A few weeks ago, I met up with a friend of mine—he’s only a month younger than me—at the Garden State Plaza mall for a movie and to hang out. My mom drove me there, and he was going to drive me home. We started the trek from Paramus to Fair Lawn trying to figure out how to get out of the GSP’s ornate but massive parking lot system, something easier said than done. Even when we figured out how to exit, we realized that we were heading onto the highway, which my friend had strongly wanted to avoid (and hey, I was in the passenger seat, so I wasn’t going to argue). We spent 30 terrifying seconds on the rightmost lane of Route 17 North before managing to exit. But he did get me home in reasonable time and in one piece, so I will definitely vouch for his driving skills!
I’m guessing most of you reading this are able to drive. I sadly have not yet gained that ability—I’m pretty well-versed in driving my siblings and occasionally parents a bit crazy. But really, I have not yet learned to drive a motor vehicle. I could’ve started lessons when I was 16, then taken the license test on my birthday (which coincidentally, was Erev Sukkot, so I wouldn’t have had school to worry about), and already been cruising around New Jersey at full speed (as in the speed limit, of course).
Some could say this isn’t such a bad thing. After all, it’s not like I’ll be driving myself to school or school events, since that’s all in New York and there’s no way I’m putting any driving skills to the test so soon on the GWB. I feel a bit constrained by the fact that I can’t yet get behind the wheel. (Well, technically I can, when the car is parked and isn’t actually moving, if you want to be literal.) There are times when I want to visit friends in NJ or hop over to the mall or just go somewhere, and yet I can’t get a ride. It would be great to ask if I can borrow the car instead of if I can have a ride.
Once you turn 17 it’s much simpler to get started because you can begin the process without a driving instructor; you can take the knowledge test and then practice for six months without signing up for any sort of driver’s ed. (Side note: Ramaz does offer driver’s education, but I don’t think I’m eligible because I’m not a resident of New York State; it’s one NY perk I don’t get by going to the school, although I do still appreciate my NYC library card!) My dad does say that I should get official driver’s ed through a driving school—he’s willing to help me learn, of course, but also thinks that it’s a good idea to have me learn through a professional teacher.
So during winter break, I finally started reading the blue NJ driver’s manual. It’s a combination of useful facts—what is a K-turn, when to signal, and so on—and stuff that’s common sense, such as obeying the speed limit. I’ve heard that the knowledge test isn’t so bad; you study the manual and take some practice tests and you’re pretty solid. The hardest part will probably be finding a date that works and getting to the MVC (and waiting on line; I’m not looking forward to the DMV’s notorious queues!). I also may need to take the test right before finals if I want to take it in January, which seems like a bad idea—but that makes the most sense because then I can finish the six months of practice and then the road test in June, before July begins and I possibly go off somewhere for the summer.
It’s easy to imagine the worst; that God forbid I might get into an accident or damage a car or something like that. On the other hand, it’s an important skill that I need to learn, and it’s also something that millions of others (most likely including those of you reading this right now) do every day successfully. I just need to steel myself to get started, to focus, and to go through the process. And then I can finally stop bugging my parents to bring me to Teaneck or the mall, and be able to take myself to more places I wouldn’t have been able to go to beforehand.
I might need to ask them for gas money, though. But I should probably hurry to take the test—I want to be driving while gas prices are still down!
Oren Oppenheim, age 17, is a junior at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, New Jersey. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist. You can email him at [email protected] and see his photography at facebook.com/orenphotography.
By Oren Oppenheim