You’re Only Eighteen Twice

It’s akin to déjà vu on acid, being a 37-year-old driver’s ed. student. The last time I sat through a lesson on defensive driving, the Los Angeles Police Department was caught on video behaving badly – firing a taser into Rodney King’s spine and beating him down with batons for good measure.

Back in 1991, I had Nirvana’s Nevermind album (remember albums?) blaring from my tape deck (remember tape decks?) as I boned up on hand-to-hand steering, hand-over-hand steering and highway hypnosis.

Once I passed the California DMV’s written test for a Class C license, I was ready to assume the 10-2 steering wheel position. And while the Soviet Union was collapsing under the able management of Mikhail Gorbachev, I was eased into the vagaries of the Basic Speed Law by the deliciously flamboyant Señor Torres, a San Fernando Valley legend.

Learning to make lane adjustments on the 405 freeway – birthplace of ‘road rage’ – could have ended very messily indeed. Yet, Señor Torres – sitting to my right, foot elegantly dangling over the instructor’s break – would effortlessly coo Puccini’s Madame Butterfly during my lessons. And these musical interludes proved to be a most effective salve. My jitters sufficiently soothed, I was now ready to take my 20 minute driving test.

With complete calm and utmost confidence, I adeptly navigated left and right turns; stops at controlled and uncontrolled intersections; straight line backing; lane changes and driving in regular street traffic. I even managed to maneuver through one of America’s worst bottlenecks, the US-101 at I-405 interchange, with the silky smoothness of an F-16 fighter pilot.

While 1991 was epochal in many ways, being of course the year that Princess Diana and Prince Charles split up, for me it will always be the year I became street legal – a status I would retain until I sold my 2001 Honda Civic DX (with spoiler) on Craig’s List and hopped an El Al flight to Lod.

In my first two years as a new old immigrant, I successfully avoided the dentist’s chair, the optometrist’s checkup and the inevitable trip to the Jerusalem DMV. My dawdling, however, came with a price tag. Bleeding gums, blurry vision and an itch to burn rubber propelled me to finally get off the schneid.

And having sufficiently lollygagged, I was now required to take both the written and driving tests in order to qualify for an Israeli driver’s license.

This is where the blue-eyed Moroccan maestro, David Nachmani, blazed into focus. Oz Driving School’s premier instructor calmly pulled up to the front of my Mitudela Street apartment one fine fall day and, after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, away we rode.

I was to learn much during my first 45-minute lesson with David. Following a serene start, things devolved rapidly with me being roundly scolded for accelerating too quickly; breaking too suddenly; shoulder checking and generally driving “like an American”.

Still, I felt reasonably confident when David asked me how I thought I did. “Not bad”, I answered. “You were atrocious”, he corrected.

In subsequent outings with the impeccably-dressed Mr. Nachmani I would be both chastised for buying into the “speed of traffic” myth and commended for leaving the Golden State to attempt a life in a state where salaries stagnate while the cost of living continues to skyrocket.

David managed to simultaneously keep his eyes on the road and on my eyes not being where they should be. And whenever I changed lanes after only checking my rearview mirror, I got an earful of knowledge. In my defense, I had long since fallen into the apparently illegal habit of shoulder checking and this behavior pattern proved most difficult to break.

Yet, with a lively guru in my corner, I quickly improved. I had one, final, pre-test outing with David that included him telling me: “You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” Still, after a shaky start, I rallied mightily and earned my teacher’s undying support: “You’re a bit unfocused, but you’ll do fine.”

And I did. Having a drill master for the dry runs made test day a breeze in comparison. When David called me with the good news, I conveyed my gratitude: “You’re an exemplary teacher!”

“Thanks babe”, he responded.

Both Torres and Nachmani were highly effective teachers. While Nachmani was fire and brimstone, Torres was flash and tinsel. While Torres coached an unsure, timid teenager, Nachmani mentored a slightly overconfident man who was in need of a swift recalibration.

So, while the plutonium-powered 1981 DeLorean DMC-12 (remember the DeLorean?) time machine is still in the concept stage, it is indeed possible to experience being an eighteen-year-old twice.

Click here to view other pieces of mine that have been published in the Times of Israel:

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