After my penultimate post, I checked the stats in the blogger settings and to my delightful astonishment, there were readers from Denmark, The Philippines and Germany. I do realise that there are 'key words' picked up by blog readers, but after my last post, I had two page previews by 'Denmark'. Perhaps it was two people, perhaps it was the same person twice. The latter would be absolutely amazing, although the former would be amazing enough. I am, currently, like a child with a new toy and I would like to thank everyone for reading. Now, as the saying goes, on with the show.
My trips across the USA on my State collection project have been enhanced by the fact that I have been at the wheel when crossing the State line. Driving in Texas on an English driving license was time limited and eventually the inevitable happened. We had to take the driving test.
When we moved here, we had a little convertible jeep, a Geo Tracker, not unlike my beloved Suzuki Vitara in looks, but far less stable. As a surprise to coincide with Samantha's 18th birthday, Dana bought us a Mini Cooper. It is primarily red with a Union Jack on the roof. The car, theoretically, was to share. In practice, I use the car very little. It is, however, very easily recognisable and we have been stopped by people at traffic lights shouting, 'hey neighbour'.
The first Christmas that we had the car, Samantha returned home and I drove to the mall, alone. With my shopping completed, I got into the car to return home and exited onto the perimeter road. I was rather perplexed as to why everyone was driving on the wrong side of the road. One car after another swerved to avoid me and not one of them hooted or showed any sign of animosity. Regaining my bearings, I drove home with the traffic travelling in the same direction.
When moving to Texas from another State, the limit on driving with a license from another State is 30 days. There is no need to take another test. When registering your new address, you receive a new license. However, no one was entirely sure, including the 'traffic cops' as to how long we could drive on an 'International' License. Some thought the 30 day rule applied, and others said it was possible to do so for a year. As you can't 'swap' the license, the usual 30 day rule does not apply. We seemed to have hit a 'loophole'. However, this all became irrelevant as we had been here for a year and, as we were intending to stay, we would have to take a test.
Samantha had passed her test in England about two weeks before we left. As the English know in order to pass a driving test, a theory test has to be booked, which is usually for a date a couple of months in the future and if you fail, you have to rebook and wait again. Once a pass has been achieved, the practical test can be booked. Again, the test is usually a few months away and unless a 'cancellation' date can be secured. The process, at best, takes a few months...or at least it did when we left England.
We arrived at the Test Center a little after 5:15 p.m., and by the time we had completed the paperwork, it was 5:30. We reached the desk at around ten to six and were told that, unfortunately, we would have to return to take the test. They took our photograph (and surprisingly asked if they were acceptable!!!) and told us to come back 'tomorrow'. When we enquired as to what time, we were told, 'anytime'!
The next morning Samantha and I drove to the test center, and were directed to a door which led us into the back room full of computer screens. A young boy walked to the desk looking rather disappointed. He had failed his theory test. When replying in the affirmative to the question 'do you want to take it again', the man behind the desk reset the screen and told him, 'go ahead'. No waiting two months to get an appointment! Samantha and I looked at each other in shock!
Sitting at the desk and pressing the start key, I wished I had actually read the handbook Dana had given us. The first question was the hardest. 'When walking along a road, where should you walk; towards the traffic, on the same side as the traffic, in the middle of the road?' I deliberated for a time. I knew that you should walk towards the traffic so you can see them as well as them seeing you, but something didnt seem right. I read the answers about three times before re-reading the test instructions and scrolled down. 'No. 4: On the sidewalk'.
