When I moved from the country to the city, the DMV said my driving skills weren’t sufficient to keep pace with urban living. They told me I had to take a personalized driving lesson with one of their special instructors.
“I’ve never heard of this,” I told the toad-looking woman behind the counter. She had wide, bug eyes and a drooping chin. “I’ve had my license for nearly twenty years. Since when do you have to take a lesson to keep your license?”
She frowned. “Are you trying to argue with the Department of Motor Vehicles?”
“All I’m saying –” I said.
She cut me off: “I don’t believe it. It sounds like you’re actually trying to argue with the Department of Motor Vehicles.”
“I’m arguing with you,” I said. “You’re the one who’s telling me I have to take a driving lesson to keep my license.”
“And I represent the Department of Motor Vehicles. I am a living embodiment of the department’s policies and procedures.”
“Yeah, well, your body looks like a toad.”
She glared. “I can make this very difficult for you, young man. I can see to it that your license is revoked for life. Instead of driving to work, you’ll be catching the bus.”
And you’ll be catching flies, I wanted to tell her. But in light of the situation, I decided it was best not to toad her — I mean, goad her — too far. Clearly, she’d woken up on the wrong side of the lily pad.
“As a newcomer to the city, you lack the driving skills required to survive the frantic pace of an urban environment,” the lady continued. “We require all former residents of our neighboring rural counties to undertake a driving lesson, to provide them with the requisite skills for navigating such a densely populated area.”
“I’m no country bumpkin,” I said. “Just because I come from a small town doesn’t mean I can’t drive.”
“But you’ve never driven in the city,” the lady said. “That’s what I’m telling you. This isn’t a one-road pit stop with a single traffic light and a toothless prostitute on the corner. Here, we have lots more roads, lots more traffic lights, plus freeways and interstates and on-ramps and off-ramps.”
“I bet you have a lot more prostitutes here, too,” I said, leaning my arms on the counter and grinning. “Huh? Am I right?”
The lady glared, her bug eyes bulging. I almost expected her to flick her tongue at me.
“Here are your forms,” she said, handing me a stack of papers the size of a phonebook. “Now get out of here.”
I walked out to my pickup truck, where the driving instructor was waiting for me. He was a constipated-looking older man with a sweaty, bald head and a crumpled suit.
“I’m here to teach you how to drive in the city,” he said. “You get behind the wheel, and I’ll take shotgun. All you have to do is follow my instructions. If you do what I say, you’ll pass the test and keep your license.”
“Yes, sir,” I said, as we climbed into the cab. “Although I have to say, I really don’t get the point of this. I already know how to drive.”
“We’ll see how well you do in the city,” the man said. “Now back out of the parking space and exit the lot.”
I started the truck, turned my head, and began to ease out of the space.
“Stop!” the man said.
“What?” I asked, looking around.
“That’s your first automatic fail,” the man said. “Here in the city, we don’t turn our head when we back up. We simply put the vehicle in reverse and gun it.”
I looked at him. “You’re joking.”
“I’m here to teach you how to drive in the city. And clearly, you have a lot to learn.”
“Yes, sir.” I swallowed, the truck still in reverse. Closing my eyes, I slammed on the gas, praying no people or cars were behind me. The truck lurched backward. I grimaced, waiting for an impact of some kind, but nothing happened.
“Very good,” the man said. “Now, exit the lot.”
I pulled up to the white stop bar painted across the lot and peered at the oncoming traffic, waiting for an opportunity to pull onto the highway.
“That’s your second automatic fail,” the man said. “We do not come to full stops at stop signs in the city. The correct procedure is to blow through the stop sign with no regard for who’s already on the road.”
“But that’s reckless,” I said.
“Are you questioning the authority of the Department of Motor Vehicles?”
“I guess I’m a little concerned how my tax dollars are being spent — yes.”
