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Step Three: Failure
I have a relatively flawless track record when it comes to tests. Having never obtained a failing grade, I have come to think of myself as something of a Test Master. My secret, you ask? I’ve broken down the art of test-taking into a simple three-step system. Step one is preparation. Step two is knowledge of test content. The third and final step is following directions. This system works perfectly with every classroom test I’ve taken. Therefore, it is only natural that I apply it to my most important test to date: the driving test.
Since the tender age of six I have dreamed of filling the transparent window-pocket in my wallet with my very own driver’s license, hideous photograph and all. Years of anticipation, months of preparation, and hours upon hours of driver’s ed later, I am finally ready to overcome the final hurdle separating me from my license: the road test. I signed up two months ago and practiced every day for weeks. Finally having mastered the elusive skills of parallel parking and backing in on the left, my mother and I set out for the DMV.
I am not concerned. Driving is not particularly difficult, after all. I’ve followed my test-acing system to a tee. The hours spent repeatedly parking, three-point-turning, and driving every road in town have left me feeling adequately prepared. Add that to the thirty-eight hours of driver’s education and I am over-prepared, if anything. Step one: complete.
Step two: knowledge of test content. Everyone knows what the driving test entails. I have to pull out, signal, turn, drive in the correct lane, abide by the speed limit, respect the right of way, blah blah blah. I can read road signs, stop before the white line of a stop sign, look to the left, right, and left again, the list goes on and on. In any case, I am well enough aware of proper driving techniques that this should be a piece of cake.
The third step is far too easy: follow directions. Unless I suddenly go deaf in one ear and miss the test administrator’s cue to turn right, I’m pretty much golden.
My examiner’s name is Bob. He reminds me of a stereotypical trucker, with a gray button down shirt tucked into gray pants, a bushy mustache, and a slight New York twang to his voice. He tell me to get into the car while he takes a quick break to smoke a cigarette. I hope he puts it out before my test begins.
Finally Bob makes himself comfortable in the passenger seat. By this, I mean very comfortable. He reclines the seat back until it may as well be horizontal and stretches his feet far out in front of him. Removing a black pen from behind his ear, he gives me a cryptic look that evidently means my test has begun. Oh how I love the friendly, kindhearted nature of DMV officials.
I make a show of adjusting the mirrors and seat, fiddling excessively with the knobs to display my careful perfectionism. Bob merely looks bored. Maybe he will simply fall asleep or forget to evaluate my driving. Ignoring the butterflies that are now beating incessantly in my stomach, I buckle my seat belt and insert the key into the ignition. Here goes nothing.
Bob instructs me to pull out and take my first right. His voice is dull and irritated, and I hope that I haven’t done anything to offend him. The time has come to abide by Step Three. Following directions is simple, even when Bob is the one giving them with his monotonous drone. At his cue, I pull into a parking lot and execute an expert parking job, carefully backing the car in on the right. Bob scribbles something on his clip board.
The end of the test is near, and I try to stay focused despite the hollow feeling in my stomach. Overcoming nerves has never been my strong point. Driving along an unpopulated street at a legal speed of twenty-five miles per hour, I have a sudden vision of my license, finally enclosed safely in my hand. I am almost there.
Then Bob tells me to turn left. Simple. Obeying Step Number Three, I signal left, slow down, check for oncoming traffic, and turn the car left. I have barely entered the adjacent street when I feel Bob’s foot slam heavily on his instructor’s break.
“What are you DOING?” he demands. This is the most animated Bob has been throughout the entire test.
He gestures to a large sign, white with red letters that read, “DO NOT ENTER. ONE WAY.” Oops. My heart shrivels inside my chest and my stomach drops. A numbness spreads from my chest to my fingertips and I blink back tears. Months of waiting and careful practice have all gone to waste because I lost focus for a split second. Concentrating on following Step Three instead of observing my surroundings, I had followed Bob’s directions to go left and turned into a one way street the wrong way. Bob, the evil, robotic DMV official, had tricked me.
Fighting back tears, I drive back to the DMV parking lot and accept the pink evaluation sheet with the word FAIL circled in heavy black ink. I glance down at it and feel a stabbing pain in my heart. This thin slip of pink paper means I am a failure.It may as well be mocking me.
I, never having failed a test in my life, just failed the driving test. My supposed three-step, fail-proof test taking plan did not work. My mind is baffled. Cursing Bob, I take out my wallet, undo the clasp, and gaze longingly at the transparent window pocket that was moments before so close to holding a newly printed driver’s license.
It is still empty.