The girls seated behind me in the waiting room of the DriveTest Ontario office have, apparently, no intention of getting behind the wheel of a car.

“Why are you getting your license,” one of well-heeled young women asked her friend. (And I mean well heeled in a literal way – she was wearing those thigh-high boots with killer heels that are all the rage these days).

The question seemed odd to me. After all, we were in an office that existed specifically to administer driving tests and award licenses for people who want to go places in cars and trucks, in SUVS and mini-vans.

Why spend an hour sitting in a crowded waiting room if being the navigator of a vehicle is of no interest to you?

“I just want it for ID,” said the teenager, while her friends nodded their heads in ready agreement. “Me, too,” said another.

Ah, of course. There are some life passages I’ve simply forgotten about as I motor on toward the half-century mark of life.

A Driver’s License is the pass card for bars, liquor stores and the beverage cart on Air Canada. Ironic, isn’t it.  Flash the little wallet sized card that proclaims you an authorized driver and you can drink all you want – as long as you aren’t getting behind the wheel of a car.

The legal-drinking age ladies smiled prettily for the camera and left the building clutching their new-found ticket to the party life. I hope for their sake – and the world at large — that they stick to public transit.

I came late to being licensed, thanks to a winter birthday and a fear of parallel parking. Growing up in Newfoundland, you had to be 17 before you could get your license.

I didn’t claim mine until I was 19, which, coincidentally, is the legal drinking age in my native province and in my new adopted one, too.  I wasn’t much interested in drinking or hanging out in bars in those days (I know, I was part of a very small minority). What I wanted was a license to drive.

There were no public buses in Corner Brook, NL, when I was a teenager. Before I had my driver’s license, I walked, bummed rides with friends or relied on Dad’s taxi service to get me around.

In Toronto, public transit gets you pretty much wherever you need to go, if you’re not in a hurry. The teenagers at Drive Ontario likely didn’t even think of getting a driver’s license until they started being concerned about being carded in a bar.

I passed my driver’s test first time through, even though I stopped directly on a crosswalk and had some trouble parallel parking. The examiner informed me of my mistakes, then sent me on my way, license in hand.

I’ve loved driving ever since.

Getting licensed in my fourth province proved a relatively easy accomplishment, given the goodwill that exists across borders within Canada. I’ve held licenses in all four Atlantic provinces, and now Ontario.  Sadly, I can’t keep them as trophies – you have to hand one in to get another.

As I gave my New Brunswick license to the clerk, I experienced a moment of anxiety. In addition to answering few questions, I was required to take an eyesight test.

While I am far from the elderly stage of life, I am, as I mentioned, about to hit that magic number when you know you’ll never again be carded in a bar. I’m approaching the age marked by squints and sciatica, of gravity falling and of grave forgetfulness settling in.

At the wicket next to me, an elderly woman had just failed her eyesight test. I watched her shuffle sadly off and wondered if I would be able to master the reading chart without wearing my dollar store reading glasses?

Fortunately, yes.

I left Drive Ontario with a temporary license in hand, and the assurance that a plastic version with a suitably horrid self portrait would arrive in my mailbox someday soon.

I left relieved, which is more than I can say for the man who took the place of the elderly lady with the poor eyesight. It turns out he also needed some repeat tests before Drive Ontario would issue him a new license.

I left him pressing his case to the clerk, explaining he needed his license for work, and that he’d been out of the country, which is why he’d missed the deadline to renew his license without taking a test.

But rules are rules, I discovered at Drive Ontario. You have to be able to see if you want to drive. You can’t let your license expire. And if you’re 19 or older, that little plastic card will get you places whether you actually want to drive a car or not.

Lynda MacGibbon is a transplanted Maritimer living in Toronto. Her column appears each Friday in the Moncton Times & Transcript. Email her at lmacgibbon@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @lyndamacgibbon.

One thought on “Driving towards rites of passage and refusal

  1. I remember getting my licence in Corner Brook as well. Parallel parking on Humber Park with the standard Fiat!!! What a sense of freedom when you finally got it. So many places to be discovered, accessible only by car (and then perhaps only during the summer months when the frost heaves had been graded out of those dirt roads). Good times!

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