By on October 8, 2018

A New Gold Dawn in the Old Dominion

Fifteen years. That’s how long I’ve gone without a license.

Never again.

When I last left you, the path to regaining my license was uncertain beyond knowing I would likely need to leave Kentucky to get it.

(Editor’s note: This is the third piece in an ongoing series. For more background, click the link above).

And that’s what happened. Circumstances surrounding my old Kentucky home of Louisville led me out of the Bluegrass State last October, landing in the New River Valley of Virginia to stay with my mother and maternal grandmother. The thought then was I would return to Louisville soon enough, then save my pennies to immigrate to the Netherlands to obtain my license.

This didn’t (and won’t) happen, of course. Instead, one of my aunts had found me a home on Craigslist, a cottage in the backyard of a home owned by a middle-age couple from New England. I met with them in December, signed the lease, and moved in in January of 2018.

A New Gold Dawn in the Old DominionA few months later, I headed over to my local DMV to take the written permit test, believing I would only need a few dollars to collect my new Virginia permit. Turned out I needed $35, which covered the $3 permit fee and the $32 fee for a full, eight-year license. A minor setback, but one overcome once a partial payment from one of my writing clients was sent over.

There are two ways to go to obtaining a license in Virginia once one has a permit and is over the age of 18: complete a state-approved driver training course, or wait a minimum of 60 days before taking the road test at the DMV. As I wasn’t financially able to enroll in a course, I spent the full 60-day waiting period working on my skills among friends.

Anticlimactic, I know. On the bright side, I didn’t need to work on a whole lot to be able to walk away from the DMV with the first license in my life since I was 25.

I also realize that if I had never believed my former friend in the first place, this series would not need to exist, either.

A New Gold Dawn in the Old Dominion

So, what did I do once I regained my license? Go on my first long-distance road trip, of course. I had left my art behind at my father’s house in Louisville. Rather than either one of us paying tons of money to ship the art to me, let alone figure out how to do so without damaging the pieces, I opted to go to my local Enterprise, then drive nearly 400 miles through the West Virginia Turnpike and I-64 to my old Kentucky home.

The car for the journey was a 2018 Nissan Sentra SV in Deep Blue Pearl, whose 1.8-liter inline-four delivered the goods through the Xtronic CVT. All I can remember of the car was the constant hum of the CVT, having more than enough space in the trunk to stow my bag and art, and how I really needed the backup camera when backing out of Sheetz to return the Nissan to Enterprise due to how things have changed regarding visibility since I first learned to drive back in high school.

A New Gold Dawn in the Old Dominion

Speaking of high school, the last weekend of September 2018 was my 20th high school reunion. I wanted to show up to the reunion in style, especially since this reunion would be my class’s first-ever reunion. Thus, I had hoped I would be picking up a Ford Mustang from the Budget counter at Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower Airport to drive from Wichita to Augusta, Kansas. Alas, none were available when I landed.

Instead, I took this 2018 Toyota Corolla LE with an automatic. Since most of my driving was in-town (and since my hometown is over 3 miles long north to south, and over a mile wide west to east along U.S. 54), the needle on the fuel gauge hardly moved backwards until I took it back to the parking garage. The Corolla was a nice enough car, but it was nicer to finally be able to drive around Augusta, having never done so in my high school years.

A New Gold Dawn in the Old Dominion

Where will the road take me next? There’s a wedding in Madison, Indiana coming up in mid-October, for starters. And of course, I’ll need to enroll in a manual-shifting course soon; there are some manual cars in the United States left to review, after all.

After that, I don’t have anything in mind other than buying my very first car, now that I’ve regained what I should have never given up at all.

Still would like to drive a Mustang, though.

[Images © Cameron Aubernon/TTAC]

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45 Comments on “Highway Star Rising, Act 3: A New Gold Dawn in the Old Dominion...”

  • avatar

    While the scientific jury on gender is still deliberating, my takeaway from the photo is that the visibility screening pass/fail criteria for obtaining you DL in Virginia is in fact binary, not to mention incredibly lax.

  • avatar

    “Nobody gonna take my car,
    I’m gonna race it to the ground.
    Nobody gonna beat my car,
    It’s gonna break the speed of sound…”

  • avatar

    Do actual training courses exist for manual transmission operation?

    Better to just hop in a car with a friend for a week, then drive an MT car for a month straight. Maybe one of the OEMs could loan you a car for a month (or a series of cars) and you could turn the learning experience into a feature in a blog, magazine, whatever…

    • 0 avatar

      I have seen at least one driving school that teaches manual transmission driving. I suspect they’re fairly uncommon.

