The Right Side, Dear


My husband has an uncanny ability to talk his way into just about anything, even when he’s not exactly trying.  To illustrate this point, I’ve written a slightly fictionalized account of the day he received his driver’s license in America. I didn’t name the town, and I don’t know the names of the officers, so everyone should be fairly protected from any possible recrimination.  You know…just in case.

 ***

Liam wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about his new home.  Most days, he longed for the bustling city of Cork, the green hills of the surrounding countryside, and most importantly, his family.  Still, he had new family in Tennessee, and he was determined to make the most of it.

Unfortunately, small-town Tennessee isn’t always welcoming to outsiders, and Liam wore a flashing neon sign that proclaimed “Not From Around Here.”  Everyone saw it.  Everyone commented on it.  “You’re not from around here, are you, boy?”  He heard it everywhere he went, but there was nothing he could do to stop it.  An Irish accent is a hard thing to hide.  It’s not like a tattoo that can be covered with long sleeves or a scarf.

When Liam decided that America would be his new home, he knew he had to go about getting the legal documents that would identify him.  A passport was okay for identification, but it simply added to the funny looks he received for his accent.  More than anything, he wanted an ID stamped with Tennessee so that he would have at least one more tie to his new community – one more thing that made him like everyone else in town.  With that thought in mind, he headed down to the DMV to get a simple identification card.

“What can I do for you?”

The woman behind the counter, dressed in her uniform, couldn’t have been younger than fifty, and yet the moment Liam opened his mouth to explain what he needed, she melted into a little gooey puddle.

“Oh, my.  You aren’t from around here, are you?  Kay!  Kay, come here and meet this young man.  He says he’s from Ireland.”

Another woman, also well over the age of fifty, emerged from one of the back offices and made a beeline for the young man.  Liam, cheeks flushed and heart racing, repeated his request for a simple ID.

“Why don’t you just get your driver’s license while you’re here?” Kay asked.

“Absolutely!  It’s not that hard.”  The first woman, Mary, patted his hand and pulled out an instruction manual.  “Read through this while we get you set up for the computer test.  It just takes a few minutes, and then I’ll take you out for the driving part.”

Liam, who hadn’t even driven a car in Ireland, was overwhelmed with the suggestion but thought perhaps a driver’s license would solve quite a few problems.  Getting a better job would be possible, because he’d finally have the ability to travel to one of the larger neighboring towns.  With a shrug, he sat down to start studying.

“Are you ready?” Mary called to Liam after a few moments.

Liam looked down at page three, knowing he most certainly wasn’t ready.  He shook his head quickly and resumed his reading.

“Ah, sure you are.  If you don’t pass, it’s no big deal.  We’ll give you the ID and you can come back another time to try again.”  Kay patted the chair in front of the computer invitingly.

“Plus, we can help you through it,” Mary added with a nod.

Liam, again remembering that he nothing to lose, dropped the book onto the chair next to him and stood slowly.  As he made his way to the computer, his mind was whirling.  Part of him was excited at the possibilities that a driver’s license would offer, while the rest of him simply hated being unprepared for anything.  Failure wasn’t something that he accepted readily, even if he failed at something that didn’t really matter.

“Come on; we’ll help you.  It’s really not that hard for most of them.  The hardest stuff is about drinking and driving, but we’ll give you hints.”

Hints sounded good to Liam, so he clicked the button to begin the exam.  Hints actually turned out to be the actual answers for most of the test, as Mary and Kay took turns eliminating the wrong answers until he guessed the right ones.  When he came to the end, he received a passing score.

“If you had missed one more, you would have failed.  Congratulations!”  Mary patted him on the shoulder.

A pass was a pass, as far as Liam was concerned, even if the five answers he’d missed were the only five answers where he hadn’t been given the “hints.”  Feeling much more confident, he followed Mary to the front door so that he could begin the practical portion of the exam – driving.

Liam’s wife waited in the car, reading a book.  She looked up in surprise when Liam approached.

“They’re going to let me try driving,” he said excitedly.  “We have to use this car.”

With a look that said everyone involved was crazy, Jenny shrugged and exited the vehicle.  She knew better than to ride along.  Liam still yelled in fear on occasion when he realized she was driving in the right-hand lane instead of the left.  As much as she wanted to watch the circus, her life was more important to her at that moment.

“Hold up.  I’m coming, too!” Kay called from the door.  She quickly locked the office and hurried to join the rest of the group.

Jenny’s eyes widened further as she realized both tough broads from the DMV had fallen under Liam’s spell.  It wasn’t a hard thing to do.  Sure, hadn’t she already?  She watched as the old birds clucked and twittered, fighting over the front seat.  Liam was already behind the wheel, trying to get the car started.

“Oh, we forgot to check the brake lights and turn signals.”

