Monday, August 18, 2014

It's the Experience

I pulled out of the grocery store parking lot today just as the radio stations decided to conspire against me. Everything I normally listened to was on commercial break. After some random button punching, I found myself on a country station listening to Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats".
Oh, and he don't know...
That I dug my key into the side
of his pretty little souped up four wheel drive,
carved my name into his leather seats,
I took a Louisville slugger to both headlights,
slashed a hole in all four tires...
Maybe next time he'll think before he cheats.

I kept it on because there was nothing else to listen to, but the lyrics made me cringe. They brought me back to those awful eleven months after I turned sixteen. As a little kid, you think sixteen means a license and there's no other way about it. You imagine you'll wake up on your birthday and take off down the desert roads in a shiny new red...well, you don't know much about cars yet. But you know it will be red. Then at fifteen reality sets in. I spent six months obsessively reading over the driver's handbook before I let myself take the permit test. I passed on the first try, but I know some people who took it seven times. I didn't have room in my schedule for driver's ed and had to take it through a crappy for-profit school. My teacher was an old lady with a raspy voice who played solitaire on the computer while we watched VHS tapes on driving safety. Some of the students, like me, took it to clear their schedules. Others were out of high school already and had no other option. The oldest was twenty.
I thought he was an anomaly. But I keep running into people like him. Boys whose parents won't take them to the DMV until they earn their Eagle Scout. Girls whose parents have been "too busy" to help them practice for the last three years. Parents who just don't want to pay for insurance.
Don't you want us to move out of the house someday? Some of us are lucky enough to live in cities with subways and a decent bus system. But in the suburbs and country? Only kids and hobos walk anywhere. There's no other way about it. Everything's so spread out. Do you want us to work? You can't commute by foot to a job three towns away. There's always biking and I know a few families who keep horses, but just for recreational uses. If you can't drive from the morning you turn sixteen people think there's something wrong with you.
I didn't get my license until thirty eight days before my seventeenth birthday. I loathed cars all that year. I left the room whenever they came up in conversation. I watched fantasy and historical movies so I didn't have to look at them. One time I picked up a book by my favorite author. The story opened on the main character's sixteenth birthday. She casually mentioned going to the DMV for her license with no fuss about passing the test. I put it down.
Adults can't realize how much self esteem is tied to that stupid little piece of plastic. When adults who didn't know me tried to make conversation, it went "Hi/How are you/That's good/So are you driving yet?" Answering was painful. Even now that I've been a licensed driver for six months, my grandpa starts conversations with, "Have you crashed your car yet?"
I'd respond with, "You've had one car crash in the last twenty seven years. I have less than that."
What bothers me most about the teen driver stereotype is that it's directed at our age, not our inexperience. Remember that twenty year old I mentioned? The day he got his license, it was legal for him to talk on the phone and drive. He could be out as late as wanted. He could take his friends joyriding.
I couldn't legally drive my friends home from school until six months after. The logic behind this law is, "Teens don't have much driving experience, less experience means more crashes, let's keep these friends out of the car so they don't distract her."
I can understand this. But tell me why the same rules and logic shouldn't apply to him. Age does not make you a better driver. The only way to do that is time and experience.

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