As I explained back at the beginning of this odyssey, in North Carolina a teenager can obtain their Learner's Permit the day they turn 15, if they so desire (and their parents are brave enough). They must then have it for a period of one full year (counting from whatever day they actually do pass the written exam and get it), accruing 60 hours of supervised practice along the way, before they can take the road test to earn their Provisional License.
Okay, so Team WestEnders was a little bit sloooow in kicking off the process--Derek didn't even get into the school-sponsored Driver's Ed classroom session until May of last year, after his birthday had come and gone. And it took another month to get on the schedule for the behind-the-wheel portion. Besides, it seemed there were always other obligations taking up all available time--homework...and soccer...and...whatnot--so somehow JULY snuck up on us before we actually got around to storming the good old DMV. And then...the rest of the Summer passed by, without a whole lot of Derek clamoring to go out and...ahem..."put rubber to the road", as it were.
Then, of course, school and sports started back up again, limiting his free time...but truthfully, even when he had golden opportunities--such as the thrice-weekly practices we had to haul his butt to all Winter--he just...didn't seem to care all that much. That it, until his 16th birthday came around...and some of his friends started getting their little plastic tickets to freedom...and he suddenly became verrrry keen to hurry up and log those hours.
Therefore, all Summer we made it our collective (Temporary) Life's Mission to ride around in the passenger seat with Derek, every chance we got. We need to go to Costco? Derek's the chauffeur. Church on Sunday and errands afterwards? Yep--hand over the keys. He even got to take a shift on road trips to South Carolina and Atlanta, to focus on building stamina and maintaining attention for extended jaunts. And oh-so-gradually....the hours began to add up.
When the carefully handwritten tally on the log sheet finally approached the magic number, it was time to think of the next step...spending more precious moments at the beloved Department of Motor Vehicle...Torture (the unspoken, but understood, part of the official name). One of Derek's friends, when I asked his opinion, told me unequivocally that making an appointment to take the exam was an absolute MUST, to avoid wasting ridiculous amounts of time waiting around for your turn.
Good to know--so I took him at his word, promptly called our local office...and got that obnoxious "busy signal" tone that I probably haven't heard in...decades? (Seriously, I didn't think that function even existed anymore, thanks to automated systems and voicemail. What the WHAT?) This happened during regular business hours...and repeatedly, at various times that I tried. Oh....kay...clearly, "answering phone calls" is NOT one of the services offered by the DMV.
FINE (she said with dripping sarcasm) I'll just show up at the front desk and politely request a slot for Derek. Yeaaahhhh....right....the first time I did a drive-by, I saw throngs of people spilling out of the (admittedly tiny, but still) lobby, onto the sidewalk. No. Thank. You. I slowed down, but ultimately kept moving. I went through this same absurd routine maybe twice more before I hit a time when I decided there were few enough other victims--um "customers" to risk actually, you know, parking the car and venturing into the fray.
It looked promising--sure, the seats were mostly filled by people clutching their little paper numbers and waiting to be called to the back...but there were only 3 other folks standing in a short line to be triaged at the (one and only) service desk. I installed myself at the end...then noticed that there wasn't an actual human being manning (or woman-ing, whatever) the station. This was not what you might call a "good sign", yeah? I remained there...shifting from one foot to the other...looking around for a clue from the other patrons as to what the heck was going on in this shoddy operation...becoming rapidly and increasingly more impatient...before giving up after 10 minutes or so of being ignored, and leaving in a (quiet) huff...again.
Well...this was just freakin' unacceptable. Drastic measures were obviously called for, immediately--so one day I woke up before I usually do, got ready for work in an all-fired hurry, and hightailed it over to the office, hoping to synchronize my arrival as closely as possible to the time they opened the doors. Eh, I was in the ballpark ("first thing in the morning" not being among my favorite time periods, and "punctual" not being in my genes), showing up at about 8:05.
And whattya know: by 8:15 or so, I had spoken with the surprisingly pleasant customer service individual (I know it was early, and she hadn't been forced to handle much conflict yet, but if I were her, dealing with a long day of very likely disgruntled, belligerent and/or confused people, I'd surely slap someone...and be fired, so that would be the end of that...which would be for the best, really..."managing the public" is soooo not my thing..) and procured an appointment--for only 2 weeks out, which was an unexpected bonus.
It turned out that the "first appointment" was in the middle of the school day...aaannand would possibly interfere with his first AP Biology exam...but this seemed like a "let your teacher know what's up" and "write a note for an excused absence" situation if I ever saw one. Then it was just a matter of finishing up those last few practice hours...and admonishing Derek to try (for the love of...everything) not to forget all the skills he'd learned before the test rolled around.
On the actual...D-day (of a sort)...I wished him good luck and went to work, keeping my fingers crossed all morning. He had assured me he wasn't nervous...but that's just Derek, who is easygoing to the hilt. Me? I was on pins and needles. Also, the conditions weren't the best--after months of dryness, it had been raining heavily for a couple of days, causing dark grey skies, reduced visibility, and some pretty substantial puddles of standing water. But...I'm happy to report that it all worked out, as the text came in a short while later from Husband, reporting that Derek had successfully passed, and was in possession of his first real license. Well, a paper copy, at least--they mail you the real one in a couple of days. But who cares--yaaaayyyyy!
Such a huuuuuge milestone in the life of a teen--I swear I can still remember how exhilarated I was to be handed that magic permission slip...to the mall...the local convenience store for a slushie run...heck, ANYWHERE outside of my neighborhood represented the Big, Wide World to me back then. Of course, I'm now on the Parent end of the spectrum, and thus have to worry about his safety as a motor vehicle operator...every single minute he's in a car. (Siiiighhhhh...)
However, he's already admitted to me that he has no interest in driving to school (even if that was an option, which right now it definitely isn't, since he currently doesn't have his own jalopy) because "the parking lot's a ZOO!" So I wonder if he's concocting any plans for where he's going to roam, on his Inaugural Journey. On that note, I jokingly informed him that I plan to take full advantage of having another driver in the family, by sending him out to take care of drudge chores--I mean "helpful excursions"--like when I forget an item at Food Lion...or I run out of something I need. "I know!" I enthused during our conversation, "You can pick up stuff we need to replenish every couple of days, like bananas...and salad ingredients...and....and...my almond milk!" He looked at me with what appeared to be equal parts bemusement...and mild panic..."Um...I don't know how to buy any of that stuff!"
Okay, then, don't worry, we'll start small, my son...grab the keys, and you can take me...to Starbucks! Whoo hoo! Away we goooooo....