Mary remembered at the last minute, but she wasn’t about to give up her hard-won shotgun seat.  Kay sighed and started to get back out of the car, but Liam stopped her.

“They work. Jenny’s dad replaced the right indicator last week.”

The women giggled and settled back in, happily taking his word (in that delicious accent) for it.

“Right,” Jenny said, eyeing the ladies warily.  “Well…good luck.”

As far as she was concerned, Liam was in the hands of experts, however mind-muddled they may have been at the moment.  If he managed to crash, surely it would be their fault and not his.

And so the adventure began…on the left side of the street.

“We drive on the right side of the road, dear,” Kay admonished from the back seat.

“Yes, of course,” Liam said.

Suddenly, he pulled into the next parking lot and put the car into park.  After a moment of digging through Jenny’s bag, he pulled out an ink pen.  Carefully, he wrote “this side” on his right hand and nodded with satisfaction.

“Grand,” he muttered.  “That should do it.”

They were off again.

“You’ll turn right up here at the light.”

Liam approached the intersection, watching the other cars carefully, and then turned the wheel at the correct time.

“In the future, you’ll need to indicate your intention to turn.  You should probably stop at the red light, too, but we won’t count off for that this time,” Mary informed him.  “Try that at this light here.  Take another right.”

Liam concentrated on following her instructions, searching for the turn signal as he approached the next intersection.  He located it just as he rolled to a stop…at a green light.  Quickly, he flipped the lever and turned the wheel.

“More warning next time, and you don’t have to stop on a green,” Kay instructed from the backseat.

“And you should be on the right side of the road, dear,” Mary added.

Liam glanced down at his hands for the reminder and nodded.  “Right side.  Got it.”

“Take the next right,” Mary told him.

He thought through all of the lessons he’d learned to that point and executed the turn perfectly.  Both women reached over to pat his arm reassuringly, and the confidence he gained helped him press down a little harder on the accelerator.

Faster and faster they flew toward the next intersection, with both women completely ignoring the speed in favor watching the flushed cheeks and wide blue eyes of the Irishman.  Finally, Mary noticed and gasped.

“Oh, dear.  Sixty miles per hour in a thirty mile per hour zone is just too fast.  You’ll have to be very wary of that.  Let’s slow down a bit so we can get ready for the next turn.  It’s the last one, so you’re almost done.”

Liam hit the brakes and came to a screeching halt at the red light.  He quickly remembered to indicate his intention to turn, and then pressed the gas again, excited that he had nearly completed his first mission behind the wheel of a car without dying or killing anyone else.

As he eased out onto the highway, he was startled by a honking horn.  The car jerked to a stop again, and he tried to figure out what he’d done wrong.  Was he on the wrong side of the road again?  A glance at his right hand told him he was not.

The red light, he thought, his cheeks filling with color.  “I was supposed to wait for the oncoming traffic, wasn’t I?”

“That’s okay.  We’re all still alive.  It’s clear now, so you can take us right back to the DMV whenever you’re ready.”

Jenny stood up from her spot on the sidewalk when she saw the car enter the parking lot again.  Everything seemed to be in order, with all occupants of the car still alive.  She couldn’t help but smile when she saw Liam beaming in the driver’s seat.

“How did it go?” she asked when Liam hopped out of the car to hug her.

“Oh, I’m sure I failed,” Liam said with a shrug.  He turned to see Kay and Mary emerging from the car.  “But we didn’t die and I didn’t crash the car, so it was still pretty successful.”

“You can try again soon,” Jenny assured him.  “We’ll do some more practicing.  Since you passed the computer test, you can at least get a permit, right?”

Liam shrugged, completely unaware of the laws governing drivers’ licenses in Tennessee.  A permit for practice wasn’t a bad idea, as far as he was concerned.

“If you want to come take your photograph, we’ll get your license printed up,” Mary called.

Jenny’s jaw dropped.

“He passed?” she asked incredulously.

“Well, sure he did.  There were a few little mistakes here and there, but nothing that would cause a failing score.”

Liam, with lightness in his heart and step, bounded after the women to take his place in front of the camera.  In less than two hours, he’d managed to procure a new sign – one that did little to hide his accent, but still bought him a bit more clout in his tiny new town.  He might have been an Irish citizen, but as of that day, he was also a Tennessee driver.

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7 thoughts on “The Right Side, Dear

  1. Oh my gosh. I am laughing so hard reading this! Having grown up in a small Tennessee town, it’s not hard to imagine this happening. But it makes me a bit fearful of getting my car back on the streets. 🙂

  2. He just blended in with all the other drivers from that town,I believe I know which one and I’m not surprised…..

    1. I couldn’t tell you because I wasn’t actually there, but I’d say there’s enough veracity to get a little nervous if you see Liam on the road somewhere.

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