Monday, October 25, 2010

I’m just a tourist here.........

One of my darkest moments moving to America was when I discovered that Massachusetts would not accept my Irish driving licence and I would have to resit the test.  In the past twenty five years, I have traded my Irish licence in for an UK one, I’ve had an international driving licence - can’t remember why and I’ve certainly driven all over Europe and the USA on my old and trusted Irish Licence.  That said, Massachusetts is very firm on this.  If you want to live here, you have to have a Mass drivers licence.  It’s odd because in Florida you just swap your Irish one for their local one and then I could have brought a Floridian licence up here and exchanged that for a Mass licence but that would have involved moving to Florida – which I did actually consider at one point. I was that scared of sitting the test.  Was this the first example I saw of a genuine, bona fide scam?  I think so and it gets better!

There are two parts of the test.  The theory was pretty easy because it was geared at eighteen year olds.  One of the questions for example was; if you drink a large amount of alcohol and then take some mind altering drugs a) does one negate the other, b) do they have no affect on your driving C) should you avoid driving?  I kid you not.  OK those ones I could zip through - but how many points do you get on your licence if you’re driving after curfew?  What’s a curfew?  Thankfully they were multiple choice and you only had to get fifteen right out of twenty two questions, God knows why.  Does this mean I only need to pay due care and drive well fifteen out of twenty two days?  The one rule that really knocked me sideways when I got here was that you were aloud to text and drive.  I can’t even walk in a straight line and text so the notion of moving at seventy miles an hour in three tons of metal and texting is really comical (but you’d be amazed at how reasonable it seems after a few months of living here.)  Anyway, that’s old news because they have since outlawed it.  You can still phone somebody and chat away on a hand held phone while driving.  I like that!
So back to the test.  I passed the theory using my cunning and guesswork and avoided all questions about curfews.  Then there was the practical test to worry about.  My husband got me a lesson before the test just to be sure I knew what I was meant to be doing as opposed to what I actually did when driving.  The poor instructor got an awful shock when he saw how old I was.  He was only twenty three years old which meant I had passed my test before he was even born.
He seemed pretty happy with the way I could drive and so the test date was set.  I had to take my driving instructor to the exam because you must have a qualified Mass driver in the car with you when you’re sitting the test, not counting the actual tester who I assume is a qualified Mass driver (go figure) but it’s another hundred bucks gone. I also had to rent the driving instructor’s car because mine had a foot break and not a hand break (heh?) another hundred bucks.  Somebody somewhere in Massachusetts is making a fortune out of testing fully qualified drivers.
And so the test began, the instructor in the back seat, the tester on my right and me - driving the instructor’s car.  He told me to go up to the first set of lights and take a right and I would have; only my light was red.  The tester told me to continue but I didn’t.  Then he said ‘go on,” again and I suddenly remembered the American rule you can turn right on a red on condition there isn’t a sign to say otherwise.  (It’s more sensible than it sounds.)
“Oops,” I muttered and crashed my first red light while being tested - a weird experience.  He got me to do the ever-reliable three point turn, to parallel park (mercifully in a fifty foot gap so there was lenty of room even for me) and then I had to pull out into traffic but as luck would have it there was no traffic.
The pressure was mounting, I was a nervous wreck and so I blurted out that I had been driving in Ireland for twenty five years, I had five kids and I had never had an accident but Massachusetts insisted that I resit the test.  Then to my horror my eyes glassed up.  I could sense the instructor in the back seat panicking. (At twenty five guys have no clue how to handle girls who cry, not to mention old ladies in tears) The tester wasn’t any too happy either.  He directed me back to the testing centre and opened his door to get out.  Just as he was leaving he handed me a little slip of paper and said, “Well done, you’ve passed.” I would have kissed him if he was anywhere near me but then I realised that was why he had jumped out so sprightly.  That is exactly what he was scared of!  Doubtless he had seen my kind before but for me it was a really big deal.  That said, after all the trauma and unnecessary cost there is a silver lining.
Now when I go home to Dublin, I’ll be in a rental and I can drive in the bus lanes.  If a cop catches me I’ll just produce the US drivers licence and my broadest Mid West accent and say, “Sorry Officer, I had no idea.  Ye’ see I’m just a tourist here.”

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