A few weeks back, daughter Jess went out to the driver's license testing station and got her license. As far as the state of Tennessee is concerned, my little girl is now fully qualified to get out amongst the bald-tired, one-eyed pickup trucks, tailgating 18-wheelers and double-wide SUVs, many of which will be piloted by liquored-up yahoos who are busy dialing their cell phones, lighting up cigarettes, reading the paper, putting on makeup or all of the above at the same time. I'm glad my kid passed the test, but now that she's driving, I don't think I'll have another unworried minute.
Based on my own experience, I figured it would take Jess more than one try to pass the test. Back in South Carolina, when I was 16, I had to take three cracks at the driving test. First time, I drove out of the parking lot and right through a stop sign. The test was over in minutes. Second time, I drove the whole route, but made a series of nervous errors and failed on general principles. Third time, I got socially promoted. They gave me my license, even though I never did parallel park, and haven't parallel parked to this day.
Jess was a little anxious about her driving test. Some of her schoolmates had warned her about the big mean woman at the West Side driver-testing station, the one who yells at kids while they're driving and fails every young driver at least once.
Well, don't you know, Jess got paired up with that woman. "I knew it was her as soon as I saw her," Jess told me. "She was huge. Every time she took a step, everything on that side would jiggle. Then she'd step with the other foot, and she'd jiggle on the other side. As long as she was walking, she was jiggling. She was like a bobblehead doll, except she was bobbling all over."
"Did she fit in the car OK?" I asked.
"She had to back the seat up so the belt would reach around her," Jess said. "But once she got settled in, she was fine."
"How did the test go?"
"Well, as soon as we got in the car, that woman started plundering through all the cubbyholes. She picked up my lipstick, opened up the top, and asked me where I got it."
"So, her No. 1 priority was finding out more about your makeup preferences and buying habits?"
"I guess so. Then, as soon as we were on the road, she started yelling and telling me to change lanes. But I looked in the rearview mirror and saw two giant trucks coming up beside me. I let them pass, and then she started yelling at me to change lanes again."
"Like your mother does to me sometimes?" I asked. "Like that time she thought she was helping me get into a left-turn lane, but she was actually directing me into the incoming traffic?"
"Exactly like that. I think that woman was trying to get me killed. Soon after that, I was driving 40 in a 35 zone, and she told me to speed up. I slowed down instead."
"Congratulations, baby girl. You ignored your first dumbass driving instructions. This is just the beginning. You'll have to ignore passenger instructions thousands of times in your driving career. Tell 'em if they don't like the way you drive, they're welcome to roll down the window and jump out anytime they want."
"I'll keep that in mind," Jess responded. "But here's what I want to know: why would the driver's license people hire a driver-tester who tries to steer you into a wreck, then tries to get you to speed more than you were already speeding?"
"Well, daughter," I explained, "you need to understand that being a driver-tester for the state government is a worse job than picking up road kill or dealing with complaints at the impound lot. Nobody wants to be a driver-tester. People are forced to be driver-testers, as a punishment. Most likely, they've made their bosses really mad. Or, it could be that they've done something horrible in a previous life, and they're paying off huge karmic debts. That woman in your passenger seat might have been the reincarnation of Lee Harvey Oswald."
"All I know is, she's mean," Jess said. "When she handed me my certificate, she scowled and said, 'I was not impressed.' I only had a one-point deduction. I was nearly perfect."
"Well, see, that's karmic debt repayment," I explained. "That driver-testing woman has to spend her days getting scared half to death by nervous 16-year-old drivers. The only joy in her work comes from hurting the feelings of children who just achieved something pretty special. The way she's going, in her next life she'll have a job where she has to gut fish."
Now daughter Jess can put the mean driver-tester in her rearview mirror, along with her old bicycles and the Big Wheel tricycle. I remember the first time she fishtailed the Big Wheel into the driveway. She jumped off, turned the thing upside down, and spun the pedals with her hands. "I'm making you some ice cream, daddy," she said. It seems like minutes and a million years ago, all at the same time.