Monday, September 3, 2012

September Septet

Interesting how the same bunch of letters—s, e, p, t—can acquire such different personalities. You got Sept., the month just begun, redolent of slowly-cascading yellow maple leaves, yellow pencils, yellow legal pads, yellow schoolbuses, and yellowjackets—all slowly cascading. Then you got sept, French for 7, a tidy Gallic word built for subtlety, with a silent p. Then you got septic, which will take its business elsewhere. 

I'm going with "September septet," suggesting a jazz combo, the days of the week, and a commitment to seven Almanac posts this month, starting with this one.

First, how we rounded Cape August into the Bay of September.

Background: One year ago, Matt had his first driving lesson in a dusty parking lot in Point Reyes Station, California. Over the following eight months there were twelve "official" lessons at an outfit called Arlex Driving School run by a husband and wife duo who seemed to be from a Fifties dark comedy directed by Alfred Hitchcock.  Rounding out the year was a scattering of supervised practice drives, culminating in a cram session of parallel parking.

Which brings us to the last day of August—Matt behind the wheel of the Honda, me with Google Map printouts in my lap along with a folder containing Proper Documents. We have negotiated the meandering game-board directions of many-named Route 60 and 107 and we are noodling along a broad shaded street in Lynn, Mass., one of those mysterious towns to the north I've never been to, looking for the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It turns out to be disguised as an old armory building. We join a glum-looking collection of teenagers on the steps. A sign on the tall, Oz-like, armory door instructs us to press the bell—about eight feet up on the door frame—which we do, without result. Another gaggle of teens on the sidewalk is getting high fives from Sal of Sal's Driving School, whose placard-topped car pulled up a few minutes earlier. He has come to wish them luck. 

Matt's driving test will be given by a heavy-set bald guy with a tattoo of the map of Italy on his forearm. He's not the thin, purse-lipped, anal type I worried we'd get. Rather, he appears to be the "drop and give me fifty" Phys Ed coach type. Bad enough. Courting his disfavor, I have to run back and get the registration. Then I have to turn the car around, which I accomplish with a dubious U-ie, awkward three-point turn, and parallel park, as if I'm the one being tested. At last I yield the driver's seat to Matt and take my place as "the sponsor" in the back seat.

He is asked to demonstrate the three never-used hand signals and then pulls out, not bumping the car I might have parked too close behind. He drives up the street and turns (though I don't hear the turn signal! shouldn't I be hearing it? Could he have forgotten??) and parks behind a car, no sweat, and—oops, doesn't immediately see someone in the crosswalk, gets a terse reminder, but with no malice—more turns, stop sign, good, enters a parking lot, exits, does a three point turn with a half-gainer toe loop and will he nail the dismount? Last maneuver: he pulls up in front of the armory, a short distance behind a fire hydrant—a trap? too close? "How far from a fire hydrant do you need to be when you park?" the guy asks. Matt hesitates. "Ten feet?" he ventures. The guy nods. Scribbles something on the form, stamps something else. "You can use your permit until the hard license arrives in the mail," he says. And we're done. Passed.

I could end it there, but when life hands you one of these rites of passage, attention must be paid and repaid.  The fact is, we were both notably older on the way back. Not that Matt seemed all that eager to flaunt society's medal of young adulthood, the license to drive solo. Mainly he wanted to get it out of the way before school starts. To draw the Chance card that says, "You passed." Which he did. By a good ten feet.

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