I’ve been fucking around with the idea of learning to drive for a few years now, and GET READY WORLD, because as of this summer, I am a licensed driver! A bonafide vehicle operator! And whoa boy, was the process of getting here a wild ride. Here’s what went down.
1. A Five-Hour Trip to the DMV
I decided I wanted to learn how to drive when I decided I wanted to leave, and to prove to myself it was real I printed out the DC Driver’s Manual — which is no longer made available in print at any DMV office and is rife with formatting issues, as well as references to sections that don’t exist — and read it. Then I stopped reading it. Then I started reading it. Then I stopped reading it. Then I started reading it again, and things got really serious. I began highlighting, underlining, reading it before bed, reading it over coffee, reading it over and over and over again until the section on passing 18-wheeler trucks no longer gave me an anxiety attack. In fact, I studied the driving manual for such an extensive amount of time that I actually began regretting it, after I passed, because it meant I left myself with about a month to two months to master actual driving, and not driving in theory. But theory’s always been my bag, and leaving the house hasn’t, so.
Once I had read the book no less than five times, invented acronyms to help me remember all of the various processes and laws, and gotten a 100 on no less than 10 separate online practice exams, I decided it was time to take the written test. I grabbed my ID, went to the DMV, and waited in a line that snaked outside of the door for forty-five minutes, and then I had finally arrived. This was it! My golden moment! IT WAS ALL YELLOW BRICK ROADS FROM HERE.
Except that I then found out that because my DC ID was an older version of the DC IDs on the ID market, I needed the typical one zillion pieces of proof of identity and an extra limb to give to the DMV, none of which was on my person. I immediately got back in line after I found a tax form in my backpack by chance, though, and demanded that they let me have my live-in BFF Soph scan the other stuff over to me.
Over the course of this day at the DMV, I spoke with someone at three different stages of the written test taking process who checked my proof of identity documents. I possessed the following:
- A copy of my lease, accompanied by a photo of my landlord’s photo ID bearing the same address that is inscribed on my lease as well as a formal DC government document verifying that I was her tenant
- My passport
- My DC ID
- A federal tax form, like from the government, inscribed with my social security number
- A scan of a 1099 form from the most recent tax year, inscribed similarly with my social security number because those also come from the government, IDK if anyone knows this
- A Verizon account statement addressed to my landlord at the address I live at because that is where I live, do you get it yet
- A home insurance statement addressed to my landlord at the address I live at because, like I said, I live there
- A gas bill addressed to my landlord at the address I live at because, I swear to fucking god, I live there
- An electric bill addressed — I can’t even finish this sentence, it makes me too mad.
Every single person I spoke to at the DMV that day was unhappy with a different aspect of my really unreasonably believable stack of documents proving I was, in fact, who I claimed to be and had sufficient photo and legal proof of being, including but not limited to: not accepting scans despite having told me scanned documents were accepted, a statement about payment being different than a bill, a letter from a home insurance company about your policy not being enough to prove you live somewhere.
And then, I was finally waved through. I got into another line, in which I sat for about thirty minutes. Then, I got to take my test after a final documents check after the DMV had technically closed for the day. The test took me all of 15 minutes — it was multiple choice and utilized a touch screen, and besides one question which legitimately read like garbled rambling about a bicycle, it was pretty straightforward.
While I was politely taking my exam, one woman passed, stood up, and began yelling, shrieking, and cheering. She was given her permit without harm or foul.
While I waited for my test results to print, a 16-year-old girl failed her test and stormed out of the room after one of the DMV employees loudly announced that she had failed hard, missing almost twice as many questions as she was allowed to. At this point, her mother asked why they didn’t have anything for her to use as a study guide. She had never been made aware, apparently, of the Driver’s Manual the test is literally based on. This woman had a driver’s license of her own.
And then, I arrived, beaming. THIS WAS IT! My actual golden moment! I handed my now twice-as-thick stack of social security numbers, shitty photos, and awkwardly bolded salary information over to the first woman who had “helped” me that day at the front desk and held my hand out, excited for a small plastic card bearing my name and likeness but which would apparently not count at all as a form of identification years later in life if I needed to return to the DMV and prove literally anything about my identity.
The woman looked at every single paper, then paused at the scan of my tax forms. “We don’t accept scans of 1099 forms,” she said bluntly.
