It’s hard to believe, but I’m coming up on 45 years of driving.
Full disclosure, I failed my permit test. Can you believe that? I read the handbook, went in with a huge chip on my shoulder and bombed. Talk about humiliation. There’s not a huge stigma in failing your road test, but the permit test? Two weeks later, after studying that stupid book day and night, I scored 20 out of 20.
Being born in February, I was eligible for driver’s ed in the summer of 1974, between my junior and senior year. That meant I would have my license by early August, plenty of time to cruise the rest of the summer before school started. To make sure, I scheduled my road test weeks in advance, coinciding with the end of classes.
We practiced merging on and off parkway ramps and going out into the intersection when making a left at a light, something many people don’t do anymore. “Rainman” had nothing on me. I was an excellent driver. Not to brag, but I could also execute a mean parallel park.
When the big day came, I was ready. Comfortably belted in our family’s 1964 Buick Skylark, the examiner directed me to pull away from the curb and off we went. After performing a magnificent left turn at the corner, he pointed to a parked car and asked me to execute a parallel park. A sly smile came across my face, knowing it was showtime. I pulled even with the parked vehicle and began my backwards maneuver, slowly angling behind the car, then straightening out in a sequence of events that was so beautifully choreographed, I was expecting him to stop the test right there and give me a standing ovation.
Then I bumped into the car behind me.
There was a car behind me? The examiner seemed as startled as I was. After all, I only practiced this with a single vehicle, never parking between two vehicles. I don’t even remember noticing that car. Three minutes into my road test, I had failed on the one maneuver I thought I had mastered. The examiner just calmly said, “pull out and continue down the block.” I was mortified and completely bummed. With nothing to lose at this point, I indignantly slapped the drive shaft out of park, snapped on the blinker, shoved my hand out the window, and continued. I still had to do a K-turn, make a few other maneuvers and my torture would be over.
It was a long, quiet ride home with my father. We discussed rescheduling another test but they were booked until September, meaning I wouldn’t have my license until after school started. Of course, the tale I told my friends made me sound like a badass, telling off the examiner for making me park between two vehicles. Anything to soften the blow of the rejection letter I’d get in the coming days, instead of my temporary license.
When the letter arrived in the mail on a Friday, I didn’t even want to open it. But instead of getting a “Dear John” letter, it was my temporary license. How was that possible? I believe that was the moment I invented the “Happy Dance.”
Later that wonderful August evening, my friends and I piled into my red 1962 Plymouth Valiant I bought a few weeks earlier for $200. It had a push-button transmission and a convertible roof that didn’t go down into the trunk unless you jumped up and down on it. As we cruised Merrick Road like royalty, someone shouted, “look at the chicks at that place.” As we all turned in unison to check out the bevy of beauties, the car in front of me decided to stop and make a left turn.
Need I say more?
It was at least three weeks before I got my car back from the shop. Apparently, there weren’t a lot of radiators for a 1962 Plymouth Valiant available at junk yards. My fantasy of cruising the streets of Long Island in a convertible as the summer of 1974 wound down was dashed.
It’s been 45 years and I still cringe every time I pass that intersection.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.