    • 0 avatar

      Tough call- not sure hopping in a manual transmission car with a friend is guaranteed to be a good way to learn either. I hear lots of bad habits from other manual drivers- dragging the clutch when downshifting, riding it in traffic, riding it when launching on level ground…

      • 0 avatar

        I guess it helped that the last person to coach me was a life long racer and manager in vehicle dynamics / motorsports.

        So a caveat to my advice is yes, make sure your friend is proficient.

    • 0 avatar

      On European licences, you learn in a manual and you can drive a manual or auto.

      You learn in an auto, you can drive an auto, but not a manual. You need a full manual retest to add manual to (or remove the ‘auto only’ from) your licence.

  • avatar

    I rented a Mustang from Budget earlier this year. The only kicker is that you’re renting a Mustang “or equivalent”. The second time I did that I got a Camaro instead.

    • 0 avatar

      I found the Mustang to be more livable in day-to-day driving, and the Camaro miserable.

      I found the Camaro to be a joy when driven above 6/10th and the Mustang lacking.

      YMMV depending on equipment, options, maintenance, and how badly flogged by prior renters. Both were basically base model/base engine sleds so it is an apples to apples comparo

      • 0 avatar

        The Mustang was a 2018 Ecoboost with the 10 speed automatic, the Camaro had the V6 engine with an 8 speed automatic. Both were probably the base suspensions, both came with decent tires, and both were rented with the express purpose of doing a Track Night In America at Atlanta Motorsports Park.

        For on street use, the Camaro feels big and is hard to see out of. I had to open the door when parking to see the white lines. The Mustang is much easier to get in and out of and has much better visibility. Both powerplants behaved well on both the street and track. The Mustang shifts rather a lot, the Camaro is a little better. Out on the track, the Camaro felt very solid and stable, while the Mustang was more nimble and could get skatey when pushed.

        If I had to buy one I’d get the Mustang Ecoboost with the performance package because the Camaro would be annoying to deal with on a daily basis. It’s kind of a pity, I really liked winding the Camaro’s six to its 7500 rpm redline, I love the way sixes sound.

        • 0 avatar

          So the same old story since the 80s?

          Car magazines – GET THE CAMARO!

          American Buying Public – We’re gonna buy more Mustangs.

          • 0 avatar

            The Camaro isn’t very livable. If I had one and wanted to take my wife away for the weekend in it, we’d have to pack our clothes in small bags to get them into the trunk, the decklid is so small.

          • 0 avatar

            That’s in keeping with Camaro’s original mission. GM has always pushed the Camaro as the high performance pony car. Granted in the 60’s it was a more livable package but as time marched on and GM remained committed to an affordable performance car ergonomics and livability took a back seat (no pun intended). Prior to the current model the 4th gen was noted by its intenders as being an “engine in a box” with the driver as an afterthought.

        • 0 avatar
          cimarron typeR

          One can always find a used 2015 v6 powered mustang that’s a fairly bulletproof motor.They all come with a limited slip diff, some had a 3:55 gear option, and plenty of aftermarket support and the GT 4 piston brakes are a bolt on add on too, although I’m sure pads and fluid would suffice, as I’ve not heard the current Mustang to be underbraked.

          It’s a shame they did away with the V6.I’ve toyed with a V6 project car, as I really don’t need the V8 and I bet the V6 is less pushy on the track.

          • 0 avatar

            Honestly, they’re both too big for my tastes. If I ware in the market for a track focused car, I’d look at the BRZ/86 twins. The tracks I’d drive on are more twisties than straights, and I like the way the smaller cars work better.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          You think this Camaro is tough to live with, buy a third gen.

    • 0 avatar

      There weren’t even any equivalents at the counter. The first option was a Jeep Grand Cherokee (maybe later), then a minivan (maybe for a review), then they asked if I could drive a stick (maybe later), then came the Corolla. It was disappointing.

      • 0 avatar

        I hear you Cameron. I deal with the Tulsa airport a lot (similar size market) and the silliness you get would be funny if not irritating. I always just pick “compact”. Last time, this:
        “All we got is a Fusion.” – “Ok.” Up drives a Malibu. No miles, lots of options, big screen with Android Auto. No upcharge. “This one?” – “Yes.” I still have no idea if they rented me the right car, but the price was great.