“Look,” I said, staring her dead in the eye with extreme purpose. “It has my social on it, which matches my social on, like, five other forms of ID I have here.”
“Doesn’t count,” she replied. She printed out proof of my test score and handed me my stack of papers. “Come back Tuesday.”
It was 6 PM on a Saturday.
2. Baby’s First Acceleration
I went home to New Jersey when I first got my permit, excited to drive around in a parking lot as New Jersey drivers are wont to do. I was also particularly jazzed about the idea of reversing my mom’s car out of her parking spot near her building and driving it down the hill to where the long driveway met a main road, at which point I assumed we would seamlessly teleport into one another’s bodies a la Freaky Friday so she could drive the car around the streets I was so afraid of. She relented after I begged her for an hour straight, and I clamored into the driver’s seat for the first time.
At this point, my mom got very intense. “Put your right foot on the brake. Don’t let go.”
“Where is it?”
“It’s on the left.”
“Why can’t I use my left foot?”
“That’s not how you drive.”
“But wait, where’s the gas pedal?”
“It’s the little one on the right.”
“Why is it so small?”
“That’s how cars are.”
Eventually, my mom got me to stop questioning the ages-old practices of my driving brethren and I shifted the car into reverse with my foot heavy on the brake. “When you let go, you need to immediately press the gas because we’re on a slope,” my mom told me. “OKAY?!” Suddenly it seemed like everything involved in driving would be urgent, and pushing the gas pedal was going to be my first test at accomplishing things smoothly and quickly.
“HIT THE GAS!” And I did. I slammed on that gas pedal so hard that NASCAR would have hired me on the spot, and we careened out of her spot and spun around while my mom was screaming at me to hit the brake. I did that, too — but I had to look down first to figure out where it was.
3. I Thought I Was Gonna Drive Around in a Parking Lot But Instead I Drove My Friend to a Coffee Shop
My BFF Libby offered to teach me how to drive, which I figured was an excellent idea because she was a very confident and also assertive driver who got places fast, parallel parked like a pro, and could eat a sandwich with one hand and drive with the other. She drove me to a parking lot for our first lesson, then switched out with me and let me drive around it. I went around and around, trying to discern whether I would be killing people and hitting cars in a world where the parking lot was full. She instructed me to drive around to the entrance and point the vehicle towards it, so I put my foot on the brake and looked at her, deadpan and sweating.
“You want me to leave?”
“No, I don’t feel —”
I went. 10 MPH, I mean. I went 10 MPH down a street that was two lanes but had no lane markings because cities hate the people who live in them, and the whole time I clutched the wheel like death and screamed “AM I IN MY LANE?!” It was the first time I’d ever driven on a road, and when cars came I basically was imbued with a sense of fear that made me brake, veer sideways, and literally scream primally from my seat. Libby directed me the whole way, down roads I’d walked millions of times but had suddenly blacked out all memory of, and then parallel parked the car from the passenger’s seat in front of her favorite coffee shop.
I ordered an espresso when I meant a cappuccino, which was the worst.
4. The Hangover: Driving Lessons Edition
My first driving lesson was a tumultuous affair in and of itself. I was very nervous because I realized the day of my lesson that I hadn’t requested a woman instructor, and I realized simultaneously that that meant I was going to be trapped in a car with a dude who could make said car stop at any point, anywhere. Also, twenty minutes before my lesson was scheduled to begin, our toilet totally stopped flushing and I was the unfortunate soul who discovered this by, well, using the fucking toilet twenty minutes before my goddamn driving lesson.
Then, my instructor called to say he would be late. I used this time to shake nervously, put on lounge pants, and pet my dog.
Then he arrived, and it was pouring rain. I got in the car, soaking myself in the process as I wielded a large plastic see-through umbrella into the backseat because I didn’t know how to really exist in the driver’s seat, because I mean, this was a driving lesson. And then! Then! THEN! Then, this man who was my driving instructor told me to head to the motherfucking highway.
It was at that point that I, gripping the wheel like a bonafide stress ball, took a car onto the highway for the first time. And it was shortly after I got onto that highway that my instructor informed me he was hungover, which led us into a conversation about drinking and the ounce of weed he’d stashed in his car when he was wasted and which hallucinogenic drugs we’d tried or wanted to try and, ultimately, the time he smoked fake weed.