“I don’t know what kind of backwards, redneck gopher hole you crawled out of,” the man said. “But in these here parts, we don’t take too kindly to your smart-aleck attitude.”
“All I did was stop at a stop sign.”
“And if you want to keep your license, you’ll do what I’ll tell you and floor it.”
Well, what could I do? I closed my eyes and floored it, barreling onto the highway on two wheels. Horns blared as traffic scattered in all directions.
“Well done,” the man said. “Now, I’d like you to change lanes.”
I put on my signal and turned my head.
The man coughed.
I looked at him. “Let me guess? No signaling allowed?”
“And no turning your head. I didn’t tell you to wait for the most convenient opportunity to change lanes. I simply told you to change lanes.”
“As in, now?”
“As in, right now! Do it!”
I bit my lower lip, then swerved into the passing lane.
The car behind me slammed on its brakes, its horn blaring.
“Now slow down,” the man said.
“But we’re doing 55 in a 55 zone,” I said.
“And that’s an automatic fail. In the passing lane, we do not accommodate the flow of traffic, nor do we pass other cars. We let up on the gas and slow down to 45 or even 35.”
“But I’ll create a bottleneck!” I said. “The cars behind me will pile up. We could cause someone to go bat-poop crazy with road rage.”
The man looked at me, his eyes narrowed.
I sighed. “OK.”
I let off the gas and slowed down to 35. Cars behind me piled up bumper to bumper. As we drove, some started to weave NASCAR-style, waiting for an opportunity to pass. In my rearview mirror, I could see a red-faced guy behind me punching his dashboard and screaming at me.
“Very good,” the man said. “For an ignorant, backwoods hick, you’re doing quite well.”
“You know,” I said, “for a civil servant, you’re really not that civil.”
“I represent the Department of Motor Vehicles. Get used to it. Now turn left, please. No turning your head, and certainly no signaling.”
I swerved into the turn lane and approached a red light. Instinctively, I started to slow down.
The man looked at me.
“I’m not running the red light,” I said. “There are cars everywhere.”
“The lesson will continue until I’m confident you can drive in the city. But if you’d rather I revoke your license…”
I sighed. “OK. Fine.”
I barreled through the red light. A car whizzed toward me, slamming its brakes and nearly plunging into my cab.
“Sweet Lord!” I screamed, as we skidded onto a side street.
“Now I’d like you to accelerate,” the man said.
“Please,” I said. “No more.”
He glared. “Accelerate.”
I grimaced and obliged.
“Now slam violently on the brakes with both feet.”
“Slam violently on the brakes with both feet!”
So I slammed violently on the brakes with both feet. Both of our heads dipped forward, and the cars behind me came to a skidding stop.
“Now accelerate,” the man said.
“God help me,” I said as I accelerated.
“And now slam violently on the brakes with both feet.”
“What are we doing?” I asked.
“Speeding up and slowing down inexplicably is a crucial component of city driving,” the man said. “If we maintain a constant speed, other drivers will adapt to the flow, and traffic will even out accordingly.”
“OK. Isn’t that a good thing?”
The man shook his head, letting out a heavy breath. “This is going to be an all-day process. I can tell.”
“This is insane,” I said. “I’m not doing this! You’re crazy! Out of your mind!”
“I represent the Department of Motor Vehicles,” the man said.
“Good,” I said. “Then you can be their representative when I do this.”
And I slammed on the brakes so hard that the man’s head dipped forward and slammed into the dashboard.
He sat up, squinting his eyes and rubbing his nose.
“That was rather rude,” he said, wiggling his mouth.
“It was,” I said.
“It was mean-spirited, callous, deliberate and — dare I say — even violent.”
“Yes, yes, yes, and yes. And what’s more, I don’t regret it one bit.”
“Stop the car.”
I pulled over and put the truck in park.
The man looked at me. Grinning, he reached for my hand and pumped it hard.
“Congratulations,” he said. “You passed the test. You are a fully qualified city driver.”