When I took my original driving test 28 years previously (and my Licensed London Taxi Drivers test in 1990) the 'theory' part of the test consisted of the examiner asking a few questions after having completed the test. Having to sit at a computer with a multiple choice set of questions was slightly alien. The last multiple choice questionnaire I had completed was in high school, which was pre-computer era. I persevered and before long the competitive spirit kicked in and I was going to 'nail this sucker!' I passed on two questions, with the option of coming back to answer them later. Finally, the screen changed and the words, 'You have scored 92%' appeared. Not quite comprehending the significance, I was desperately trying to return to the two 'passed' questions. I needed to answer these to complete the test. The screen changed again and the words, 'You have passed', appeared. Still sitting, looking for an opportunity to complete the test, Samantha came to my side and told me she had obtained a pass. I told her that I just needed to complete the two questions on which I had passed and she told me I didn't need to do that. At this point the screen flashed, 'Leave the screen and go to the desk!' Finally, the penny dropped!
The man behind the desk remembered us from the previous evening and was quite taken by the fact we were English. He asked if we would be taking our test in the same car and if so he would book us in together. Unfortunately.......there wasnt an available spot until.....4pm. Once again our jaws hit the floor and had to bounce back up quickly enough to say, 'Book it!'
Arriving back at the Center we were told to pull the car around to the back of the building and wait for the examiner. I was going to go first. This was a decision made by me, as there was no way I could wait any longer without completely losing my nerve. Although I had been driving for over a quarter of a century and had finally managed to conquer the driving on the right syndrome, I was nervous. Very nervous. This was a test and I do not do well on tests. Suddenly the car door opened and a short stocky woman planted herself in my passenger seat. Abruptly she asked if I was ready. I told her I was slighty nervous but had been driving for years, but was very nervous.... Unimpressed with my attributes, she told me that if I was too nervous, I would fail, so I should calm down! Yes, that really did the trick....NOT!
The test commenced. I had to drive about ten yards just past two polls and then parallel park. I backed in to the space and parked perfectly straight, by the back poll. My examiner grunted, made some notes and told me to pull out and drive to the exit of the Center. 'Turn right', she commanded. I turned right, then right again and then came to a stop sign. 'Turn left', she demanded. I turned left, and left again. Suddenly, her abruptness left and she started to ask questions about the car; not questions about the workings of the car which may have been relevant to the test, but general 'do you like it' questions. Apparently her husband was considering buying a mini and she wondered if I thought it was a good car. Convinced this was a trap, (I am such a conspiracy theorist). I answered her in one word sentences, where possible. My third left turn took me onto a main road. I had been taught (nearly thirty years ago) to hug the nearside lane when turning onto a main road. Unfortunately, too late, I realised that I was on the road of the Test Center and this was confirmed when my examiner told me, once again, to turn left. Fortunately, the traffic along that stretch of road must be used to novice drivers attempting to gain a license to terrorise the older generation, and the driver coming along in the outside lane gave way to me in order that I could turn into the driveway, as did the on coming traffic.
Pulling into a parking space, the 'other' personality of my examiner reappeared. She informed me, with rather more agression that I thought necessary, that I had passed....today. Confused, but not wanting to question the comment 'today', for fear of being burned by the fire that was waiting to explode from the nostrils of my examiner, I waited for the final decree. A rather long list of minor faults were verbally conveyed. Not stopping at the correct stopping distance before a stop sign, was accepted by me as a fault. Not parking in the middle of the two polls when parallel parking was 'sort of' accepted as a fault; but, not crossing my hands when turning a corner, (yes, she said NOT crossing my hands), and sitting too close to the steering wheel, were, in my opinion, a little 'picky'. Nevertheless, I thanked her, wished her a 'nice day', grabbed my pass sheet and left the car before she had a chance to change her mind.
I went into the building to get my license as Samantha went out on her 'drive'. Arriving back in less than five minutes, she emerged from the car waving her pass certificate. With two minors she had 'aced' the test and was now a holder of two driving licences at the age of 18!
Now legally in charge of a motor vehicle, I was filled with a renewed confidence. My trips across State lines have been so much fun, and I hopefully I will not disappoint with the stories I intend to post, but in the words of Scarlett O'Hara, 'Tomorrow is another day' and tomorrow, or the next tomorrow, will be......another story.