This is an actual transcript of a conversation I had with my teenage son the day before he took his written driver’s license exam. Even though he’d been anxiously anticipating this moment for years, he was feeling cocky about his prospects. Luckily, teenagers know everything.
Marla Jo Fisher, speaking to her 18-year-old son, Cheetah Boy, who is lying on the couch playing Grand Theft Auto:
11 a.m. MJF: You’d better start studying for your drivers’ license written test tomorrow.
11:01 a.m. CB: I already know everything to pass the test.
11:02 a.m. MJF: Regardless, you should study. There are a lot of tricky little questions on that test.
11:03 a.m. CB: I’m good.
Later that day …
2 p.m. MJF: I emailed you a link to practice DMV tests. You should turn off that video game and get on your laptop and practice the exam. Your test is early tomorrow.
2:01 p.m. CB: OK, thanks.
2:02 p.m. MJF: No, seriously. You really should.
2:03 p.m. CB: OK, OK. Get off me.
The next morning. 9:30 a.m. Outside the Stanton DMV office. Marla Jo Fisher waits in the car reading a magazine, as her son goes inside to take the test. He’s gone a long time, then finally returns, visibly agitated.
CB: I took the test twice and only missed passing by two questions, the first time, and one question the second time. The questions were stupid. One was about animals by the side of the road. Who cares about animals by the side of the road?
MJF: Well, you should have studied like I told you. I hope it was a learning experience for you.
CB: I only missed it by one question, and it was a stupid one! It had nothing to do with studying.
MJF: You keep thinking of this as if it were winning the lottery. It has nothing to do with chance. It has to do with preparation. I hope you learned a lesson today about being prepared now that you’re an adult. Anything important requires preparation.
CB: Yeah, whatever. Will you bring me back this afternoon to take the test again?
MJF: Naw, probably not.
I did not take him back that afternoon, in fact, I didn’t take him back at all. I made him find a ride to retake the test and he did, ultimately pass it. After doing the unthinkable: Studying.
Moral of the story: When at first you don’t succeed, try doing it the way your mom told you to in the first place.
This came to mind the other day, when my friend was telling me she’s preparing to drive her son to take his written test. He’s 20 years old and hasn’t bothered to get a license yet. Life is different for our children these days, I remember lining up on my 16th birthday to get mine, unable to wait even a single extra day.
Of course, I’d already taken a driver training course in school, and even though I hated the teacher, hey, it was free.
Outside of major cities like New York, where many people never learned how to drive, driving was a fairly homogenous affair back then. You took lessons in school and then queued up on your 16th birthday to get your golden ticket to adulthood.
Then, you borrowed your parents’ car, brought it home empty of gas, and wrecked it at least once in the first year.
That’s from Auto Club statistics, by the way, that show most new drivers have a wreck in their first year. I was no exception and I’m grateful to be alive, because my mother nearly killed me when I totaled her elderly-but-still-serviceable Toyota Corona.
I’d had my drivers license about four minutes – or so it seemed – when I borrowed my mom’s car and then promptly hit a dump truck. It did nothing to the dump truck. I hit the truck’s tire, and didn’t even flatten it. My mom’s car was totaled.
The cop who arrived to survey the damage burst out laughing when he saw my crestfallen face. “This your mom’s car?” he asked.
“Are you going to get in a lot of trouble when you get home?”
I nodded again.
“OK, well, technically I should give you a ticket because you failed to yield right of way, but since you did no damage at all to the other vehicle, and you’re already in trouble, I won’t write you a citation.”
I had the car, which was now artistically twisted into new shapes, towed to our nearby driveway, and waited for the execution. No one was home yet, so I had time to think about how I might die.
Let’s just say, I wasn’t summarily executed, but I didn’t drive again for a long time. And, when I did, it was a car that I bought myself with my own money.
I never told my teenagers this story so, shhhh, don’t tell them. Because I didn’t want to suggest to them it’s possible to wreck your mother’s car and live to tell the tale.
Nowadays, they both have their licenses, so I have something new to worry about every day of my life.
And I feel badly that I never taught them to drive a stick shift. I suppose that’s something of a lost art these days. I gave up my own manual transmission car when my leg got tired of shifting gears in traffic, and so I have nothing on which to teach them.
But if they ever get cast on TV’s “The Amazing Race” they’ll need to learn to drive a stick, or they won’t be able to win the million dollars.
And, in some countries, it costs twice as much to rent an automatic as a stick.
These are the things that keep me up at night, my friends. First World problems, to be sure. That’s why it’s good to visit countries where people barely subsist. It puts things into perspective.
Yeah, you were late for your massage but, hey, you don’t have to live in a hut with no plumbing.
Your kids can’t drive a stick, but, hey, they can drive instead of walking. And they’re not riding bikes hauling 30 pounds of firewood on their backs.
Life is good, most of the time. Even with teenagers.
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