Thursday, 7 June 2007

Issue 2 - Learner Driver

Issue 2 - April 2005
Learner driver
I am now the proud owner of a full New York state driver's license. Now, for those of you who know that I passed my license in 1987, that might seem to be an obvious statement, but nothing could be further from the truth.
When I moved New Zealand to Pongolia, I simply handed in a flimsy paper Kiwi license, and was posted (for free) an even flimsier UK license (which was large enough to use as a bedspread on my tiny bed at Dancer Road). When I moved from Pongolia to Choco-Cheeseland, I handed in my very tatty bedspread-license, and after the payment of a mere 114 francs, was the proud owner of a Swiss license, credit card size, summarising in tiny print (and in four languages, none of them English) the fact that I was allowed to drive anything up to a bus which held less than 30 people.
In New York, I turned up at the Department of Motor Vehicles (the DMV, or Disturbed, Malicious and Vicious, for short), handed over the license, and was confidently told, "you can change your license if it is issued by a state in the US or Canada."
Me: "Really? But I have a license issued by Switzerland."
DMV lady: "No problem. Is Switzerland in the US?"
(HONEST, I did NOT make that up - and she was NOT being sarcastic. Kim was standing beside me as a witness. Life really is stranger than fiction sometimes).
Me (after long moment of total surprise): "Yes, actually. It was issued in Switzerland, Texas."
DMV: "That's alright then. [Stamp, stamp] Here you are:"
Sadly, I was not thinking quickly enough to make sure the last two sentences happened, so there I was, back to the status of Learner Driver. After a short two-hour wait, one mindnumbingly simple 10-minute multi-choice test, and a mere $46, I now had a torn and badly printed receipt - a piece of paper more worthless than the flimsy piece of paper I obtained in New Zealand more than 17 years ago.
No matter, I thought, how bad can it be? I just turn up, do the practical test, and I'm fully legal again. Apart from the compulsory five-hour course I had to take. So, I manage to find a driving school in Brooklyn (obviously - who learns to drive in Manhattan?), and so I got to sit in a smelly, crowded room fully of very sweaty, bored teenagers for a whole Saturday. What did I learn in this time? All I learned is that there are no good reasons to go to Brooklyn on a Saturday morning. People from Brooklyn will probably disagree with me (and I expect them to). They may suggest that the Fulton Mall, far from looking like the gangster's version of Acton High Street, is in fact the home to many a good deal from reputable merchants. They may suggest that the cuisine on the Mall is nutritious and very affordable, rather than a collection of grubby fast food restaurants, where Burger King really does look like the most healthy option. They may even argue it is the home of fine art and culture, so long as graffitti meets the definition of fine art, and rap music the meaning of culture. What they will not say however, is that Brooklyn is an ideal place to sit and watch five hours of videos on the dangers of not wearing a seatbelt.
So, I have a flimsy piece of paper to say I can guess multiple-choice correctly, and another to say I can watch TV for five hours on a rainy Saturday without noticeably falling asleep. These things are of course of no value, until I have passed (cue meanacing music), THE TEST.
THE TEST, held on Friday of last week, after a three-week wait for an appointment, was to last no more than 10 minutes (why the 3 week wait?), on the totally deserted streets (save for other aspiring drivers) of Redhook, Brooklyn. I would now give a long and withering critique of the beauty (or otherwise) of Redhook, except that I didn't see any of it. What I did see, was a single grassy green park, with deserted roads on all four sides. Now, remember that I had nothing to gain from this test - either I pass as expected, or I surprise and fail, like 40% of those who take it first time. In order to minimise the embarrassment of tripping myself up immediately after the starter's gun, I took the very sensible step of a 45-minute lesson with the driving school, who would then lend me their car with which to sit THE TEST.
My lesson was easy enough - stop at stop signs, don't go the wrong way up one-way streets, and always, always turn my head like a giraffe looking for sunspots on its back to check my blind spot when changing lanes. Having learned the simple rules about all-way stop intersections (give way to anyone who arrived before you, and anyone bigger than you who looks like they might not have insurance), I was ready. We parked at the end of a queue of at least 30 cars, and waited the compulsory two hours before an assessor was ready to have his power fix.
