Sunday, August 9, 2009
Author Guest Blog: Stephanie Kuehnert
Stephanie Kuehnert is the author of I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and the wonderful Ballads of Suburbia. Here she is telling us about her sixteenth birthday experience.
My sixteenth birthday was on July 13, 1995 and there was a record-breaking heatwave going on in Chicago. Temperatures reached 106 degrees on my birthday, the hottest July temperature on record in Chicago since they started keeping records in 1928. What made things even worse was the humidity. It was so sticky and sweaty, the heat index soared to 125 degrees!
Over that week, there would be 600 heat-related fatalities in the Chicago area, so really, what happened to me on my sixteenth birthday was minor in comparison, not a crisis at all except to me.
Like most other fifteen-going-on-sixteen year-olds, I was beyond excited about getting my driver’s license. It meant freedom and escape… even if freedom and escape only really meant borrowing my parents car to tool around the near-Western suburbs of Chicago with my friends, doing donuts on cul-de-sacs, driving over train tracks at reckless speeds trying to catch some air, parking in the 7-11 parking lot to enjoy slurpees, and continuously retracing the route between my house and someone else’s house and the park and Denny’s. I’d be able to do those things on my own, me in the driver’s seat, me blaring my music (Rancid and Babes In Toyland were the soundtrack to that summer). It was a glorious, glorious sounding thing.
And I’d persevered through a harrowing Driver’s Ed experience to get to this moment. Knowing how terrible Driver’s Ed would be, my mom took me on a couple drives around the North Riverside Mall parking lot the previous summer, so I’d be sort of prepared. Thank goodness for that because Driver’s Ed was taught by gym teachers. Mean, evil gym teachers. With the exception of one uber-cool gym teacher who was my homeroom teacher for a semester and loved the Ramones and ultimately quit to work at a bookstore because clearly he wasn’t gym teacher material, I did not get along with gym teachers. I barely went or put forth any effort in gym once I learned it didn’t count against me in my GPA. The gym teachers either didn’t know me or didn’t like me and my punk rock rebel kind. Our classroom teacher was the head football coach. Somebody later told me that he was the original Marlboro Man. Not sure if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be surprised. He was always telling us about terrible car accidents he witnessed in Texas. When we were using the simulator machines, he would throw hubcaps across the room at random and scare the crap out of us. He said it was to “keep us alert,” but I’m sure he was just trying to screw us up. Then there was my in-car instructor. A slimy guy with greasy Professor Snape hair except worn in a shorter cut. He would always unnecessarily touch my leg to show me how to put pressure on the brake or the gas. *shudders at the memory*
So I’d endured bullying and borderline sexual harassment all in the name of Driver’s Education and I’d passed the class, I had my permit and I was ready to trade it in for a real driver’s license on July 13, 1995. Even though I preferred to sleep until noon in the summer, I got up at 8 am and my mom took me to the DMV. And we waited in line… for, like, hours…. And then I took a written test… And then we waited in line again. And by the time I was in the car, ready to take the test it was into the afternoon and the sun was blazing and that humidity that made it feel like 125 degrees was in full effect and when the DMV test administrator had me test out the horn to make sure my car was safe to drive…. It didn’t honk!!!! It was a four year-old car. The horn had always worked fine, but that day of all days, the humidity made it stick! Curses! I was not allowed to take my test.
Sobbing, I convinced my mother to take the car to a shop up the road to get fixed. Guess what? In the shop, the horn worked fine. But guess what? After I waited in line for another freakin’ hour at the DMV, the horn didn’t work AGAIN! And by then I’d wasted almost 8 hours of my birthday at DMV and car repair shop. And my mother said we’d have to wait until the weather cooled down and the car was functioning properly for me to take the test again.
Like I said, compared to the other crises Chicago was going through because of the heat, this wasn’t a big deal. Except to me because it meant I wouldn’t be able to drive to Lollapalooza that weekend and I’d really been looking forward to going a concert without having to get a ride from the parents. And it meant I’d have to wait til I had a car to pick up the kitten I’d asked for as a birthday present.
But all is well that ends well. Five days later on July 18, I got my license. I managed to pass on the first try and the first place I went on my own was to pick up my kitty, Sid. I also have had really good DMV karma since then, rarely having to wait long… though I probably just jinxed myself and the next time I go will be a huge ordeal.