The Not So Simple System

¨Rising, Come Outside.”  

It was my sixteenth birthday and my father, who refers to me as Rising, was in the back of the house. I got up from the brown, cat hair speckled couch, that sits in my living room, and went outside. He instructed me to get in the glistening black Honda Civic that we lease, but this time I sat in the driver's seat. I was immediately overwhelmed with a clash of exhilaration and anxiety over my new seat of power. Painstakingly, I drove down the tight, dark, tar creased alleyway I had know my whole life. As I drove slowly past my neighbors’ houses on one side and their parked cars on the other, my dad nervously yelled, “don’t hit anything!” Thankfully, we reached the end of the alley unmarred. He glady states, “that's enough for today,” and I got out of the car.

As I walked home, the humidity causing beads of sweat to appear on every inch of skin, my mind wandered off. I ponder my sister driving, trying to reach back into my memory and remember how she passed her test. “Did she have a driving instructor?” I thought to myself. “Wait, maybe it was a book.” However, I could not recall. Either way I wanted to be like her. Driving seemed to come easy and she passed both her permit and driver's licence test the first time around. Now, with a sense of the competition between us, I was more inspired than ever.

Convincing myself I was good enough at driving, I immediately informed my dad that I was ready to take the knowledge test. He responded with a simple “How?”  Pushing me to realize I know little of what it might take to get a permit. He quickly whipped out his phone, typed in the four digit password and began his research. “You will need a social security card, a physical, several forms of identification, and there is a written test  that you have to study for.” I felt as if the chances of my success were being squeezed out of me like the juice from a lemon. “I can’t give up-- I want this!” I hopefully thought.

Growing up, I had always been fascinated with my parents´ driving and now I wanted it for myself. The idea that by simply turning the wheel you could steer the large metal mechanic box excited me. The sound of the wheel sliding back through the hands of my parents as they evened out the car soothed me. What I was most enthusiastic about though, was how fast a car could take you to places, new places. I loved peering out of the foggy window, seeing grass fields, houses, farms, buildings, and lakes quickly flash by like a movie without sound. It was entrancing. “When can I drive?” I would murmur to my parents.

Before I collected all of the items I needed to take the test, we departed on a 10-hour car ride to North Carolina. Four boring hours in and I realized this was good time to study for the test. I opened the app in my phone titled, ¨PA Driver Practice” and took the test multiple times, each time getting a different variety of questions on a range of topics, from driver safety to road laws. On the way back I did the same, this time reading the questions aloud to my parents. As we rolled along the grainy highway, my dad, who was driving, pointed out different signs and had me provide an explanation for what they were for. “What does that yellow sign mean?” He bellowed, hoping to stump me. “That means there’s construction ahead,” I proudly responded. By the time the trip ended, I was constantly scoring in the high nineties, which were passing scores!

A few weeks later, my mom gathered my expired passport, my birth certificate, my school ID and the required form and we headed off to get my social security card. We walked to the Chestnut Hill Train Station and waited for the 7:35 train to center city. We boarded and 45 minutes later exited the cool train at Suburban Station. From there we walked to the tall building in which I would hopefully receive my card. We took an elevator up to the top floor and then waited in a line for security to check us. ¨You can't bring that in,” the security guard chastised the man at the front of the line, who was understandably drinking coffee. He stepped to the side to finish his coffee and the line moved on. As I dragged my feet on the carpet marked with a strange pattern of blue and green, we made eye contact with the coffee drinker and he shook his head and laughed as if to say he did not approve of the guards judgment. I giggled.

We got through security with no problem and sat on uncomfortable metal chairs, marked with holes. We were called to the window behind us to the left. “What do you want?” The woman behind the glass rudely asked. Her voice sounded as if her nose was being pinched. “I need a social security card for my son,” my mom politely responded. She gave us the number fifty six and we headed back to the uncomfortable metal chairs to wait again. When our number was finally called we approached the window to my left. This man was much more upbeat. “How can I be of your assistance?” He inquired. We handed him the form and the various forms of ID as my mother explained our purpose cheerfully. He took a moment to examine them and then proceeded to ask me questions. “What's your mom's middle name? What's your full name? What's your best friend´s name?” He asked the last question with a chuckle and I realized it was not on the form. I answered all the question correctly and he happily said, “It will arrive at your house in 7 - 10 days.” “Great, more waiting,” I exasperatedly stated to my mom and we left the fresh smelling building.

The card came as promised, but I still needed a physical. I had to get a physical for soccer so why not get one for my permit at the same time. The physical was the last thing I needed, the last obstacle between me and my permit. I was thrilled and laughed as the Doctor completed a series of strange tests on me. Bending my limbs, checking my heart rate, and testing my eyes. “Have a great day,”she said and I knew I would because the only thing stopping me from driving that shiny black car, was a test that I knew I could pass. “Why did it take so much work to get a learner's permit I wondered?” I understood that you would not want people driving who had bad eyesight or some potentially dangerous health condition, so the physical made sense. It was also clear that people had to know the rules of the road otherwise there would be chaos, not to mention a lot of accidents. Nevertheless, why was it necessary to have a Social Security card, and why did that require several forms of ID and a face-to-face interview? Slowly, it dawned on me. Until now, I had been identified as a child of my parents. My identity was tied to theirs. Even with a Passport, I could not travel anywhere unless I was accompanied by one of them. Now, I was taking the steps to be identified as an individual. A driver´s licence was the thing that would officially identify me as me. It would say that I had all the rights and privileges of an American citizen. It meant that someday I could steer that mechanical metal box to some new destination-- alone.

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