So, for the past few years, I had been keeping a deep, dark secret. I couldn't drive a car. Physically or legally.
This wasn't always a deep dark secret. I grew up I the west end of Toronto, five minutes away from a subway station. If I wanted to get anywhere inside the city (and, as a true Torontonian, uh, why would you ever want to get anywhere not in Toronto? Come on.) The fastest and cheapest option was the TTC, a station conveniently located 5 minutes from my house. I went to a public high school whose admissions criteria were entirely based on proximity and which feeder school you were coming from, so all of my high school friends were in the same position. In my high school, when you turned 16 you had a party and then continued to walk, ride your bike or take the TTC everywhere you needed to go. Probably a few kids learned to drive, but there was none of the mass excited counting down to your 16th birthday and thus your first permit that I now know there to be in many other places. Nobody really talked about it!
So, when I graduated high school I had no idea that not being able to drive was at all out of the ordinary for someone entering the adult world. When I went to McGill, of course I met many more people who did drive. Almost all of the students from the U.S drove and many even owned their own cars, and of course anyone from a more rural area had felt the necessity of driving as soon as possible. However, since Montreal is also a major city with well-established public transport, very few of the McGill students who did drive actually did so regularly during their degrees (with the exception of those from areas surrounding Montreal who already had cars and were living at home, but I even know lots of people in that position who took public transit.)
The moment at which not driving became a problem was when I won the job in the Niagara symphony. Of course, for a while I had been getting the feeling that I would have to learn to drive eventually. As a freelancer, especially, it's necessary to be able to transport yourself independently to whatever city or location today's gig is in. However, since I won the Niagara job before I finished school, I wasn't expecting to be entering that world of the "freeway philharmonic" so soon. Fortunately, for most of the Niagara services, I was able to find a regular carpool from Toronto with a player who had a van and thus ended up being more or less the NSO chauffeur (sorry, Andy...) However, for the first time I was among people who were living the freeway philharmonic life constantly-- driving to a different city every few days to play with a different orchestra. I realized that, although I still wanted to eventually win a full-time job with a major orchestra, I would probably end up being that kind of a freelancer for a while first-- and I was pretty excited for it! It may not be the kind of job stability that most university graduates are expecting, but there are worse things, especially when you're young, than to have constant adventure, excitement and really wild things thrust upon you by your job(s).
In that kind of company, admitting that I couldn't drive became more embarrassing, because not driving means you're probably not working much. Which, of course, I wasn't. But just because you're the youngest member of an orchestra and the only one still in school (in a different province) doesn't mean you need to go around reminding everyone of that!
So, I started commuting back to Toronto not just for Niagara gigs, but also (on different occasions) for driving lessons. This was, to say the least, highly inconvenient, and I often cursed my clueless high-school self who could have just done it while actually living in Toronto,and avoided all this fuss.
When I got the Thunder Bay job, however, I was glad that I was putting in the effort to get it done even at this later date, because I can't imagine not being able to drive in Thunder Bay. I can't even walk to a grocery store from my apartment in Thunder Bay, and not because my apartment is poorly located. (Actually, most of my neighbours are Lakehead professors, so I'm assuming the neighbourhood where all the professors live must be a pretty good one.)
I finished all of my driving lessons, coming 6 hours on the megabus for each one. Every time my instructor asked if I'd been practicing I just laughed. Naturally I know the value of practicing, and would if I could-- but when, and in what vehicle, would I have been practicing? Sooooo, I was actually kind of surprised when yesterday I passed my G1 exit test and got my G2 on the first try! Whereas the G1 is a learner's permit and doesn't allow you to drive alone or on the highway, the G2's only restrictions are that your blood alcohol must be 0 (I rarely drink anyway), you can only have as many passengers as working seatbelts (uh... isn't wearing a seatbelt required by law anyway?) and you can only drive G class vehicles (alas, my motorcycle dreams have been dashed!) In fact, the G2 is so similar to the full G licence, and lasts for so long as a valid licence (I have to take my G road test by 2018) that lots of people forget they don't yet have a full licence, forget to take the G test, and end up back at the beginning with no licence at all :P (I'm going to remember to do the next test in time, though!)
The road test was really pretty easy, and only lasted about 15 minutes. My parallel parking wasn't great but then, she asked me to do it right in front of a driveway that sloped down to meet the street, so no wonder I couldn't tell where the curb was. There are a lot of stories instructors like to tell of people who failed the test and had to turn back before even getting out of the parking lot, but... you have to remember that those were likely 16-year olds making dumb 16-year old decisions that the examiners deemed too unsafe to even let them out on the road. So, maybe there is an upside to my having waited for so long to learn to drive. :D
Now I just need... a car. Vroom vroom!