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I got my North Carolina Driver’s License today!!!

I am SO relieved. I had been dreading getting my license changed over since the day I moved here. I realize this shouldn’t be as big a deal as it is, but given my history with the DMV, it is an enormous milestone.

For normal people, a trip to the DMV is nothing more than an inconvenience—it takes a while, there’s lots of bureaucracy, and there are other things you’d rather be doing. But ever since I first got my learner’s permit, trips to the DMV have inevitably been fraught with misery and peril.

I had to attempt the road test four times before I got my first license.

That’s right, laugh it up. Just know that I’m still crying on the inside.

I took Road Test #1 in New York City.  I ran a stop sign almost immediately. The instructor was disgusted. “Do you realize you just broke the law??” he thundered. “Turn around right now and take me back before you get us killed.” That was the end of that.

Road Test #2, the next summer, I decided to take in Cape Cod, where I was living with my grandmother. I sat for hours listening to the DMV’s hold music waiting to schedule the appointment. I was all set for this one. My local friends had assured me that the road test there was a cinch. You didn’t even have to parallel park! Just do a K-turn. I did K-turns in the driveway in Grandma’s Camry until the tires went bald. I memorized road signs until my eyes bled. The day of the test, I was told that because my parents hadn’t signed my application to take the road test, I couldn’t take it. I’d had naively had Grandma sign it.

“But my parents are in New York,” I said. “I’m staying with Grandma.” Another brilliant move.

“Is she your legal guardian?” The officer asked. “If you’d forged your parent’s signatures on the document and told me they’d signed it, you could take the test. But now that I know they’re not here and can’t sign, no deal.”  So, if I’d been dishonest, I would have gotten what I wanted.  Thanks, DMV.

“But she’s my Mom’s Mom!” I argued.  “That should make her even more qualified than my parents!”  Arguing was futile.

So, no road test. And I’d been so close, I could almost taste the licensey goodness!  Scream! But the third time’s the charm, right?

Road Test #3 came the following fall. My father and I had scheduled it to take place in upstate New York, so that I wouldn’t have to drive in the city. We drove up to Utica the evening before the test and spent the night.

The instructor the next morning was gruff, and I was nervous.  But I was on a roll. I aced the K-turn and parallel-parked like a dream. Success! All my preparation had paid off! As we returned to the testing site and I put the car in park, the instructor turned to me.

“You failed before we even pulled out of the parking lot,” he said, “and let me tell you why.”

We had begun the test in an empty parking lot. Before pulling out, I had checked both my mirrors, but I had failed to turn and look over my shoulder, to make sure no cars had materialized behind me in the empty parking lot.

Why he couldn’t have just told me this right after it happened, I don’t know. The thought that he let me take the entire road test when he knew from the very beginning that he was going to fail me, is troubling. Such is the way of the DMV, though. Mine is not to question why.

Road test #4 came a few months after that.  Hope springs eternal. I was driving a Thunderbird I wasn’t accustomed to, weaving in and out of traffic snarls beneath an elevated expressway in the Bronx. At the end of the test the instructor turned to me. I was prepared for anything.

“Well, you’re borderline,” he said. “You just barely squeaked by. I probably shouldn’t give you a pass, but I will. Just don’t get into any accidents.”

Hallelujah! I became licensed! The skies opened! The roads opened! I could drive in a car by myself! The fourth time was the charm!

Knock on wood, in the nearly ten years since I passed that final road test, I have never been in even a minor fender bender. I’d like to think it’s because I’m an excellent driver, but deep down in my heart, I think it’s mostly because I’m afraid of the DMV. I don’t want to lose my license and have to take another damn road test.

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