February 06, 2009

Road test

I promised to tell you about my road test, and I will. Before doing so, however, I should mention that my last lesson with Lino, my first driving instructor, had taken place almost two years earlier. When I subsequently explained to the driving school how little I had learned, they credited me for additional lessons with a different instructor. I took advantage of those free lessons in the weeks leading up to my road test. I was amazed at just how much one could learn from a dedicated instructor. I was also overwhelmed with the amount that I had yet to master.

Do I need to describe how nervous I was on the morning of my road test? No, I'm sure you can figure it out. I don't even remember the drive to the test centre, or parking in one of the numbered spots. I recall going inside and lining up in the wrong queue, lining up in the correct queue, registering at the desk and being directed to wait outside by the car. Standing in a parking lot full of freaked-out new drivers like myself struck me as a life-threatening activity. Imagine the possibilities.

After what seemed like an interminable wait (likely five minutes), a no-nonsense but personable examiner met me at the car. She had me demonstrate that the signals worked, and then we were off. As I left the parking spot, the examiner asked, "Do you hear that noise?" I did, but I couldn't identify it. "That's your emergency brake," she said. With my face as red as my brake lights, I released the parking brake. I admitted that I rarely used it and that, ironically, I had only engaged it in the first place to impress her. Not a good start.

My last driving instructor had outlined the most likely test route. She had told me that I would leave the test centre, turn right at the first major intersection, and then drive around a nearby industrial area for ten minutes or so. I had made a point of driving around the area with Scott a number of times, including the night before my test. That last practice run hadn't gone so well. At one point, flustered by an approaching vehicle while I was clumsily transforming a three-point turn into a twelve-point turn, I stomped on the gas pedal and reversed speedily right up onto the sidewalk. It was all luck and no skill that had me very narrowly miss a parked car and a tree.

Back to the road test. Armed with a familiarity of the test route, but with my confidence dashed, I proceeded toward the first main intersection with every intention of turning right. The examiner said, "Turn left at the lights." What?? Left? Seriously? Shit. I turned left. I then flipped on my other signal and prepared to merge into the lane to my right, as I had been taught to do. The examiner said, "I appreciate that you're trying to change lanes, but you may as well stay in this one. We're turning left again at the next lights." We weren't following the test route at all. We were heading the opposite way. I wondered if perhaps the examiner was just going to direct me all the way back to my house, remove the keys from the ignition, and instruct me never to drive again. At this point I was okay with the prospect, except for the fact that Scott would be stranded at the test centre.

Rather than driving through an industrial area, I was directed to a residential neighbourhood. There the examiner had me demonstrate my lack of prowess in a number of different maneuvers. At one point she had me pull up to the curb and park. There were no other cars around so it seemed simple enough. Too simple. I realized that this was supposed to be an exercise in hill parking, but I was so nervous that the slope was imperceptible to me. I wasn't sure if I should admit that I couldn't tell up from down or if I should just crank the steering wheel and hope that I chose the correct direction. I decided to confess that I was completely frazzled.

As we neared the end of the exam, the examiner instructed me to make a three-point turn at the next appropriate opportunity. Instead, I continued driving until the only remaining stretch of road between me and the end of the street was blocked by a delivery truck. The examiner directed me to a different street and gave me one more shot at executing a three-point turn before directing me back to the test centre.

As I returned to the parking lot of the test centre, I was convinced of my failure. My self-deprecating comments were interspersed with the examiner's wry remarks. I reached my parking spot and prepared to pull in front-first, as I figured that there was no point in trying anything tricky. "Reverse into the spot," the examiner said. "I dare you." I did as I was told. Knowing that I normally forget to look out the rear window when I back into a spot, I overcompensated by looking nowhere but out the rear window. "What do you see if you look out your side window?" the examiner asked. I checked. "I see that I'm just about to hit the car beside me," I replied. "You should correct that," she suggested. I did.

