Key to Her Future


A Year In Their Lives

December 28, 2003|By Linell Smith

After 53 years as a passenger, Evelyn Nichols is pursuing her driver's license.

The short explanation: She's tired of waiting at the corner of Roland Avenue and Cold Spring Lane for one of two buses to take her to work at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The five-mile journey can take 40 minutes in the morning and closer to an hour at night.

Truthfully, though, Evelyn didn't know how bad she had it until her husband, Nick, took a break from repairing air conditioners and started driving her to GBMC.

Suddenly Evelyn had a lot more free time, and got used to it.

"I decided to bite the bullet," she says.

Still, her husband, friends and even her own mother -- who didn't get her license until she was 50 -- were surprised when Evelyn signed up with the Town and Country Driving School this fall. Not wanting to appear too out-of-place, she touched up her hair color a bit, then settled down for 30 classroom hours with cell phone-toting teen-agers.

Early Saturday mornings were tough on her fellow students, Evelyn says. She struggled with three-hour night classes after a full day of administering GBMC's Harvey Genetics Institute.

While the kids slouched in their seats, Evelyn Nichols sat bolt upright, taking notes and nursing a Country Time iced tea to keep her sharp. Driving had become a lot more complicated over the years. When Evelyn was a teen-ager in Dundalk, no one had to know about how alcohol might combine synergistically with such medications as NyQuil.

No one studied strategies for confronting drivers with road rage. And who'd have guessed there are six different elements in a simple right-hand turn?

"If they taught walking this way, you'd be totally intimidated!" she confided after one class. "For someone like me, who has an idea of what mortality is, it's hard to think of the complexity of what you're doing when you're driving a car. It can make you nervous! On the other hand, the kids are just going to go out there and do it. After a while, I will, too."

Evelyn scored 100 in most of her written tests. She is now advancing, slowly and cautiously, toward the thrills of the open road.

"Do I have any plans to be wild and free?" she says. "What's freedom to a woman my age? I might enjoy meeting friends for dinner downtown. Going to the store by myself. Going to the hairdresser. ... I just want to run my own little quiet, middle-aged errands. That's pretty much it. If the cat needs food or I need milk, or something along those lines, I can just go and get it."

But whose car will she take?

For the past 18 years, the Nichols have been a one-car family. When Evelyn started driver's ed, however, her 77-year-old mother decided her own driving days were numbered and announced she would give her daughter her car.

"We'll have two Chevy Luminas," Evelyn says. "Automatic, not stick shift -- I'm not up for that."

The final portion of her driving apprenticeship will entail 40 hours behind the wheel with a mentor -- who just happens to be her husband. Evelyn figures she knows just what to expect.

"Nick's an excellent driver," she says. "He's very calm and observant. He reacts quickly, but smoothly to things. He doesn't tend to get angry and screech at people."

Which, under the circumstances, is a very good thing.

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