At the tail end of the lesson, he asked if I would mind pulling into a Wendy’s drive-thru, where he bought me a Frosty and offered me a Newport. At the end of the lesson, he assured me I was ready for my driver’s test.
My third (and final) driving lesson was with the same man as the aforementioned hungover driving lesson, which brought me great relief because my second driving lesson was with a man who showed me photos of his dog at a stoplight and that was a little nerve-wracking, albeit adorable. My instructor, who at this point had already been elevated to bro status in my heart, called and asked if he could use my “restroom” before we got started, so I said yes, blissfully unaware that my house was a mess, my girlfriend was wearing her sleeping clothes on the daybed downstairs, and my live-in BFF Soph was working at the table.
He came in, and then we left together when we were both all sorted out. And it was then, in those first few moments, that my driving instructor told me he liked how I smelled. That was fine, because, I mean, I fucking love my perfume, too. But then he started muttering to himself that it was “erotic,” and I turned up the radio and idled outside of an ATM as he got his money for the day and we got going.
Towards the end of the lesson, my instructor asked me if it was okay that he was hitting on me, and I laughed and told him I was taken and stared super straight ahead and then I stopped at a stop sign and he turned toward me and he said:
“Do we like the same things?”
At this point I had no idea what he was talking about, and in my head I kept thinking, you and Geneva? Yeah! You both like me! But wait, that’s a weird question. What’s going on. Don’t say anything. Why aren’t you looking at the road. DON’T BE A VIRGIN WHO CAN’T DRIVE. And so I just told him, look, I have no idea what you’re talking about, and then he clarified.
“Do you like women?”
I asked him how he figured it out. My hair? My clothes? My general disregard for men’s lives?
“Nah,” he told me. “It was your roommates.”
6. The DMV Dude Who Ruined My Life For Like a Week
My first road test went horrifically wrong. I can’t even tell the story because it deeply upsets me. But suffice it to say that the man who failed me worked at the DMV, the DMV to which I had to return to in order to continue trying to pass the road test, and he went to all sorts of lengths to make me miserable.
When I failed, he made me pull over, told me, “Don’t apologize, don’t explain yourself, just get out,” and drove me back to the DMV while I cried pathetically in the backseat. I got out, went to work, cried to my mom on the phone, and eventually emotionally healed.
Then, I returned to the DMV on the day I got my license only to see his terrible, no-good face staring me down in the parking lot. I drove around it once more to get rid of him, parked, and went inside to meet up with my instructor.
Once my test was over, and I’d passed, I came back in to celebrate and saw that same terrible, no-good face watching over me, looking disappointed and also like he regretted pretty much every decision he’d ever made in his life in a shallow attempt to feel powerful in comparison to other people while administering their road tests. He made a rude remark as I filled out my survey, but then I put my metaphorical shades on because haters can’t see me and this dude needs to get a life.
7. My Driver’s License Photo Sucks Because I’m Just Like You
The day I passed my road test and took my driver’s license photo was A FUCKING DAY, let me tell you. Firstly, I left a bit late and was generally stressed out and on the verge of tears. Secondly, I had to maneuver my vehicle no less than six times in the Hess Station lot in order to get their short-ass gas hoses within reach of my friend’s beastly station wagon. Thirdly, I hit traffic, and at that point began full-bore sobbing behind the wheel.
I got to the DMV thirty minutes late, with no bra on, wearing shoes that didn’t match my outfit because they were the most comfortable to drive in. My instructor had been waiting for me, so I put a smile on and greeted him, then headed to the bathroom while he checked me in. I then full-bore sobbed again, wiped my tears and blotted my eyes with some cold water, and went to the car with him, full of trepidation and feelings of doom and dismay.
And then the test happened, and it was going fine, really good actually. And then he asked me to change lanes three times in one block so I could get to the furthermost left lane on a main drag at 9:45 AM on a weekday and make a massive left turn. And I missed it! I just missed it. I blew it! But the test went on, and he gave me my license because he gave me “the benefit of the doubt” that traffic was indeed too rough to allow me, a braless 25-year-old nervously driving a station wagon, to shift over three lanes at a high speed.
I screamed like a girl (but really) when he told me I passed, shook his hand enthusiastically about thirty times and thanked him profusely, and went inside to take my license photo. I decided to go with “smug smile” because I was, well, the shit, and waited excitedly for it to arrive in the mail.
And then it did.
And you guys, it’s just godawful.