Advice To Young Drivers

sample-license I still don’t really like driving, but I’m better at it. Better enough at it that as of 09-09-09, I am a licensed driver in the state of Illinois. Only 16 years past the ‘normal’ date. Shocking.

I didn’t scan in my own since it has a new fancy reflective thing on it, which makes it hard to scan. Anti-theft being what it is, I can’t really say I’m upset about this. Oddly, when I first moved here (at age 20), a red background on your license or ID meant you were under 21. Now they have a vertical license (photo on top, info underneath) for the kiddies. I suppose that makes it easier to catch, but they’ve ‘redesigned’ the license at least 4 times since I’ve been here, and I’m sure it just makes everyone more confused.

Yesterday I took my road test, passed it, and now I have a brand-spanking-new drivers license, proclaiming me legally permitted to drive around the USA. Fear. And you know what, fear was a great deal of why I didn’t do this sooner. Fear and a bit of rebellion against everyone who said I ‘had’ to do this because that’s what was done. One of my favorite books is Tom Brown’s School Days, and in it, Tom’s best friend East wasn’t confirmed with the rest of his friends because he felt that they only did it because it was what everyone did. “‘Twas ‘because the Doctor liked it’; ‘no boy got on who didn’t stay the Sacrament’; it was the ‘correct thing,’ in fact […]”

sample-license-under21 When I was young, I really felt like that a lot of the time. People demanded you do things without explaining why it was needed or good, just that ‘everyone does it.’ I hated it then, I hate it now. I want to know why this versus that, how come one way and not the other. And when people just say ‘because’ I get annoyed and mulish. To make matters worse, the higher people’s expectations of me regarding a test, the more like throwing up I feel. It’s diagnosed as ‘Performance Anxiety’, but I’ve figured out that it’s expectations. No one knew I was going to take the written test, and while I was nervous, it was manageable. Multiple people knew I was going to take my first lesson and I was terrified. More people knew I was taking my road test, and I was living off TUMS yesterday.

My friend Rae (to whom I am eternally grateful) was all gung-ho about this, got me in touch with Northwestern Driving School so I could take lessons. I admit, my cardinal rule about companies is ‘A crap website means I probably won’t shop with you.’ I’m picky about that, but it’s 2009 and I have my hangups.

Speaking of, CyberDrive Illinois has had a nice facelift in the 12 years I’ve been in Chicago, and things go pretty fast. Actually, I’ve never had an unplesant experience at the DMV in Illinois. Everyone is very nice, polite, and the one time I had a bitchy woman (yesterday afternoon), I looked her right in the eye and said “I know it sucks for you to work late today, but I am very appreciative and I do not take this for granted.” She blinked, grinned, and then I asked if she could please make sure I was correctly identified as a female on my drivers license. That cheered her up.

Oh yeah, for some reason my permit said ‘Gender: M’ on it. Which is wrong, and my tatas would like you to remember that. Thank you.

So we got to the Chicago North offices, Rae loaning me her car, and I went in to fill out the last forms and get ready. The written test in Chicago is pretty simple. Memorize the shapes of the signs (you’re not permitted to miss any) and remember to always pick the most restrictive option on the multiple choice questions, and you’ll be okay. If you’re ready, you can take the road test then and there, but I wasn’t and took driving lessons. Six hours of lessons at $50 each. They gave me the ‘youth’ discount since I was a first time driver. John, the instructor, is a great guy. He’s smart, educated, well spoken, and calm. He taught me to drive, to parallel park, three-point-turn, backup, backup and turn, merge lanes … the whole nine yards.

John also walked me through the driver test three times. Seriously. He knew exactly what the test was, exactly where you’d be driving, and he took me through it. If you’re on the North Side of Chicago, go to Northwestern Driving School. Period. Send your children, send your grandparents. Tell them Mika says hi. They’re good.


The road test itself is dead simple, too! You get in, fill out the forms, show them proof the car is insured, and pull around to the ‘Road Test’ area. While you wait, they check your car lights, signals and if you can start and stop the car. Then you wait a little while longer until your road test judge comes out. I had Joe C., who was a bit hippie-ish like my father is, and was very nice. Joe’s instructions were just like John’s, and it was easy.

You pull out and up to the exit, where there’s a stop sign. You stop once at the big white line and prepare to turn right. Since you can’t see if it’s safe to merge with traffic, you pull up to the third white line, poking the nose of the car out. Once it’s safe, you pull out to the right and watch out for the signal about two car lengths down. You’ll drive along (the limit is 30, stay UNDER it), until you get to the stop sign, where you’ll turn left. There’s a side street before the stop sign, so turn your signal on AFTER you pass it.

If you’re under 18, they pull you over after that and make you park. Once the car is parked, they ask you these wonderful questions. “If you’re parking uphill with a curb, which way should your wheels face? What about without a curb? What about downhill?” You’ve taken the written test, you should know the answers are ‘Away from the curb’, ‘toward the curb’ and ‘toward the curb’, respectively. Then they tell you to continue on. Back up a little if you need to, remember to turn on your left blinker (my teen-aged friend made sure to remind me of this), check your mirrors, and pull back out. You’ll drive down the street to the light, turn right again (I went a little too fast there, forgetting Rae’s car has a ‘need to MASH’ brake). Drive down that street to the next light where, again, turn right. This turn is a sharper angle, and you need to have the right mix of slow and speed. I nailed it perfectly.


Finally you drive back to the DMV, go to the end of the parking lot and drive through 50 feet of cones. Then you reverse the 50 feet. Don’t hit the cones and don’t over adjust. Drive back out of the cones and take a right to park. Reverse and turn left as you do so. Then you drive up and park on the right side of the waiting building, go in to get your certificate of non-failure, and ehad over to the main DMV for your license.

Since they’d goobered my gender on the permit, they canceled my permit and issued a new one, so I went to the Supervisor, who had a new update this license thing issued and sent me to the cashier. Since my permit was still new, they didn’t charge me an extra fee and sent me to the pre-photo line. There they took all my info, officially corrected my gender (and yes, I did remind every last person there about is so they’d be aware), and sent me to photo-guy. Apparently sicne my hair was long 5 years ago, when the last photo was taken, they wanted a new one. The new photo, I look tan and a little stunned in, which is appropriate. And it says female.

I went back to the car, where Rae was in the passenger seat reading, I drove and picked up Judith and Jill, and went out to dinner.

I’m a driver.

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