Thursday, March 3, 2011

Testing, testing... 1-2-3

After years of teaching my students test-taking strategies, I finally got to employ some of them today.  The rule of the road in the UK is that residents of the US have one year to become a licensed driver.  It's a handy way for them to make a bit of cash from the expat population.  Thus far I've invested about $140 in the process.

Last month I trotted down to the local Royal Mail post office to get a passport-style picture taken.  Those are always such attractive pics, especially since they won't let you have even a hint of a smile.  At that point I was afraid they wouldn't grant me a provisional license because it looked like I belonged on a Wanted poster.  Lindsey Lohan and Mel Gibson's mug shots, taken while they were on the backside of a drunken binge, were more attractive than the picture I sent in with my application.

It was a pleasant surprise when my provisional license arrived in one week.  When you submit your paperwork for the license, you also have to send in your passport, which means you can't leave the country.  I figured sometime during the stated 2-3 week window when my passport was being held hostage by the driver's license authority, some member of our extended family would get hit by a bus or win the biggest Powerball jackpot in history.  Here I'd be, stuck in England without my passport.  

This afternoon, I rode the train to take my theory test in a nearby town.  It was about 15 miles from my house, but in a large town with lots of confusing one way streets and limited parking - the stuff of nightmares that would frazzle my nerves.  Hmmm... maybe a shot of tequila or glass of wine would have calmed me down a bit?  I had a feeling they would frown on folks who show up at a driver's testing facility with alcohol on their breath.  So faced with that choice, it was an easy decision to hop on the train.  However, it wasn't so easy to hop on a train to my destination.  We were told there was an "incident involving police" at Waterloo Station in London, with seven of the tracks shut down for hours.  So I tapped my cold foot while waiting on the platform - the high was in the 40s today - and was about to hail a taxi when a train finally rolled in to the station.  I made it to the testing center with just minutes to spare... 55 of them, to be exact.  

I had to empty my pockets, turn off my phone and give them all my belongings as if I was headed for lock up.  Seriously, did they think the second hand on my Brighton watch was gonna help me answer the question about yielding to cars from the right on roundabouts?  I must admit that I was rather nervous until I saw my fellow testers on the computers - a room full of teenagers.  Wow, that put things into perspective.  I figured if a greasy-headed teenager with his butt crack showing above the waist of his jeans can sit the test without a hint of nerves, then so can I.  

I zipped through the test and aced it with 100%.  It seems my 28 years behind the wheel in Texas came in handy.  The next step in this process involves throwing some cash at Barry the Brit, a man who specializes in prepping Americans for the UK driving test.  I can't wait to hear about all the things I've been doing "wrong" since I started driving a car back in 1983.

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