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Fourth time's a driver's charm

When it comes to driving, I'm the girl who parks on the curb, the one who rear ends roundabouts, and the one who leaves skid marks on the grass. And despite my best efforts, none of that changed when I went to take my driving test at the Departme...

When it comes to driving, I'm the girl who parks on the curb, the one who rear ends roundabouts, and the one who leaves skid marks on the grass.

And despite my best efforts, none of that changed when I went to take my driving test at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Make that my three driving tests.

My saga began in October 2006. Already months overdue to get my license, I decided to take the plunge and arrived at the DMV with high hopes and expectations.

I bounced into the dimly lit room, waltzed my way to the front and announced brightly that I had scheduled an appointment. First good omen of the day: I didn't have to wait in line.

From there, I was directed to enter my vehicle and wait for the driving tester, who turned out to be the infamous, "Scary Larry," a legend in the area rumored to have failed nearly everyone he encountered.


We started the test, and I began to show off my hand signals, praying that maybe if I excelled at the stationary stuff, Larry wouldn't notice if things went awry when we actually moved.

I successfully completed the right turn out of the DMV and tried to act like the calm, cool person I wanted to be. But such a vision can only last for so long. Things were going great when we reached an intersection, and I prepared to make a left turn. The light changed to green, and I began to turn as expected. I didn't expect, however, a massive landscaping truck to hurtle my way.

I braked in sheer panic, afraid to be mauled by the lawn mowers and weed whackers rapidly approaching my car on the other side. Larry shared my fear because he yelled for me to "Go, go, go!"

The gardening appliances missed us as I barreled my way onto the safety of a side street. And before he even said it, I knew . . . it was back to the DMV. Once we'd returned to the calm parking lot, Larry told me what went wrong. Apparently, I didn't have the right of way.

Three weeks passed before I dared to return to the scene of my failure. This time, I did not revel in the simple joys (still, no lines), and was quite anxious about the open road.

Perspiring slightly, I was greeted by a DMV tester whose prim blouse and stiff haircut suggested that she was anything but easygoing. Out on the pavement, I was careful to avoid unprotected left turns, signal when lane changing and keep my hands on the steering wheel at all times. I was careful, but not careful enough.

Once again, we approached an intersection, and all I had to do was make a right turn on red. I looked over my shoulder, checked to my left, looked over my shoulder again, and then turned. Suddenly, an SUV came barreling toward, us, and it was the tester who yelled for me to "Go, go, go!" Failed again.

Many days elapsed before I could even raise my head in public, let alone return to the place that had failed me twice. After a couple of months of brooding, however, I knew I had to conquer my fear.


I showed up at the DMV for the third time, rushed through the formalities and got ready to battle it out. Everything was a go until I tried to start my car. The battery sputtered for a few moments before completely giving out. There I was, stranded in the driveway, glared at for blocking the way and basically pitied all around.

After recovering from this scarring ordeal, I obtained jumper cables from a kind woman in the parking lot. But it was too late. I had thrown off the DMV's rigid schedule and would have to wait until another time to try again.

Sadly, my permit expired within days. Since there were no test times available at the local DMV before said expiration, I ventured about an hour away to the DMV in Walnut Creek, Calif., where the people were nice and appointments were plentiful.

I never had driven in Walnut Creek before, but I got a really happy feeling when I entered the DMV. This cheer lasted until I stepped into the car and realized that if I didn't pass now, I would have to take my permit's test over and wait a year to receive my license.

My adrenaline was high when my tester bid me begin. She turned out to be a reassuring presence mild-mannered and supportive as I drove. At the first intersection we encountered, I nearly panicked and braked, but forced myself to think of the shopping that awaited at H&M. Clothes always calm me down.

With minidresses in mind, I navigated my way through Walnut Creek. I parked parallel to the curb. I scanned for pedestrians. I carved a place for myself amid the hybrids and the Hondas. Most of the test went by in a wonderful, unblemished blur, all the way back to the parking lot.

Once there, my tester informed me that I, the girl who didn't know a U-turn from a left turn, had passed! I had hit the universal teenage milestone without hitting someone in the process.

Finally, nothing could drive me crazy.


Li Zhou is a senior at Granada High School in Livermore, Calif.

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