“A little. You know… I’ll be okay.”
“I’m sure you will. I’ll be at the café. Text me when you’re ready.”
Corey, fifteen-and-a-half-years-old, repeated ‘You got this,’ to himself. If only he believed it.
He’d driven hundreds of miles practicing over the last few months. But until he passed this test, to the world, he knew squat.
First tests… firsts of anything are mysterious to the uninitiated. Rites of passage used to mean something. Crossing that line meant leaving childhood forever. He’d take on the mantel of adulthood and everything that meant.
Driving legally was about the only rite of passage remaining. Yes, it’s an important step, but a step down from facing enemy fire on a battlefield.
Parked in the DMV lot, Corey and his father sat in Corey’s vintage Plymouth Valiant convertible. They got out and shook hands.
Corey’s father said, “You know your stuff. Stay focused. You’ll do great.”
“I’ll knock this out and then I can take that job.”
Corey headed toward the building. Because of his appointment, he wasn’t worried about the line of people waiting. He’d heard horrible things about the DMV. But this might be okay.
A lanky man with a DMV badge intercepted him. He carried a clip board.
“Looking for a tester? Have a driver’s test scheduled?” Corey nodded. “You’re up. I’m Ziggy. Let’s see your paperwork…”
Ziggy looked at Corey’s permit.
“Oh, you’re a Pisces…”
“Don’t know if you’re coming or going. Always swim against the current. You know how it goes… Can’t ‘go with the flow,’ as they say.”
“This is for my driver’s test, right?”
“Of course. DMV at your service… We’ll discover what drives you.”
“Yeah… you, I, everyone goes ‘round wearing these chassis.” He slapped his chest and arm. “Are you the vehicle to greater understanding? Or will you merely tick off the miles ‘til you get hauled, creaking and groaning, to the scrap heap?”
“Uhm, my car’s over there.”
“Nice. You like the top up or down?”
Ziggy snickered. Corey gave him a curious look. “Nothing… A private joke. You consider yourself convertible? Or already converted?”
“I don’t get it…” Already on edge, Corey began doubting his grasp of reality.
They got in and fastened their seat belts. Corey started the car and revved gently.
Ziggy said, “So, is this an automatic or manual transmission?”
Ziggy sighed. “Isn’t that like life? So often, we act without thinking. Let ‘the Man’ do it. You know, ‘the Man,’ the government, the internet. No personal initiative anymore.”
The word ‘mystified,’ popped into Corey’s brain.
Ziggy continued. “You feel in control, Corey? Admit it. There’s so little we control.”
Corey tried to focus. “Where are we going?”
“Ah, age-old questions. Where am I? And, where are we going? Where are you going, Corey?”
“I meant for the driving test. You want me to drive?”
Ziggy laughed. “If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know if you got there? Right?”
“Right…” Corey wondered how he could pass this. ‘What would passing look like?’
“Tell you what… take the wheel, pull out of the lot. Just drive.”
Corey idled to the exit. He flicked the signal and checked for oncoming traffic before turning.
Waxing philosophical, Ziggy talked nonstop. “Ahhh, the great wheel of life… You know, the great mandala? ‘Round and ‘round it goes. Where it stops… Where are you on that wheel, Corey? Do you know?”
“Hands at three and nine o’clock, sir.”
“Very good. Not what I asked but, good to know.”
Needing to concentrate, Corey wanted to tune him out, but couldn’t. He slowed for traffic and entered the freeway onramp.
“Yes, merging is always a good idea. But with what do we merge? With the universe? The void? Traffic? What do you think, Grasshopper? I mean, Corey?”
Corey accelerated and entered the main flow of traffic. He wondered, ‘Focus… How do I get through this?’
Ziggy said, “How does it feel to travel at the speed of life? So much happens. All at once. Time is such a blessing.” Ziggy rambled on. “All these people hurtling toward their respective destinations. Oblivious to the sea of humanity in which they are immersed…” He laughed. “Who thinks of the other drivers’ problems? Or even as people? Where the hell is everyone going?”
He looked at Corey to see if he got the point. Corey nodded.
“Corey, you ever hear the one about the fish getting asked, ‘How’s the water?’ Hilarious.”
Corey signaled his lane change. He watched his speed. ‘Hang in there. Just drive…’
“Ever wondered what it would be like to live without limits…? That would be fun, right?”
Corey said, “I like speed limits. Those and stop signs are great inventions. Living without limits might be great until a giant tree decides to grow in your path.”
Ziggy nodded, “Yielding is great skill too… Yielding to the greater reality barely out of reach. Take this exit.”
“You mean the one I just passed?” Ziggy nodded. “I missed my turn.”
Ziggy shrugged. “Relax. The brass ring always comes ‘round again.”
“Take the next exit.”
Corey signaled to change lanes. The other driver wouldn’t let him in.
“It all comes down to passing, doesn’t it? Pass the test. Pass the car. Pass the time. Pass the potatoes. Is there no end to it?”
A driver flashed his lights and let Corey into the lane.
Ziggy offered, “Right of way. Who’s really right? More rights than responsibilities... Two wrongs don’t…”
Corey fumed as the next exit proved impossible to access. ‘Oh well, not trying to get anywhere special. Keep moving forward. Focus on safety…’
“No detours, friend. All roads lead to enlightenment.”
Corey rolled his eyes as he got into the exit lane, coasted and slowed for the light.
Ziggy said, “Of course, enlightenment demands caution. Or discernment. Is the light red or green? And who decides?”
Corey snapped. “What are you talking about? Is this a driver’s test?”
“Keep your eyes on the road, Sport. You learn to drive playing video games?”
“Yeah… did you see that wall ride Chastain pulled off in the NASCAR playoffs?”
“Careful. This ain’t NASCAR. You don’t want to get towed away with a toe tag.”
Corey pulled to the curb and shifted into park. He turned to Ziggy. “Are you a pod person? What does any of this have to do with anything?”
Ziggy made a note on his clip board. “Signal and, when safe, re-enter traffic flow. Head back to the DMV. This test is over.”
“But how…? I did everything…”
“It’s in the stars, my Pisces friend… When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I assure you, you’re not ready.”
Corey drove back in silence. He felt lost.
‘How was this a driver’s test? More of a seminar on New Age claptrap.’
He pulled into the lot and parked. He focused on his breathing.
‘I drove perfectly. No errors. Arbitrarily failed by this DMV guru. Kiss that job good-bye. Re-schedule. Will I have to wait weeks?’
Ziggy exited and leaned in. “Better luck next time, fish boy…” He slammed the door and walked toward the main building.
Corey watched Ziggy go through the door. He needed to chill and then re-schedule his test.
He set the brake, stepped into the morning air and stretched. He entered the building and watched for an open window.
“Hi. I need to reschedule. I failed my driver’s test.” Corey passed the clerk his permit. The clerk searched his monitor.
“I can fit you in for 10am tomorrow. That work for you?” Corey nodded. “Let’s see, Egbert’s free. But he can be a bit slow.” The clerk leaned in. “Except when he’s behind the wheel… Then there’s Miranda. She’s never failed anyone. You’re not married, are you?”
Corey said, “No.”
“Okay. You're in. Who was your tester today?”
“Oh, you mean Otto. I’ve heard about him…”
“That’s okay. I learned something.”
“Really? From Otto?”
At peace, Corey felt inspired. “...Whether I’m the water or the wave.”
“Wow… That’s some driver’s license test… What did you decide?”
Corey smiled. “I'm both.”