Californian law states that you must get a new driver’s licence within 10 days of getting here. Oops.
Mr H got his straight away but I chose the path of maximum procrastination. There was a time where I thought I wouldn’t even get one.
But it’s time: Getting my Californian Licence–part one (the written test).
You can sign up for an appointment online but when I finally went to do this I came across this question: “are you new or transferring your licence from another State?” Well, no, I’m from overseas. Is Australia another state of America?
So I procrastinated and didn’t continue my search for an appointment. Then I heard all sorts of stories about how bad it can be to get your actual licence—Australians must sit the “behind-the-wheel” test as well as the written one—so that meant more procrastinating.
Then I thought I’d do it with a friend and that would encourage me to get it. We procrastinated together. Still no licence.
Then there was the time Bruno Mars ran into me in his white Bentley convertible just down the road from my place (ok it wasn’t really Bruno Mars but he reminded me of him and he was the loveliest guy so) and I panicked. Thankfully we resolved the situation on the spot but now I was becoming unhinged. If I don’t have a Californian licence I can be “cited” and have my ve-he-cle impounded and we don’t want that. Maybe I should think about getting my licence.
My next kick-in-the-butt was getting my licence before my nearly 15-yeear-old could get his permit. Time is running out. I’ve finally run out of excuses and we’re finally doing this.
Step 1: Getting an appointment
Mr H (sick of my procrastination) filled in the online appointment request, got me a time and I started studying. How hard can it be? There are apps and online tests you can take to prepare you for the test. I used the app and it put me off because of questions like:
“A traffic light is red, but a peace officer is signaling you to continue driven. What should you do?”
Well first of all you can tell me if you’ve got a speech impediment and then you can tell me what the fluck a peace officer is.
(No, it wasn’t a typo, apparently a peace officer is a gentle term for police officer—the fuzz—cops. Why don’t you just say that?)
Then there was this one:
“A green arrow showing a red light means…”
It’s a red arrow. Isn’t it? No. Is it just me or is it questionable how they phrase these questions?
I think I need an American lesson before I take this test. Thank god for those practice tests.
The app looks like this and is available on the App store–I highly recommend it! It’s also a website so you can practice online and you don’t have to use the app.
Step 2: Going to the DMV
Like all public services (I use the term service loosely) there’s a queue a mile long to get in. These places make me feel like I’m in a third-world country. There are people going everywhere, no one is exactly sure where to go and what to do and it’s very, very low-tech. There are the usual side conversations—people who have struck up conversations with each other in the queue. Normal America is far from the picture Hollywood gives you. In fact, I want my money back.
In a Hollywood backstreet with a view of the Hollywood sign the DMV brings together people of all walks of life. There, as if to provide entertainment, are two homeless drunks swigging on their wine (at 9:30AM–well they are homeless drunks and it is 5:00 somewhere in the world), poking fun at each other and surprisingly keeping to themselves. Whatever it was they were doing kept themselves amused for the longest time.
After spending 15 minutes in the long queue that snaked out the door and around the corner I texted Mr H to tell him his iPad ran out of battery so no more practising while I wait. Thank god I did because apparently there’s a separate queue inside for appointments. Nobody told me that. I even sent the girl behind me in the queue to check if there are separate lines. All they said was move back, move back, we need the room in the doorway, please move back.
After the false start I found one of the last remaining English forms and filled it in while I waited and was served. (You can now pre-complete the form online–wonders never cease! You’re welcome!)
“Excuse me, excuse me,” said the lady pushing in behind me. “I have a question.”
“I’m sorry maam you’ll have to wait at the end of the line.”
“I just have a question.”
“I’m sorry maam,” said my lady while the question-asking lady got abused by the lady next to my lady serving the (gigantic) queue without appointments.
“She’s so stressed,” my lady says to me.
“It’s busy in here,” I said (I wanted to say it’s a shitfight in here but not sure that would’ve gone down too well). “Is it always like this?”
“Always,” she sighed.
“Oh my god you poor darlings,” I blurted out.
She smiled, sensed my sympathy and immediately felt better. I meant it. I was bracing myself to make sure she found my appointment slot, I had the right ID, filled in the form properly and could move to the next step because the last thing I wanted to do was come back any sooner than I needed to. No wonder discussion groups say stay clear of the DMV—it’s a nightmare.
The thing that continues to astound me is the patience of the Americans. They push to ask questions and find out what’s going on but they wait in line and do as they’re told. The scene at that DMV was one you can imagine on a news bulletin—people going everywhere and one lone madman gets filled with rage, can’t handle it anymore, gets out his gun and starts shooting. (There’s a metal detector & bag check at the Social Security & Tax offices but not one here). But they all do what they told don’t answer back and sit and wait. That’s why Americans are in shock when a madman does come out shooting. I know that much now at least. Still you never know, so I sit down and stare at that screen waiting for my number to be called to tell me where to go.
Because I’m getting older now I survey the windows, check out where people are being called to and sus out where I might be directed. I need to get this right.
Step 3: It’s my turn
That wait wasn’t so bad—especially after you’ve spoken to the people next to you. So very American. The lady was really very nice (they’re not usually known for being nice or helpful). She entered my details into the computer, got someone to cross-check them, took my work permit (which was apparently a better from of ID than my Australian passport or driver’s licence).
Update: you now need to show proof of residency so you should bring in two letters/bills/bank statements with your name and address on them. For kids doing their permits who don’t have anything in their name, so long as you can prove you are their parent then something with your name on it will suffice. This isn’t always easy for expats like me as most bills are in my husband’s name. It’s just another reason you have to try to get stuff in your name.
They only took cash or debit card so for once in my life I had cash—thank god says this credit card queen. Anyway, at $33 it’s not the $100-and-something in Australia. Oh, and they took my right thumb print too.
“Would you like your test in English?”
“Yes please, unless you have one in Australian.”
No … oops, sorry. Nice but still no sense of humour.
Step 4: Photo time
“Head over to counter 22 Miss and good luck.”
Great, but I didn’t realise I was getting my photo taken. Cool, I get ID for my next trip out of Burbank where they reject my Australian driver’s licence as a form of ID.
Update: from October 1, 2020 a standard California-issued licence will no longer be an acceptable form of ID; your licence needs to be upgraded (read: go back into DMV to be a Real ID). Ugh.
Place your right thumb on the scanner then stand and get your picture taken.
Done. I like that step.
Step 5: Test time
You get three chances (I didn’t know that until a friend told me on my way in) so it’s pretty hard to fail. Damn Mr H scaring me into thinking I’d fail. Still I was glad because some of those questions are so dodgy and the likelihood of me coming back if I failed was pretty slim so we had to do this.
I must one of the first to do the test on a touch-screen computer because most people I know still had to circle paper-based forms. How novel. Once I went through the questions I went back to the desk to tell them if I passed or failed. Do you trust me? How do you know if I didn’t pass? Well I wasn’t about to test that, I passed!
They printed an extra bit of paper gave everything back and told me to schedule my “behind-the-wheel” test.
“Do I get my photo?” I asked. “No that’s it.”
Bugger, I thought I got a nice card with my photo on it saying learner’s permit. Nope I have to wait for my actual licence for that.
Yes my friends, I have my permit. I have until this time next year to sit my “behind-the-wheel” test. Don’t’ think Mr H will let me wait that long somehow. Yep, time to face my fears and have a Nike moment.
xx It Started in LA xx