Today was DMV day.
For a California driver's license, I need vision, written and driving tests.
I scheduled an appointment at 9:50 but I turned up 30 minutes before so that I could get some time to look at the driver's handbook.
All of the US organisations that I've needed to go to have worked on a queue system where you check in and take a number and sit down then they call you at an unspecified time.
The DMV is not different except the queue is much longer which meant that my 30 minutes were taken up with shuffling in line with my fellow Californians (and a girl from Utah who got a speeding ticket).
( I was also disappointed that there was no real-life equivalent to Patty and Selma Bouvier from the Simpsons )
Filling in the application form wasn't a problem. I had all my documentation so that went smoothly up to the point where the clerk had to go off and get his supervisor.
She looked at the screen, muttered something to the clerk, tapped a few buttons and turned to me saying “They have put a stop on your license in Massacheusetts you must have a common name”.
“That would be difficult to have happen seeing as I've never been there”, I reply.
“Just kidding”, says the supervisor.
I smile weakly.
I don't understand the humour of government offices. A person in the DMV can tell me that they've stopped my license in Massacheusetts and I'm expected to laugh but if I go into the same office and pretend that I have a loaded gun, the police will be all over me before I can say “Just kidding”.
My vision test consisted of reading some letters from a sight chart behind the clerk. There were three boards with five rows of letters each, the idea being that you read the middle one with both eyes uncovered, the left one with the left eye covered and the right one with the right eye covered. However, all the rows of letters are exactly the same height and width. Not much of a vision test then.
Once I successfully passed that test (making sure that Z was pronounced ZED and not ZEE), I had to join another queue to get my thumbprint and picture taken. Surprisingly for a government document, the clerk encouraged me to smile. She handed me a long strip of 36 multiple choice questions and I had to go and stand in the test area to fill in the answers. There is nobody standing by the test area to make sure that people don't cheat so it's possible to sit in the waiting area and look up the answers in the handbook before you even get to the test area.
Being British, I didn't cheat.
It's a slightly intense moment to go through having never been through a written driving test before but I knew that I could have three attempts at passing before I had to leave.
The pass mark for new applications is 30 out of 36. I scored 33 which was a bloody miracle seeing as I fell asleep in front of the web page with the handbook last night.
The most surprising answer I got wrong was:
While all of the following are dangerous to do while driving, which is also illegal ?
– Listening to music through a set of dual headphones.
– Adjusting your outside mirrors.
– Reading a road map.
The answer is listening to music. “Sorry that I crashed through the intersection, officer. I was following route 80 on this map here until I got to the staples and, before I knew it, I was in the back of this guy's truck”. “That's OK citizen. You can go about your daily business as long as you weren't listening to music at the time.”
There was no question that said “You are about to make a left turn whilst speaking to your friend on your cell phone. Do you: a) Put the phone down so that you can put both hands on the wheel and maintain full control of your vehicle, b) Ensure that your bluetooth headset is in place so that you can put both hands on the wheel and maintain full control of your vehicle or c) take both hands off the wheel so that you can text your friend an amusing comment ?”. There should be because I've seen a worrying number of people doing this.
From what I can see, you can be reading a map and getting directions from your friend on your cellphone as long as you're not listening to your iPod at the same time.
If only everyone was as perfect as me (or is that I ?)