Face Yo Fears, Etc: Learner’s Permit Edition

by Maxwell Tielman


Like any good overly-neurotic male of the homosexual persuasion, I have a lot of irrational fears. Some of these fears—like my inability to keep windows open in the summer on the off-chance that a bat might fly in and give me rabies in my sleep—are so outrageous and incurable that I’ve pretty much resigned myself to living with them. Others, like my slightly more logical fear of flying on small planes, are more rooted in reality and thus, to some extent, able to be faced. Of all of my theoretically conquerable fears—the fear of needles, the fear of public speaking, the fear of Julia Roberts’ teeth—the one that has continued to haunt and cripple me throughout my post-adolescent life is my perpetual fear of driving.

There are a number of reasons why, a good ten years after I’ve been the legal driving age, I have yet to get a driver’s license. One is the fact that I have very generous, patient friends. Another is the frequent, panicked dreams I have in which I drive off the road into a ravine and wake up shaking and screaming.  Then there is the fact that, having lived in the greater New York City area for the last eight years, I’ve really had no reason to own a car, let alone drive. Also—let’s be real. I’m just lazy. Wait in line at the DMV? Ha!

Part of me likes to take the high road in this situation and consider my heretofore lack of a driver’s license as a public service. Indeed—anybody who has ever seen me operate heavy machinery (e.g. my coffee maker or the remote to the Apple TV) knows that my lack of attention span or manual dexterity does not a winning driving combination make. So—for the past decade, I have been able to mindlessly, blissfully convince myself that my inability to drive is not just not a problem, but also a sign of my selfless generosity towards mankind. I’m basically the Angelina Jolie of vehicular restraint, you guys.


All of this was fine and dandy until I unwittingly agreed to move upstate with my fiancé—to a tiny town in the Hudson Valley. I’m not sure how I managed to continue this I-Don’t-Ever-Need-To-Drive charade for so long, but our sudden lack of pedestrian-friendly accommodations found it crumbling faster than our home’s water-damaged plaster walls. Not only did my lack of license prevent me from having any independence whatsoever—it also drove my fiancé (bless his heart) absolutely crazy. “Hi, honey—I know you’re covered in sawdust and you’ve been slaving away on our house all day, but can you drive me to the mall? I want a smoothie.” You can see how this wasn’t going to work.

So—after a good six months of prodding and procrastination, I finally dragged myself to the Ulster County DMV to sign up for my learner’s permit. And you know what? IT WAS SO EASY. I understand that most DMV experiences are akin to wading through the fiery lava swamps of Hell, but if small towns are good for anything, it’s easy-breezy DMV experiences. Kingston DMV FTW, y’all. I walked in, walked up to the counter, took a five-minute multiple choice test, got my picture taken and BAM! Watch out world—Max is ready to hit the road!

And hit the road I did! At first, I had a normal level of new-driver trepidation (much to my poor fiancé’s dismay). I refused to drive any faster than 20mph, I stopped suddenly at anything that looked remotely like a red light, and I hugged the right side of the road like an overly clingy baby. This trepidation, however, was quickly erased as soon as I managed not to kill anybody after one day behind the wheel. Soon, with my confidence inflated way beyond my actual ability, I was zooming all around town—from Starbucks to Home Depot to Sam’s Club for bulk toilet paper. Although each of these stops would have been absolutely mundane and even burdensome under normal circumstances, the thrill of driving lent a certain excitement and even danger to these otherwise quotidian tasks. I was not just going to the grocery store; I was traveling to the grocery store behind the wheel of a TWO TON DEATH MACHINE. This newfound, unbridled independence and the notion that my own life was in my hands made for a potent, intoxicating combination—one that was both exhilarating and wildly empowering. I FELT ALIVE and NOBODY was going to get in my way.

Granted, being drunk on power is little better than being actually drunk—no good for driving.  Luckily, I have the self-awareness and wherewithal to slooooow myself down (I am a self-proclaimed neurotic, after all). Now, I have more or less settled into my new driver ways—still a little bit apprehensive but getting more and more comfortable with it every day. The lesson? Fears: they can be conquered. And when they are, you usually become a better (and AWESOMER) person. —Max

Here—I made a cute little graphic about it:

Design*Sponge | Fears: They can be conquered!

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  • So much like my own story. THANK YOU for writing this. (I’ve driven now for four years… and I’m ok. I’m even good. But it was a long ten-year road too).

  • This is hilarious! You are such a witty writer.

    I grew up in a small town. I miss the days of the DMV lady letting me take my picture again because the first one wasn’t attractive enough. :)

  • I love everything you write. And if it makes you feel any better, I used to know this little old lady who didn’t get her driver’s license until long after she had retired, after her husband died. And when she finally did, she was like a new person, and was constantly going places. It’s ok if you’re a little later than average. The good thing is that you faced one of your fears and conquered it:)

  • Great article! I can’t relate, though. My Dad taught me to drive when I was 10 (we lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere) and after that I became a (free) helping hand on the farm. Now talk about a fear of trains, and I’m there.

  • Same as Julie here, my dad had me driving around a hay field as soon as I could see over the wheel, while he & my brother loaded the truck up. When I took driver’s ed one summer at school the instructor got me behind the wheel once, then said ‘you’ve driven before’ and I spent the rest of the summer in the back seat. I was 17 when I went to get my driver’s license. During the driving portion of the test, the cop looked at me, said ‘you’re 17?’ signed the papers and then asked me if I wanted to drive.

    you gotta love small town America! :D

  • This really made me smile. I thought I was the only one without my license. I’m 38! I do have a boyfriend with a license and a car, though. We call it “Driving Miss Lazy” on good days and “Driving Miss Doofy” on not so good ones…

    Living in Manhattan really enables my driving procrastination in this respect. Perhaps I need to take a little time upstate, til I can drive myself home, triumphant. : )

  • I understand completely–I just got my driver’s license last year, age 28. I was really freaked out by driving for so long, but moving to a rural area and not wanting to a feel like a burden was also what finally got me behind the wheel. Getting lessons from a professional made me feel a lot better about it, since I knew there would be another pair of brakes if anything went seriously awry. Congratulations for getting started, you can do it! :)

  • Thank you so much for this Max! I am nearly 24, and all my family and friends are appalled I still haven’t learn how to drive. I got my learners permit recently but have been slow to take lessons and still find it anxiety inducing. It was never a huge issue because I lived in the CBD of Sydney, but now I have moved to suburban Texas, I am so reliant on my girlfriend to drive me places, it is driving both of us insane! Thanks for giving me the motivation to keep learning. I am printing out your graphic and sticking it in my scrapbook!

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