When sitting in the driver’s seat, you adjust the mirror, adjust the wing mirrors, adjust the seat (I lift and pull the seat very close to the steering wheel because I am a small smurf). Put your seat belt on and start the car. Change the automatic gear to ‘D’, indicate and pull out of the parking spot.
Yes, I know all this is very basic ‘I do that in my sleep’ stuff. Try taking your driving test 9 years after passing your first one. I passed my third time (shock horror let’s move on) in London and was overwhelmed with joy driving my car to college and back.
My second-hand shiny 1998 red polo was my new best friend and the sense of freedom filled my feet. It had the smell of an old rusty car, but I loved every inch of it. Way back then, I was the cool kid with electric windows (check me out!) whilst everyone else still had roll down windows. My dad also put some boy racer alloys on my little red polo (bless his cotton socks).
Just in case you are wondering what my baby looked here, here she is:
Fast forward 9 and half years, I am now married and living in New York. My driving license isn’t valid here (poop) and so I had to begin to train my brain to 1) drive a big SUV where I look like a little peanut from the window and take 5 minutes just to climb in 2) drive on the right hand side of the road 3) learn to stop at ‘stop’ signs and blinking red lights 4) give way at ‘yield’ signs and 5) learn that its ok to turn right at an intersection even when the lights have turned red (except when there is a sign “no turn on red” obviously).
Anyone who has driven in the US will agree, the roads are much wider and the traffic flow is excellent. Stand still bumper to bumper London traffic is now a distant memory (I don’t miss it at all!). You can drive with wind in your hair zipping down the freeway “oh wait the speed limit is only 55mph”- not so fast then I guess.
When I first moved to New York, I was set on having a small car, just like my little red polo. By the way, if money wasn’t an issue and rust wasn’t overtaking my old car, I would have shipped my little red baby over. Then came the harshest winter since 1994 and weekly snow storms. It is then I began to fall in love with the big SUV.
For the first 6 months I was driving around on my international license which worked out quite well as it was valid for one year – tip for anyone travelling to the US or moving from the UK and wanting to use their license – pop into your local Post Office and get your international license sorted.
So, I registered at the DMV site and began to complete journey most people do in their youth days. After completing the theory test, I blocked out 5 hours on a Saturday and sat my behind in class room on an old uncomfortable chair. The room was filled with a range of spotty, gothic, cool kid, nerd and hyper teenagers aged between of 16-19.
We each had to stand up, state our name, age and how long we had been driving. Everyone answered with “I am 18 and have been driving 3 months”. When my turn came, I stated my name (not age) and that I had been driving for 9 years (ooops). The following 5 hours consisted of listening to why we shouldn’t drink drive or sleep at the wheel. This was all said by an instructor who could barely keep his eyes open.
In London I hardly parallel parked, I mean who does. However it is mandatory for NY driving tests. So I practiced my parallel parking for hours. I had been told the test was super easy and actually lasts less than 10 minutes. Nothing compared to the 20-30 minute London driving test where you are asked things like “where is the oil and water?”. So I was positive I could pass. How hard could it be?
The day of the test arrived.
I was actually quite nervous. There is something about being watched and examined that makes me queasy. When I arrived at the test place, to my astonishment, there was no center where you go register your name or wait in. No civilization here! There was just a big line of cars waiting for a test instructor to take you on your test. My test was scheduled for 3pm and my turn came at 4pm.
I handed over my papers and got into the car. I looked at the test instructor and waited for a smile. She was a big lady and had a face of thunder. She sat there silently so I guessed she wanted me to begin my routine. I adjusted all my mirrors, seat, put my seat belt on, started the car.
What was I thinking, I had been driving for so long, this should have been a piece of cake. As a cold sweat broke out, I made sure I indicated before I pulled out of my parking spot. With my scared face on, I drove down the road.
Soon after I was told to make a left turn. I indicated and turned when no cars were coming in the opposite direction. We came to a stop sign at an intersection and I stopped. Another car to my right of the intersection also approached but had no stop sign. So I waved for him to go (it was his right of way because I had the stop sign) but then he waved me to go, so I waved him to go, and then he waved me to go on and so on.
In the middle of this waving business the test instructor shouts “make a decision.. Jeez”. I was startled by her shouting so I apologized and made the turn.
As soon as I made the left turn, the test instructor asked me to parallel park against a maroon car. I took a deep breath and thought “you can do this!!!”. I pulled up and started to reverse.
In the middle of the test, the instructor started to shout “ain’t you going to look back?? ain’t you going to look back???” (my best American accent there). This put me right off and I ended up parking in the middle of the road – least I didnt hit the bloody pavement (curb).
The test was over before I knew it and I had failed. How could this happen after 9 years of driving… Was this even possible? When I got my small ticket showing my failing points the following was stated:
1. Poor steering control = 15 points
2. Poor parking =15 points
3. Poor judgment at intersection =10 points.
You need 30 points or less to pass. Let me get this right…Poor judgment at intersection? I was showing that I did not have a right of way. Damn it.
I finally re-booked my test. And guess what… I bloody passed! I drove with confidence, stopped, yielded, parallel parked (yeah baby!) and nodded my head around like a duck! Good luck if you are taking your driving test soon!