Last week, my youngest child got her driver’s license. This is reason enough for me to reflect on the differences in driver’s licenses today at back in 1978 when I got mine. At that time, getting a learner’s permit consisted of filling out forms and paying money. You didn’t have to take any test. The main thing that you had to do was to bring in evidence that you were 15. I don’t remember getting a copy of the Tennessee Drivers Handbook until I have been driving for a while. I only got it then so I could study for the questions on the test. There was no need to know the rules before you learned the skill. What good was it knowing the laws if you didn’t know how to drive already?
Everyone has a story to tell about the day they got their driver’s license and here is mine. The names that I mention below are not the real names of the people that I encountered. One, I don’t wish to expose anyone’s wrongdoing and second, I don’t remember the names.
They gave the tests at the National Guard Armory in my hometown once a week. I drove by myself and walked in to the table that they had set up with forms and a station to perform an eye exam. I told them my name, showed them my birth certificate and received a form to start filling out before I took the test. While I was standing there, there was a guy that I knew that was a little older than me who was giving them his information. He told them his name was Billy Smith. I knew this guy and I knew he wasn’t Billy Smith. I didn’t say anything. They gave me my test form and I quickly filled it out. I think I missed one question on the exam but I can’t remember what that was. Now I waited to take the driving part of the exam. The State Trooper that administered my exam was a large, intimidating man that I didn’t know. Some of the things that happened to me during the exam are typical. For example when I started the car, the radio was turned up real loud. I quickly turned it off. If the driving portion of my exam was going to be anything like the ones that my friends had told me about, I would have to drive about a quarter of a mile down the highway, turn around in the parking lot of the cotton gin and then return to the Armory. That was exactly what I was asked to do. The Armory and the gin were on the highway at the edge of town and I was concerned about paying close attention to the speed in this area. So concerned that I drove really slow. So slow that someone passed me during the exam.
When we returned to the Armory, I don’t remember being told about anything that I had done wrong or needed to change or improve. I went inside and waited for them to type up my license. The license was a green card with my name, license number and some other vital information. There was no picture on the license. These were the days when you didn’t need much of a fake ID in Tennessee. You just had to be willing to disfigure the year on your license so it looked like you were older than you actually were. And it was much easier to generate a fake license then than it is now. I don’t remember exactly what year it was when Tennessee started including a photo on your driver’s license but I think it was after I had graduated from college.
When I got the license, I went to my car to go home. As I got in the car, I saw the guy claiming to be Billy Smith talking to the real Billy Smith. The real Billy Smith was complaining to the other one about failing the test.
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