Summer 2002
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TCU Magazine "Purpectives"

Test drive

By Jaime Walker '02


I am a good driver. I promise.

For those who have seen me speeding down University Drive, or who have hurled obscenities at me for almost cutting you off on I-30—or laughed when I declared the loading area of my handicapped parking space a sort of parking-margin-of-error for my poor depth perception—I have proof. Really! I deserve a good-driver gold star.

Well, at least compared to some I do. Take, for example, the woman piloting the new red Mustang I saw the other day. I was horrified and amazed as I watched her carefully polish her toenails while carrying on what appeared to be a heated conversation on her visor phone, conceivably about the article she had just read in the Glamour magazine I noticed was open on the passenger seat. Most terrifying? The whole accident-causing scenario took place at about 65 miles per hour.

Meanwhile, I, mouth gaping, neck craned, slowed my 1991 Sable to a grandmotherly pace in the center lane. First I tried to imagine what driving with my feet would feel like. Then I gauged the flexibility and talent required of an abled-bodied driver to prop her right foot up on the dash and navigate her vehicle with one hand and the other foot. I concluded that such a feat required one to be more limber and more stupid than the average driver.

As I gawked, I heard a familiar voice ring in my ears. Some might call it the voice of reason honed in childhood after years of wagging fingers and verbal scolding. Others might simply call it the conscience. But this time I recognized my voice—it was Jean Wood, my driving instructor/elementary school cafeteria manager/friend. Her voice was clear: "Darlin', practice makes a good driver but common sense makes the best ones."

Jean, a woman just soft and round enough to make her hugs comfortable and assure cautious students that the warm rolls from her cafeteria were the best you'd ever taste, was also my personal driving hero. Her ingenuity saved me from a driving test at my local DMV.

With its bright orange cones, mammoth potholes and Nazi-like guards, the parking lot adjacent to the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles driver license bureau in Atlanta is without question the closest I have ever been to hell.

My father and I drove by our local shopping-center-turned-DMV-office almost every day when I was growing up. I watched drivers, some in the Chevy Novas they used for drug deals and others in shiny new 16-year-old birthday presents, navigate the pseudocourse with ease. But tiny beads of sweat formed on my brow each time I tried to imagine following suit.

When I visited this gulag at age 15, and then lived to tell Jean about it, I swore I would never return. I recounted how I stood in a line that moved at the pace of water buffalo wading in mud just to be told by some mind-numbingly inept, bubblegum-chewing clerk with gold fingernails that the four hours I had just wasted would have been better served marking my place in the line on the other side of the room. I spent from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m. weaving through a series of lines that day. Eventually the motor vehicle gods smiled on me, and I was granted a conditional driving permit.

Jean just laughed at my story and promised that getting my license would not be so hard. Three years later she saved me from the hassle and hazard of returning to hell.

But the stressful flashbacks of that first visit, and the visions I conjured up about navigating that series of cones, steering around potholes and watching some intimidating officer jot down copious notes that were surely deductions, got to me. And while I knew I wanted a driver's license, I decided I could live without one if it meant I could avoid the DMV.

When Jean heard I was going off to college without a license she called me at home. After exchanging pleasantries, she got down to business. "You need a license. So what we are going to do," she said in a sweet but authoritative tone, "is drive to my hometown in north Georgia where my friend will do your test so you won't get nervous." I tried to interject questions about whether that setup would be considered cheating, but she continued.

"You will drive all the way there. All two hours. If you do well, I'll know you're ready to be out on your own. It will be your test before the test. Oh, and I've already worked it out—no parallel parking."

I was overjoyed. Especially about the no-parallel-parking option. I convinced myself that people in wheelchairs never need to parallel park. No handicapped parking spaces would require that skill. (I was later proved very wrong when my father drove me throughout downtown Atlanta pointing out every such space until we saw 100—after I passed the test that hadn't required it.)

On the Saturday following our phone conversation, we set out for the tiny town of Hiawassee. A place where DMV officials serve customers coffee and doughnuts and inquire about your favorite subject in school. Needless to say, I passed the test.

Years later I do feel a twinge of guilt for cutting corners on the driving test. But today I'm just happy I didn't accidentally cut off my Fort Worth neighbor in the red sports car with the still-wet red toenails.

I can't parallel park, but I am not a bad driver. Thanks, Jean.

Jaime Walker '02, to whom you still might want to give a wide berth to on the road, joined the ranks of the TCU Alumni Association following her spring graduation. She can be reached at jl_walker@mindspring.com.

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