There's a feeling you get when your son begins the process of learning how to drive a car, a feeling that's indescribable. Although, if I had to take a whack at describing the feeling and put it on some kind of list, I'd say it's somewhere between watching Linda Blair's head spin around in The Exorcist and the intestinal pain you experience when you eat a plateful of rancid sea bass.
However, it's important to note that I'm going into the whole thing with a good attitude.
Nick has driven before. He drove my truck on a gravel road high in the mountains when he was 13, his keen driving skills sending tens of thousands of terrified deer, chipmunks and porcupines stampeding over a cliff to their deaths. And he drove my truck on a friend's sprawling ranch when he was 14. On that day, Nick came to a narrow spot in the road and had to choose between driving over a little stick that was lying on the right side of the road or plunging off the left side of the road, down a steep ravine and into a pond. His brain gathered the information, quickly processed it in that teen-ager way and then he made his decision. I reacted by screaming, grabbing the steering wheel and swerving the vehicle back onto the road. Over the little stick.
But Nick turned 15 in March and this driving thing has become real. Fortunately, he's spent most of his life observing the world-class driving skills of motorists here in Colorado Springs. Because he's been studying us so intently, he's confident that now he, too, can roar mindlessly through a red light at 60 mph while talking on his cell phone with his head up his #$%.
Serving number 6
A few weeks ago I enrolled him in a National Driver Training Institute program. He was allowed to take the learner's permit test that same day and he passed it, somehow correctly answering really tough multiple-choice questions that they put on the test, questions such as:
The speed limit in a school zone when the yellow warning lights are flashing is:
A) 20 mph
B) The Adriatic Sea.
C) Chester the Wonder Horse
D) Who Let The Dogs Out?
Nick got that one wrong, but according to the woman at the Driver Training Institute, he only got two others incorrect and therefore had passed his learner's permit exam. Thinking he might be legally allowed to drive my vehicle home that afternoon, I suddenly felt a great sense of pride in this young man as I calmly walked outside and threw my set of car keys onto the roof of the building.
Luckily for me -- and the 15 nuns, each of them carrying an orphan that I'm pretty sure Nick would have run over in a crosswalk on our way home -- the state of Colorado would not allow him to drive just yet.
First, he had to take his test results to the Department of Motor Vehicles, fill out some more paperwork, have his picture taken and obtain his actual permit. The DMV office was next to the driving school office on Austin Bluffs Parkway, so we walked over and took a number. I didn't write this down anywhere so I'm not positive, but I believe we had number 894 and the red neon sign on the wall announced that they were currently serving number 6.
In and out in 40 minutes
We joined a huge throng of mothers and fathers sitting with their teen-aged children. The scene could have been a Norman Rockwell painting -- you know, if Rockwell had painted angry teen-agers slumped in chairs, impatiently clicking their metal tongue studs against their teeth.
After a few minutes, I asked the guy next to me how long he'd been waiting. He said he'd been there for four hours. I thought he was kidding, so I laughed and jokingly asked, "What kind of an idiot would wait four hours for anything, unless, of course, you were waiting in a line to slap the hell out of Doug Bruce?"
The guy moved to the other side of the room. Turns out he wasn't kidding.
Our state is experiencing budget problems, as you know. Experts believe that by 2010 Colorado will be so broke it will only be able to hire 4,000 new workers to lean on their shovels at the intersection of Woodmen Road and I-25. Because of these budget problems, our village now has just one DMV office where you can get a driver's license or learner's permit. And people are, indeed, forced to wait four and even five hours for their licenses.
So I did the sensible thing. I took my son to Pueblo. In Pueblo, there's hardly ever a line for anything. The exception comes each September, when State Fair executives set up a carnival booth and invite people to "Step right up and watch us guess how much money the State Fair lost this year!"
Anyway, we were out of the DMV office in Pueblo in 40 minutes. My son had his learner's permit. And because of a new law that went into effect July 1, he must wait one year before he gets his license. So it looks like I'll be the passenger in my Chevy Suburban for the next 12 months.
As soon as Nick climbs onto the roof of the Pueblo DMV office and finds the keys.