Last week, Maine’s secretary of state bestowed upon me a great honor, one that made me even happier than hundreds of thousands of 16-year-old Mainers who’ve gone before me.
I finally got my driver’s license.
As I said, I acknowledge that every teenager in the state can also have that privilege, but I feel as though this may have been the biggest obstacle I’ve had to overcome since I arrived in Augusta two months ago.
When I first made the move from Down Under to the U.S., I hopefully (and probably somewhat arrogantly) assumed my first job would be in a place with convenient and accessible public transport, so that I could put off the hurdle of getting licensed, getting comfortable on the road and — more ominously — forking over an untold amount of cash for a car, insurance and everything that goes along with it.
In saying that, though, I knew what I was getting myself into when I accepted the job here. Being a licensed driver was not only an inevitability but an absolute must. I’m sure that, in years to come on my American sojourn, I’ll look back and be grateful that I ripped the Band-Aid off and got myself back on the road as quickly as possible.
The last two months of near-constant walking certainly gave me fresh perspective, though.
At many times, picking my way across ice and slush up and down Sewall Street in Augusta, I never felt more self-conscious. I’m positive that it was all in my head, but I often wondered whether the people driving past me thought somehow less of me. Why isn’t he driving in this weather? Did he lose his license? Can he not afford a car? Why doesn’t he shave more often? (OK, the last hypothetical question was my mother, not your average Augusta motorist.)
I also felt sheepish when explaining my situation to the various cab drivers and new temporary friends that I’ve met along the way (i.e. at the bar). I was a licensed driver at home for 10 years before I came here, so why can’t I just get a car?
There was something almost embarrassing about having to admit I was yet to sit for my written test for a permit before even getting behind the wheel. I did lessons with a local driving school so I could make sure I’d pass first time, just like a high schooler. But as I said, I’m confident that was all in my head.
On the flip side of the situation, being temporarily without transport has shown me how great Mainers are. My workmates have been absolutely tireless in shuttling me to and from the office, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the support (and I’m not just saying that because they copy edit my columns and have to read this).
And it’s not just those who know me. As I mentioned in my first column, on the Sunday of the ice storm back in December, a friendly stranger gave me a ride home from the grocery store without a second thought when he saw me waiting for a cab in the miserable weather.
He didn’t know I was Australian (and thus way out of my depth weather-wise), he was just doing right by his neighbor. If you’re out there, thanks, Al.
The good news, of course, is now I’ve got my own wheels. Like 88 percent of Maine residents (citation needed), I drive a Subaru. And, irony of stupid ironies, it’s an Outback. What else would an Aussie accidentally buy without realizing the joke’s on him?
And being back on the road, for all its expense and responsibility, has already opened up my life immeasurably. I went to the movies for the first time since October (because it didn’t involve a taxi each way on top of the ticket price). I drove through a particular coffee and doughnut place for some caffeine on Thursday, my first visit to said establishment since I had a rental car during my first week in town.
I even hit Interstate 95 (at night, and with snow coming! How brave of me) on Sunday and took a road trip up to Bangor, which allowed me to get a better idea of what the area the newspapers cover — or at least where the exits are — and I got to meet some friendly and weather-wise locals there too. Mainer hospitality really is something else.
So, if you drive Sewall or Capitol streets frequently, you might not see the guy in the gray wool cap and snow pants trudging around so often anymore.
But if you do — give him a wave. He might be feeling self-conscious.
Adrian Crawford is a Web editor at the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Email him at [email protected]. Maine Walkabout is published the first and third Sundays of each month. More of his adventures in Vacationland can be found at www.crawfinusa.com.