I turned off the ignition and waited glumly while the examiner reviewed her test sheet and tallied my mistakes aloud. When she reached six I groaned, "That doesn't sound promising." She shook her head. "It's when I have to take off my shoes to continue counting that you need to worry." To my great surprise, she turned toward me and offered her hand. "Congratulations," she said.

Passing my first road test meant that I was now permitted to drive alone. I can't say that Scott looked particularly pleased when I met him inside the test centre and told him that I had passed. Considering how my first solo trip went, I also can't blame him. But that's another story.


amelia said...


The next road test will be a breeze!

Anonymous said...


Jenny Harvey said...

Well done Jen xxx
We are lucky here, we only have one test to pass then the road's our oyster.
My ignorance of Canada's roads, stem from watching Corner Gas on DVD, where to be honest they don't look that busy! but thats probably as ignorant as saying it rains all the time in England....except it does!

Calamity Jen said...

Thanks, everyone.

Jenny, if I lived somewhere like Dog River, Saskatchewan, I probably would have gotten my license ages ago. Toronto is a different story. I know a number of experienced drivers from smaller cities and towns who refuse to drive within our city limits. Once upon a time we were known as "Toronto the Good." Nowadays "Toronto the Impatient" would be more appropriate. As for the rain in England, I hear that in some parts your usual drizzle has been replaced by snow. Fun, eh?

Calamity's dad said...

I hope you shake those bad "new driver" habits and join the ranks of typical Toronto motorists. Remember...
Never use turn signals. They just demonstrate your rookie status.
Always talk on your cell phone. This keeps one hand occupied while you use your "free" hand to apply lipstick or drink coffee.
If you're stopped in the left turn lane at a red light and it changes to a flashing green arrow, stare at it until it stops and then turn.
"No Parking Anytime" signs mean just that, unless you use your four-way flashers. These entitle you to park anywhere, anytime.
Bicycle lanes are for two-wheeled vehicles only. You must have no more than two of your wheels in them while moving.
Always share the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Crosswalks are there to warn pedestrians not to cross until you drive through.
It is impolite to tailgate on the highway without first signaling the driver ahead of you with flashing high beams and repeated horn blowing.
If you are the car in front in this situation, respond to this signaling by slowing down a bit. This allows the motorist behind you to pass on the right. It is common practice to exchange a friendly wave at this time.
Winter tires are a scam invented by the tire companies to get you to part with your hard earned dollars.
Don't fall for this. All tires are round...good enough!
Save time by driving in the "buses only" lane. If those people are so important, why are they on a bus? You're better than them. Show it.
Following these few tips should help you blend right in as a classic GTA motorist. Happy trails!

ryssee said...

Your dad is funny.
Congrats, and thanks for the great story. I think I'm gonna sign up for those Spanish lessons now, since adult learning does in fact seem possible.

Rob K said...

Great news, Jen.

And if you're coming to Brooklyn, make sure you brush up on your obscene gestures!

Heather said...

Your Dad cracks me up! I haven't driven since I passed my test - too scared. Le Sigh.

alan said...

I have an air compressor in the corner of my garage that my Dad bought in 1959.

My mother was pregnant with my little sister when they decided she needed to learn to drive at 29. Somehow she did, took her test and passed, yet on the way home managed to turn a corner short enough to rake the entire side of my Dad's pride and joy, his '55 Ford Fairlane on a set of concrete steps.

He couldn't afford the insurance claim or to pay someone to do the body work, so bought the compressor and did it himself.

According to her, the only reason she dared to come home was because she was pregnant and she knew he wouldn't kill her!

Congratulations on being off to a great start by comparison!


ryssee said...

Reviewing the last few posts, I really like the car crash pics.

Leigh-Ann said...

Congratulations, Jen... I'm 43 and still don't know how to drive. I was spoiled growing up with the TTC and GO Transit, and here in the US, the thought of driving scares the bejeezus out of me.

HAR said...

"Do you hear that noise?" I did, but I couldn't identify it. "That's your emergency brake."