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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Driving Uphill


My grandmother lived her entire life without ever having a drivers license or a car.
She took public transit buses to get around Maine her entire life.
It got her to all of the important places she needed to be, like the Mall, Ames, McCrocry's, the movie theatre and the Doctor.

When I was in 4th grade, I remember waiting outside of my school with her until the bus came to pick her up. It was a icey, snowy day and I didn't want her to slip.
The public bus took forever to come and by the time I went back into the school, I had been gone for so long that they thought I had been kidnapped.
Though I was just a block away, my mother had been alerted and the police were on the line ready to start searching for me.
That should have been enough incentive for me to get my drivers license the minute I turned 16, but it wasn't.

My Mother was the second generation not to get her license or a car. I grew up thinking this was very normal.
As a little girl during warm months, my Mom would pull me in a little red wagon up Sandhill to get grocery's.
In the Winter, I coasted down the hill in a sled with brown paper grocery bags secured between my little legs.
My mother always had to call friends and neighbors to "bum" rides when we needed things.
We walked to the places nearby and most often, missed out on many things that we just couldn't get too.
When anyone would ask her why she didn't drive, she would tell them it was because she was to scared.

At 14, I missed a High School dance because no one was available to give me a ride.
I remember sitting in my room counting change and rolling pennies in my dress, just trying to come up with the money to take a taxi. I didn't have enough.
I woke up the next morning on my bed, surrounded by coins and still in my dress like a sad Cinderella.
I had no fairy godmother to rescue me, but would have loved it if someone had turned a pumpkin into a car.

My Mom eventually had enough of depending on everyone else for rides and got her license at 48 years old. We were all very proud and excited when she finally took that step.
About a year later when I was old enough to take driver ed, my sister gave me the money to go to driving school for Christmas.

I first pissed of my drivers ed teacher when she tried to make me change a tire with a wrench.
I think I said "This is like manual labor, if I really needed a tire changed I would call Triple A."
After that session she didn't like me much and was especially tough on my driving.
In return for her attitude, I almost killed her while trying to drive around the Augusta rotary several times-though not on purpose.

When it came time for the big 100 question written permit test I was the only one in my class that failed hardcore. It didn't help that she graded them in front of the whole class so I felt especially dumb.
I never did well in school or test type situations but when she let me take it again solo, I passed and got my permit.

It was right around that time I had decided I was going to live in NYC after I graduated, so I wasn't in any huge rush to get my license.
I sent in for my drivers test date in Spring of 2002, but didn't get an appointment back until Sept, for long after I had moved to NYC.
At that point I really didn't need a license, since I was taking the subway everywhere I needed to go.
A couple of years flew by and my Maine permit had expired. I didn't miss it much and got a Non Driver NY State ID to supplement.

Driving in NYC looked really dangerous scary.
I quickly started to develop the same fear I imagine my grandmother and mother had felt of driving.

In 2010 when a new career started for me as a Gaga Impersonator, I suddenly needed to get to events all over the country.
After a year of having to schlep on LIRR, NJ Transit, Metro North, Amtrak, Busses, and taxis to get to gigs I was 100% fed up.
My breaking point really came when I missed a booking because an idiot taxi driver drove me around NJ, lost for an hour.
I studied for and easily passed my NY permit and pre licensing test at the DMV, and took the required 5 hour course pre drivers ed.
When I searched for a driving school, I looked deep in Brooklyn where I knew roads would be mostly residential and clear of heavy traffic.
My drivers ed teacher ended up being a really awesome fiery Puerto Rican guy named TJ.
Some highlights of his quotes (that I can legally share) during my drivers ed lessons were: "What the hell was that shit", "U gonna die", "Flip that guy off", "Don't wait for those mother f*cking jay walkers run em down".
Guess you get what you pay for.
By the time I was finished all 12 lessons I was driving with a real NYC road rage attitude, and had learned some new slurs.
The day TJ met me for my drivers test we had to head out to Red Hook early.
Once we were in the lineup of test taker cars, I noticed the license plate in front of me had my lucky number -42 (4242 spell Gaga on the keypad, and 24 is Streisand's birthday and lucky number) and 29 for my birthday. Clearly a good omen.
We were chilling out to Z100 when one of the other drivers ed teachers suddenly pounded on our window.
TJ rolled it down and the guy told him that our car had almost a flat tire.......Just my luck.
DMV does not allow a test car to have low air or a flat.
TJ jumped in the drivers seat and hauled ass to the nearest garage and get the tire filled. I was sweating in the tilted car watching the minutes until my test time tick away.

We made it back to my test spot with just 3 minutes to spare, before I would have gotten rescheduled.
With my adrenaline pumping, the woman testing me marched over and sat in the passenger seat, frowned, and dictated directions.
"Turn right, parallel park, 3 point turn, backup." I was scared shitless the entire time.
A lot was riding on this test for me. Not just passing so I could drive to gigs, but breaking free of the non driving stigma in my family.
When I pulled back into the parking spot, I knew that I had made a few mistakes and was sure I had failed.

The woman typed in some numbers and printed out a receipt from her small machine.
She handed it to me, and I was almost scared to look at it.

I had passed!
It had been about 10 years since my first drivers lesson in Maine, so a long time coming.
I was so excited I got a head rush and almost passed out.
Little did I know getting my license would be the easy part.


Driving around NJ during a Gaga gig. Some fans chased us on the highway!

Over a year and a half later, I am happily driving rentals, Zip Cars and Hertz On Demand all over the USA to get to my gigs.

My first solo drives in NYC were on the BQE, West Side Highway, Garden State Parkway, Brooklyn Bridge and Holland Tunnel. Talk about trial by fire.

Luckily with as mediocre of a driver that I still am, I am still better and more cautious than most of the drivers around here.

I wish that I had gotten my license in High School, but everything happens for a reason.


The ten years between only made me appreciate how valuable having a license is, and the day I got it was that much more fulfilling because of the journey it took me to get there.

I'll be having many more journey's throughout my life, but will get there a bit faster now because I can drive myself to them :)

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