 years later,Same instructor now in a Caprice sedan. My sister, who learned to drive in a ’77 Subaru GF that you had to floor to keep from dying when engaging first, laid down lots of rubber at the same sign. Wonder what he thought about our bi-polar driving.

    He also thought that she didn’t have a very good idea where the corners of the car were. “Of course not” she replied, “I could park the car I’ve been driving in the trunk.”

  • avatar

    Remember that the wagons, except the Pontiac, had the 140 HP 307 Olds engine through the carb era. I have an 87 sedan that was my parents and recently sold my 95 SS. Stay away from bubbles. Boxes are easier and cheaper to work on and rust less (on sample size of 1). A Chevy with a V8 and open diff also gets you a 200-4R transmission versus a 700R4 for the limited slip cars. Stay away from V6 cars. I think all Buick and Olds B cars got the 307.

    There was a used car dealer in Detroit that had a ton of these for sale at some point. Now that all of the G cars are rusted or modified, the B cars have taken over.

  • avatar
    Ex Radio Operator

    I learned to operate an automobile in a ’37 or ’38 Dodge that was the family’s 2nd car. The main car was a ’46 DeSoto. We were poor and the cars were cheap. Not junk, just cheap. Both were solid old runners. Anyway, sometimes when everyone else was off visiting, I would beg off and stay home alone. I knew how to work everything by watching Dad, Mom never learned how to drive. Dad never took the keys out of the cars so I would get in the Dodge start it up and get out on the street. I would drive around the block slowly while learning how to steer and shift. Of course we lived out in the country and a trip around the block was about a mile or so. I am surprised none of the neighbors ever ratted me out, now that I think about it. I was sneaky enough not to use too much gas so I never gave myself away. The car I got my license in was a year old ’57 Plymouth stripper Dad had gotten for less than $500 because it had a blown engine. We changed out the engine with a good junkyard engine and that car went for more than 200,000 miles. IIRC it was on its 3rd or 4th engine when the old girl finally went to the crusher only because my brother wrecked it and the cost to fix it was more than it was worth.

  • avatar

    Not to be disrespectful, but why is someone who has no driver’s license or car writing for a car blog? I may as well write for a knitting blog myself since I’ve watched my wife do it a few times and I have no real interest in it either.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      TTAC is always looking for different viewpoints.

      The alternative would be to do a “Challenge Of Fear” where all new writers would have to match my lap time around Mid-Ohio and then recite “The Waste Land” from memory while correctly pronouncing all non-English portions and correctly footnoting the parts about sledding.

    • 0 avatar

      Cameron said at the outset of her writing here at TTAC that she likes cars. That said, I think it’s perfectly relevant for a car blog to discuss the process by which an adult driver gets their driver’s license. Most of us haven’t thought of it since we took driver’s ed (which I failed the first time because the alcoholic gym teacher who was the instructor wanted to show a smart kid that he could actually flunk a class).

      As for not having a car, as Baruth and others have pointed out, many autojournos rely on press cars to use for daily driving. Some don’t own a late model car.

      There are people who write about cars for newpapers and even for some automotive news publications that have no affinity for automobiles. It’s a job for them. That’s not the case for anyone who contributes to this site.

  • avatar

    As someone who lives in Christiansburg (VA), I can tell you there is nothing to explore here. Stick to the Blue Ridge Parkway.

  • avatar

    In the early 1990s I took a job in Toronto. The Ontario DMV took in my Florida license and issued me an Ontario one. In 2000 we moved back to the states to San Jose CA. There I discovered That California does not accept foreign licenses, meaning I had to take both the written exam and a driving test. What a PITA! I asked the guy who gave me the driving test why they did not take foreign licenses. His reply was “Think of the countries California borders.” Oh. In contrast my wife moved from Toronto to Virginia and the DMV gladly swapped her Ontario license for a Virginia one.

  • avatar

    The long way: learn to weld, build a go-kart, go racing, hopefully your racing buddies will let you drive their real cars after you beat them on the track.
    Or become a rally car navigator with hopefully same result.

  • avatar

    Huh, my wife didn’t get her license out here in California till she was about 30. I don’t remember her ever taking a lesson. She nearly failed the eye chart portion until she started to tear up and the guy giving her the test took pity on her. The point is different states have different rules, but there is a reciprocity rule. If you could find a state where a family member lives with less stringent rules I bet you could claim you lived there take the test and be done with it.

    …oddly enough, looking at your permit, the 2 of you have the exact same DOB, which if I were you I would black out since its pretty useful if you are trying to steal your identity.

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