Thursday, September 14, 2006

Drivin' Cars, Part 1

It's been an eventful week so far. Monday night we were out with some of Alan's colleagues; we met at the Ginger Man for a few beers, then on to (I think it's called) Mike and Angie's Pizza for some, well, pizza. A very fine evening.

On Tuesday, our old friends Preston and Mary-Jane Clark arrived to take us out for a meal. They drove us to a place not too far away called Frisco, which MJ used to work in whilst in college. She opened the restaurant in 1953! It serves comfort food - steaks, fries, chili, onion rings etc. Very good they are too. It was lovely to see Preston and MJ again and we caught up splendidly throughout the evening.

Wednesday was our big day, however. We had scheduled to meet with Michele and go and attempt our driving tests.

The driving test centre is just up the road from here. We met there at 07:50 to be ready for opening at eight. We went in and presented ourselves along with our passports and UK driving licences. They looked at the passports and ignored the driving licences. This was a relief as we'd been told they might try to confiscate our UK licences - they will confiscate an out-of-state license if it's a US one as you're only meant to have one at a time.

Because we didn't have social security numbers yet, we had to fill in an extra bit of paper with our name and address, in addition to the usual application form. The driving test costs $24. We had to first do a vision test. They have a machine on the desk which you rest your forehead on, and look into. There's a chart inside similar to one an optician might have, with letters in different sizes on top and some circles in different colours underneath to test for colour blindness.

Next came the general knowlege test which is done on a computer. The lady asked me to sit at terminal 8 - the computer terminals are placed around the edge of the room, it's not like a classroom. I sat down and the computer started doing its thing. It's a multiple choice test in which you must pick an answer from three or four possible choices. They don't make it entirely clear that the first questions are practise ones to get you used to the question-answer system, however, so when the first two asked me to choose my date of birth and then my name, I was sitting there thinking, "You have got to be kidding!" There's meant to be 30 questions and you must get 21 correct to pass. I only got asked 24 as I'd answered enough correctly. There were questions about road signs, what to do if other drivers do X, Y or Z; how far to park away from certain items etc. Some are a little ambiguous but most are OK; a lot are just common sense.

Alan, however, had the misfortune to have about five questions on minors (under-21), drinking offences and the fines issued to minors. He also got given a question that asked what the thinking distance is when stopping from 20 mph. It's 44 feet, according to the driving manual, so that's what he answered. The computer said it was 22 feet. Also, we both had a question asking how far you should park from a fire plug. Not knowing what a fire plug was, but presuming it was the same as a fire hydrant, we both answered 30 feet. The computer said 15 feet.

Alan queried this with the examiner lady, and said the computer was wrong, and asked her to compare with the book. She did so, agreed, and told him to carry on anyway... Michele later queried it with the lady on the main desk. She admitted there were actually 3 or 4 wrong answers in their computer, but every time the corrected it, the computer overwrote them with the wrong answers again!

Anyway, we both passed our computer tests so it was off to do our practical tests. We had to drive the car around and join a queue as there are only two or three driving examiners. We thought it was a closed course driving test but it turns out they take you onto the road after all.

The test starts with the examiner first checking you have the right to drive your car - they check your insurance and title, if you own it, or in our case they checked our rental agreement. Next they check your horn, indicators and brake lights are working. They don't check your headlights though for some reason.

Then they ask you to pull away and drive towards a long thin bit of road, still inside the test centre. Cue much checking of mirrors first ;-) Once on this bit of road, they ask you to stop, then do a parallel park into the space between two poles set up for the purpose. These poles are very bent, suggesting some people aren't too good at this. I slotted the car in - it was wierd though, poles are harder to see than cars - and he bade me drive out again, up to a line further down. He had me stop and reverse in a straight line for a while. Then it was out onto the open road.

The road part was surprisingly short. We turnned right, then left, then left, then right, and right, maybe one more right, then left back into the test centre. The route encompassed a few stop signs and in my case, some pedestrian hazards (duly slowed down for) but that's about it. The examiner askes you to park up in a particular set of parking bays and that's it! He told me I'd passed, then Alan got in the car and it was his turn.

Meanwhile, I took my paperwork back into the test centre building where they took my photo, congratulated me for passing, and issued me with a paper temporary licence. We should get our photocards in a couple of weeks, in the mail.

So Alan and I are both now licenced Texas drivers!

Alan and Michele said that while I was out driving, they saw one poor girl go out and the instructor drove back.... I guess some people didn't get so lucky that day...

Our next stop was the Social Security office. We have applied for our numbers. Unfortunately, despite waiting for the requisite 10 days since entering the country, our I-94 forms have not yet crept through the system. So they have to make an extra check on our application. Hopefully we should get our numbers in 2-3 weeks, but we will see.

After this, we said farewell to Michele and continued with the rest of our day.

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