        The machinations I went through to specifically rent a Mustang back in 2013 for a Route 66 road trip were epic. It took multiple companies, quotes, and promises. Most of the time out here in flyover small markets, you get something betwixt Smart car and Suburban, but you have no idea what until you press the “panic” button and follow the lights.

  • avatar

    Congrats Cameron!

  • avatar

    Been a while, and it’s good to see this writer back.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Congratulations, Cameron! Reading the lines (and between them) I hope the rest of life calms down for you soon, too.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Yaaay, more car reviews!

    I see you didn’t get the silly star license that lets you hijack airplanes for free or whatever.

  • avatar

    “Anti-climatic, I know.”

    Are you discussing climate, or climax?

    ‘Cuz in context, the word you want is anticlimactic. is your friend…

  • avatar

    congrats , it has been a long trek for you.

  • avatar

    Congratulations on your new license (finally). Hope you get to do the manual trans training in a Miata, any generation.

  • avatar

    I’m not understanding something pretty fundamental here: why did you lose your license 15 years ago?

    • 0 avatar

      When I moved to Tacoma, Washington 15 years ago, I had a Kansas license. I had wanted to exchange it for a Washington license. My former friend believed I needed car insurance first before I could get a license (which is true in North Carolina, where they came from). I was stupid enough to believe them, and since I lived in an area where mass transit was good enough, I was stupid enough to voluntarily give up my license.

      I’ll never be that stupid about my license again.

  • avatar

    I think you’ll find Madison, Indiana jolly boring. I know I did for the four years I lived there. But at least you can stroll around lower Madison and visit the shops there. Hope ya like antiques and knick-nacks!

    After returning in December of ’16 and not having been there since before the financial crisis, I can confirm it hit that place hard. And it hasn’t fully recovered yet.

  • avatar

    Congratulations on both the driver’s license and the move!

    I lived in the NRV for 11 years, and I loved it!

    The scenery is beautiful, and Virginia Tech is an island of educated cosmopolitanism betwixt the hollars.

    But watch out for the cops — they were very aggressive when I last lived there. I was even pulled over for being tailgated by a police officer in Dublin (he was riding my bumper so close I couldn’t see his lights, and he didn’t like the way I pulled onto the shoulder to let him by — standard manouvers will freak you out when you’re 6′ off of someone’s bumper at the speed limit). After 9/11, the Morva escape/manhunt, and the massacre, the cops started getting real aggressive with the people. I hope it’s gotten better since I left, but I’m not holding my breath.

    I spent 11 years of my life there as a student and employee of Virginia Tech, and I loved it. But the area really does have its dark side.

    P.S. Make sure you take a road-trip Asheville!

  • avatar

    Welcome to the NRV, Cameron. This is a driver’s (and motorcyclist’s) paradise. Some of the best roads in the entire country are either right here or within an hour or two’s drive/ride, and most of them are highly scenic.

    I’ve had no bad interactions with cops at all here. It is always worth remembering, though, that there is a unique attitude towards speeding here–if you are clocked at 15 over the limit, or more than 80, you can be cited for reckless driving which requires a mandatory court appearance.

    May be able to help you out with the manual transmission thing. I was once a test driver for one of the OEMs and I have done remedial training for folks who had exaggerated their qualifications to operate manual transmission automobiles. They were highly motivated to succeed, certainly, because they had to to keep their jobs, but my success rate is 100 percent. Get in touch once you have settled in, if you like. I can be very satisfactorily compensated in beer, preferably from Right Mind Brewing at Lefty’s. :)

  • avatar

    Hey Cameron ..Great to see you back !

    As of today I’m in year four using a 15 EB Mustang as my D.D. The car has been flawless, and still puts a smile on my face every time I get behind the wheel.

    Agreed, learn to drive a stick from someone that knows how to teach. Maybe you can con TTAC to do a mini series. I’d love to read it .

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I’m glancing at the masthead and thinking; one of the esteemed editors has a vehicle with a stick and time on their hands. I’m thinking Sajeev and a 4-speed Ranger as the long-shot winner. Two possible columns: 1. You learning to drive a stick. 2. A Piston Slap (or even two) on manual transmissions and teaching someone how to drive them.

  • avatar

    @Cameron – congratulations and welcome back.

    People tend to take for granted the privilege of possessing a driver’s licence. Driving a manual is something else many of us take for granted. Manuals were very common when I was young but that may be more related to where I lived and the industrial nature of the region. I guess I’m getting old and showing it too. Cheers.

  • avatar

    Congrats, Cameron!

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