Learning to Drive in Your Thirties
I got home from my first diving lesson and checked my Facebook. A status update caught my eye: “to the f*cker who took his student out on a lesson in peak hour and drove 20 kms/h down Brunswick road, you are a f*cker”. It’s my friend Amy. And I know I am the one she is talking about. But while at the mature age of 32, I should be teaching, I am the student. The child. The babe. Total babe.
Are you one of those people who got older and just kept putting off getting a licence? It’s one of those things we can fall into a trap of avoiding to learn, like how to poach an egg, or what the difference between a greyhound and a whippet is, or knowing how to fold a fitted sheet. You get by in life without adding that skill to your card. It can be inconvenient, but as someone who has lived in the inner city since escaping Ballarat aged 17, I’ve always managed to do without. Friends and ex-girlfriends would probably point out that this miracle was achieved through constant, obliging lifts whenever I needed to get somewhere further than the local café or carry something bigger than my head. However, they’re not writing this article, I am, so ignore them.
For me, it got to the point this year where enough was enough. Public Transport was constraining, legs were growing slow and old friends' sighs became more and more audible. Also, as a bike rider, everyone wants to kill you.
Thus, I felt compelled to join the motorized hordes driving this planet to extinction. I’m not going to lie to you, learning when you're older is harder. Your brain is muddled, your fuddy duddied and new tricks aren’t easily acquired. But you can still do it. This is how I did it. I hope it helps you, or you send it to a friend you think might benefit from it.
I found a chap, with the rather charming name of Garry Clues, a man of rotary clubs and well-kept beards. While I planned to get one lesson and then learn with friends, it was apparent any aspiring driver needs many lessons. So, Step 1: find a chap (or chapette) and get many lessons. At least 10. They’re about $60 each. They will leave you broke, stressed and feeling like an infant. Kind of like seeing a Lars Von Trier film. The lessons became my weekly dread.
Tip 1: Get a manual car. Driving an automatic is kind of like being in coma. You sit there like a dumb slug doing not much. Manual drivers are doing stuff all the time and that will make you feel important. What’s more, it gives you more shit-boxes to choose from when you need to buy or borrow a car.
Tip 2: Get lessons at 11am. You’re outside the school hours when special speed limits apply, which you will miss, and you avoid a portion of idiots in massive cars ferrying their indulged progeny to their carefully selected schools. I believe the kids are the future. The future of driving lesson failure.
Tip 3: Don’t stall. If you’re an automatic driver this is not an issue. But as real drivers, we have signed up to a vehicle that needs to be constantly stroked (engine revved) or it will decide to just switch itself off (but not too stroked or it’ll sound like an angry cat made of metal). Stalling is one of the most humiliating and despicable on-road moves you can pull off. The only thing worse is travelling in a pink hummer. I stalled on the Lygon St tram lines and Garry wasn’t impressed. Luckily instructors have their own controls and he was able to hurtle me to safety.
Which brings us to Tip 4: Don’t stress. The more you stress, the more you screw up. It’s a vicious cycle and just remember you have a teacher beside you. They know best, they will help and guide you and carve you into a road warrior. You’re friends can’t do this, they will have forgotten most of the road rules as rules only slightly matter when you actually have a license.
But also don’t relax. Tip 5: You have to check everything constantly. Check your mirrors. Do head-checks (looking out your mirrors to see the things you can’t see). Check your speed. Check your revs. Check your gears. Check your lights. Check for pedestrian lights. Check your indicators. Check every single sign you pass. Check for oncoming traffic when turning (that one's reasonably important). Don’t check out that hot person on the sidewalk. Somehow do this all at the same time. At first, like I said, you feel like a behbeh. It’s all artificial, and none of it comes naturally. With lessons it becomes habitual.
Then there is parallel parking. Never has slotting in between two things been so unpleasant. Tip 6: Here is the simple process of a reverse parallel park: indicate, pull up next to a car with a space behind it, reverse back, turn the wheel once to the left, drive back, then turn once to the right, then drive back, then turn right again, drive back, then turn to the left (bring your wheels straight), drive forward until the back wheels of the car in front of you. Start cursing, because despite understanding all these moves your park will still look like a crooked tooth in angry mouth made of cars and bitter disappointment. Keep practicing. When you are forty you will nail it. The good news for the test is that they will never jam you in between two cars, there'll always be a space of around three.
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