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Driving: Maggy Takes Manhattan

Most people learn to drive at age 16. I was 55.

I learned to drive at age 55.

Maggy Simony currently cruises Florida's coast.—Photo by Brian Smith.

At the time, I lived 50 miles east of New York on Long Island. Every night, I saw the same television ad. A man with a New York accent described his wife’s transformation after taking lessons at a driving school in Manhattan. “She can drive up mountains, down into valleys! She’s never home!”

My husband had died a year earlier. I had never sat behind the wheel of a car—I simply had no curiosity. One evening, I impulsively called the school, made an appointment, took the commuter train, and reached the school’s office by 9 the next morning. The city’s anonymity appealed to me.

“Where’s your permit?” asked the man. I had never thought about that, but signed up for six lessons anyway when advised I could get the permit down on 14th Street. Another unknown: I’d have to take a written test first. No problem. I read the study book over lunch and passed the test by 2 p.m.

Back at the driving school, I had yet to focus on what a lesson in a city would be like. Clueless. I was astonished when the teacher put me in the driver’s seat.

“What did you expect?” asked the instructor. “Maybe a big parking lot?” I said.

That first day, the instructor talked nonstop, gripped the passenger-side controls—and I drove. We headed south to 34th Street, crossed town, turned north to 42nd Street. Driving by all those burlesque houses and porno movies of pre-Rudy Giuliani days, I began laughing so hard that the instructor had to pull off to a parking space. It was the first time I remember laughing spontaneously since Bill’s illness and death. I could picture him, looking down, amused—“Maggy, what in hell are you doing!”

I took one more lesson, then confessed to my friends Chris and Aud what I was up to in Manhattan. They were horrified. “We’ll teach you here!” And—brave women both—they did.

Now I’ve reached 88, and have never caused a single accident. I’ve pledged to give it up—driving, that is—at 90.

The AARP Bulletin’s "What I Really Know" column comes from our readers. Each month we solicit short personal essays on a selected topic and post some of our favorites in print and online. Maggy Simony is a reader from Cape Canaveral, Fla.

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