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A Driving License

I have just redone my driving license. And I was far more apprehensive this time than I was 45 years ago.  The day I turned 18 I wrote my learner’s license exam in Cape Town – the first day that I was legally able to write it. I was so eager to drive that I booked for the driving examination directly after passing the exam. The first available date was 14 days later – and in my arrogance I did it….and passed.

So here I was again doing my driving license, this time in South Dakota, USA.  Jenny and I have been driving on our South African driving licenses because the Driving Examination centre was shut during COVID-19. We booked our appointment and were told to “Stay in your vehicle until we call you to come inside.” Jenny went in first, and when she eventually returned she said that our South African licenses are not transferrable, and we have to do a learner’s exam as well as the driving test. She told me that the learner’s license was a multiple choice, touch screen exam…and that she had passed it.  Armed with this encouragement I went in, paid my fees, and found myself in front of a computer screen.

Green light if you answer correctly, and red light if you get it wrong. 25 questions and you can get five wrong. Sounds simple. Except that I am colour blind and so red and green were just lights appearing, without me knowing if I got the question right or wrong. The counter keeps score along the top of the page – by using green and red dots! I duly began tapping on the screen, and lights flashed on, and I was beginning to pick up confidence because I had not been kicked out of the game. Number 24 came up: “Where is your blind spot when changing lanes?” Oh I know this one: look over your left shoulder because the mirror can’t see past the left door post. Wrong! This is the USA and you are driving on the other side of the road and your blind spot is behind your right shoulder. And bam – game over! Thanks for playing. Come again. And so I shuffled out of the building to meet my triumphant wife with a lame excuse that “they drive on the wrong side of the road” for these tests.

Two weeks later I was back to redo the test. Slowly, reading the questions aloud, looking at my left and right hands, thinking about where I am on the road in the foreign country, the lights allowed me to get to number 25 without shutting me out. Whew. One I did get wrong: “what is you hand our of the window, arm bent and palm raised to the sky?” In South Africa it is a stop sign. In the USA it indicates turning to the right. Stop in the USA in a bent arm, palm down to the ground. Who knew?

Back home to the computer to book a driving exam. After 10 months of driving in the USA, Jenny and I have become comfortable with driving on the “wrong side” of the road. But we were struck by a moment of panic – because we have not ever done any parallel parking here. There are no parking spaces in our town that require this. So we set off to the nearby University parking ground to practice. It feels very counter-intuitive to swing to the right into a parking space, but we got the hang of it and felt prepared for the exam. We decided to do the test one week apart, so that the experience of the first once could assist the second one. I decided to go first. This is not because I am a better driver – because I am not. Jenny is a far better driver than I am. (We did a 4×4 driving course, and she scored much better points that I did). This was a matter of principle – Jenny is generally braver than me and will volunteer to go to the information desk to ask the question or to phone the people to sort out the TV. I hate doing this kind of stuff, and she has done a lot of it since we moved here. So I felt that I owed it to her to be the guinea pig in this experiment.

I duly presented myself outside the traffic offices and was summoned inside. A photograph, an eye-test, and the administration fee later, I was behind the wheel of my car chatting through a face mask to the examiner. He noted that most of his testing was done for 15 years olds, who often came off the farm in their dad’s Ford F150 truck. But the experience was a painless trip around town stopping, turning left and right and changing lanes down 6th Street: note to self – look over your right shoulder when changing lanes (I got a cross against that one). I will admit to being slightly self-conscious about what I was doing, wondering about the bad driving habits that 45 years of driving had reinforced. Then it was back to the traffic office where I was presented with my newly minted USA driving license.

Just in case you were wondering: Jenny aced her driving exam – but then she is the brightest member in this house!

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“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)