Cue the music - we're off. Pull out easy enough, then at the first intersection (an all-way stop - no worries there now), a huge articulated truck comes from the left and begins to pull in to my street. I indicate, giraffe, and move to the side of road to give him room to turn. While I am doing this, DMV-hitler-person shouts, "anticipate the truck!"
Having well and truly anticipated the truck, I politely reply, "Yes, I have it, thanks."
The truck pulls past, I indicate, giraffe, turn left as instructed and move to the next test. More on the truck later.
Left again at the next all-way stop, parallel park behind an SUV (parked at the end of a line of cars - I could have just driven up behind it), left into a narrow two-way street (avoiding the devious trap of simply driving down the middle of it), then politely tooting the horn at pedestrains walking along between the parked cars (I learned that one in one of the five videos - it's actually written in to the law - you are SUPPOSED to use your horn when you are just cruising along deserted streets).
Right again at the stop sign at the top, three point turn to turn around and pass the point of origin again (on a road large enough to do a U-turn on), avoiding the devious trap of reversing all the way back across the street (and illegally facing the wrong way on a two-way street - instant fail).
I'm instructed to turn left, back in to the narrow two-way street. I pause to let a careening SUV sort itself out before it reaches the stop sign. I have right of way, but I don't want to finish up as a hood ornament on a Dodge, so I wait until he stops before I pull past him.
The world ends.
I'm going deaf in my right ear, and trying to figure out how annoyed he would have been if I had taken my right of way, and we had been punted backwards across the road in a mashed-up Chevrolet Cavalier, to land finally in the park. Whatever. So defensive driving is actively frowned upon. That explains a lot.
The rest is straightforward, right at the stop, right at the stop, right again in to the original road (DOH! Forgot to do the giraffe there! Bloody deserted streets. I might not have seen a falling telephone pole because I didn't look). And we stop.
So, I think. I know I forgot to giraffe once, so that's five points. I'm allowed 30 points, so this should be easy.
"You did not observe [giraffe] when turning right [five points]. You used excessive manoeuvring when parallel parking [probably right - it turns out you're only allowed to turn the front wheels six times - five points, we're up to 10, out of 30].
"You did not take your right of way, that's ten points [TEN POINTS! You are f**king kidding me].
"You displayed poor judgement with the truck. You should have anticipated him before I told you to do so. Ten points."
WHAT!!!!??? The blood is roaring in my ears now. Should I argue that I was just taking my right of way? Hang on now - that's still only 30 points. I really will blow it if he gets me for having a bad accent, or not taking my right of holding my patience.
"You have only just passed this test. Take these notes and work on them in your everyday driving."
Yeah, right mate. Whatever. You get your 15 minutes of fame with me writing about you. A pass is a pass...... and you will always be an idiot.
For what it is worth - I was there for two hours, and he only passed one other person the whole time I was there. And he looked unhappy about it then as well. AND, I'll bet he "just" passed him with exactly 30 points. I hope he sleeps well at night.
So - I'm qualified. Qualified at multiple-choice, TV-watching, and driving around deserted parks in the middle of a weekday. But only just.
But get this - for all that I've been through, spare a thought for Kim. She waited three hours at the DMV to be told she is not ELIGIBLE for a license (having no social security number). Why are the skills required to drive the same as the skills required to pay in to social security? Is the state government now responsible for (federal) immigration policy?
My parting question on this: Is the word "logic" deleted from government dictionaries, or is it just in a collective blind spot so big that it cannot even be seen when turning one's head around like a giraffe?

Events this week:
April 19 2005 - Container arrived from Switzerland. Oh the joys of boxes and damaged furniture!
April 20 2005 - Drinks and dinner with Susanne Frailick near Union Square.
April 21 2005 - Watched an ice hockey game at Chelsea Piers, Morgan Stanley FID vs Equity. Well done Rob Grudzinski (from my team at work) for one goal and and an assist for FID! Watch the older eagles fly!

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