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Getting my Californian Licence—part two (behind-the-wheel)

This entry is part 2 of 2 in the series Getting my Californian Driver's Licence

I hope you haven’t been holding your breath waiting for “Getting my Californian Driving Licence—part 2 (behind-the-wheel)”.

Yes, they call it “behind-the-wheel” here and it’s the practical part of the licence process—the part that has “fail me” written all over it and the part I was putting off the most mainly because of the horror stories I’d heard. You know? Anything that can go wrong will go wrong?

About six months ago I embarked on the getting-my-licence journey thinking it would give my sitcom (actually Blog) a comedy boost. Sadly there is little to no comedic value in this post.  It’s not original and it’s just one of those stupid things in life there’s just no getting around.

One Sunday night a few weeks ago—while it was still school holidays—my husband got out his iPad and announced it was time to get my licence.  Where did that come from?

The overwhelming advice was don’t sit your licence in Hollywood, they’ll fail you.  OK.  It was suggested I go into the “Valley” to Winnetka.  The only available appointment in the foreseeable future was the very next day.

“I can’t do it tomorrow,” I said rather adamantly.

“Why not?”.

“Because,” knowing full well that’s a ridiculous response. “I need to drive around and get to know the area first. And we’ve got dentist appointments in the morning, how am I going to do two things in one day?” Useless … not getting any more convincing.

So, after checking around at alternative appointments and realising I’ve got no excuse, we made the appointment. I can do this.

I rounded up all my paperwork ready for the test. Because I was driving on a Learner’s Permit Mr H had to come with me.

(Only a year ago you could show your Australian licence and they’d give you a temporary licence provided you past the written test. Now you’re given a Learner’s Permit valid for one year).

Because you’re on a Learner’s Permit it technically requires a licenced driver to accompany you.  Given part of their checklist is you must be accompanied by a Licenced Driver, we weren’t about to test the DMV and have me front up alone only to be rejected.

Preparation for behind-the-wheel test

Next we collected up the rest of the paperwork I needed:

  • My Learner’s Permit
  • My Registration Papers (that are supposed to be kept in the car anyway)
  • Proof of insurance (that’s also supposed to be kept in the car)
  • i94 & Passport.

(Side-bar: While I needed my i94 and Passport they didn’t ask for my son’s when he got his licence at 16. It may have something to do with the fact that it’s a brand new licence but not sure at this stage. He passed his test and is now driving so all must be OK).

And look up my hand signals. (That’s right, for some antiquated reason you need to know hand signals for left, right and stop).

OK, check, check, check.

We rocked up to the Winnetka DMV.  You’re asked to park in the carpark, check in and then drive up to the testing area when “instructed to do so”.

Like every other DMV in LA it’s packed. I don’t know why this is. There’s always a queue out the front and there are always hordes of people inside.  And it’s always always always chaotic. This DMV is not unlike the Hollywood DMV I described in Part one of this story.

I had to go inside past the outside queue (and funny looks) and then past another inside queue that was marked for appointments and head over to the far side (not dissimilar to the far queue) where there was a separate queue for driver’s licence appointments.

I’m glad Mr H asked as it wasn’t obvious when we arrived and there are so many people around, you feel like you need to start queuing outside before you make your way in. Without deliberately offending my host country it feels like I’m walking into a government department in the Philippines.

We were early but unfortunately they were checking us in in appointment time order so that wasn’t much use to us. And, they were running late.

We checked the paperwork list on the desk matched the paperwork we’d brought in with us.  All good.  Oh, except the insurance papers.  They were expired.  We’d been automatically renewed but we mustn’t have printed out the renewal and now we’re standing there looking at expired insurance.

Ok, we can log in and show that our insurance was actually current.  But now we’re at the mercy of DMV—and whether the people behind the counters are sticklers for the rules or reasonable.  You never want to be at the mercy of the DMV so who knows how this will play out.

We started playing out the different scenarios.

“Oh, is it expired? I didn’t realise. I can look it up online to prove it’s not.” Possible.

“Would you be able to print our proof of insurance out for us?” Doubtful.

“We’ve just realised the paperwork is out of date but here it is online to prove it’s current.” Yep, always go with the truth.

There was a nice girl at the desk so we’ll take our chances.

Oh wait, the nice girl goes on break. The one that takes over seems a bit grumpy. Great.

We wait some more. I’ve got Mr H there, slightly dodgy paperwork and a car to sit the test in so I’m just at the mercy of the chick behind the counter as to whether she accepts the insurance certificate and then that of the driving tester.

They call our timeslot and as if it’s meant to be the nice girl comes back. “No problems.” she says as she takes my learner’s permit and registration and hands me back my proof of insurance and asks me to sit down and wait for my name to be called.

I’ll spare you the muzak on hold music and the obligatory … 30 minutes later to give the idea of the length of time this is taking …

(Ok I didn’t but I could have).

I’m up! My name is called and Mr H and I go to my car. I’m driving, he’s in the passenger seat. I was asked to put my paperwork on the right dashboard so I did.

It’s taking a bloody long time to drive to what is essentially a drive-through minus the bottleshop or Maccas ordering window. There’s a hold up in front of us. Two lots of people get out of their cars. Oops. As we’re creeping forward a clearly nervous 16-year-old hits the people in front of her, who are just in front of us. They exchange paperwork we chuckle at the irony and wonder if she’s automatically failed or given a lifeline. There’s a security guard there facilitating the exchange but none of the testers so maybe she’s good to go.

(She was good to go but came back some five minutes later failing anyway).

Time to run through my hand signals one more time.

Taking the behind-the-wheel test: we’re on

I’m up. The tester takes my paperwork and Mr H is free to get out of the car. Then she starts asking me questions.

  • Where’s your foot brake? Put your foot on it (and she checks my brake lights)
  • Right indicator (oops I’ve done the windscreen wipers, try again, got it).
  • Left indicator
  • Checks my tyres
  • Asks me to do my handsignals and say what they are.

Next she hops in the car and asks some more things saying point don’t touch.

  • Emergency or foot brake (parking brake)
  • Horn
  • Emergency flasher
  • Headlights
  • Defroster (rear & front demist)
  • Headlights.

We’re off. I had nightmares for two years about exiting the driveway and turning too close and running over the gutter but all good. I turned right into a street, stopped at a traffic light and turned right again. She asked me to pull over then reverse. Then she asked me to pull out again. The silence in the car is killing me. I hate awkward silence. I turned left into a street and left into another one. I was near the DMV I could feel it in my bones I was home and hosed.

Keep going straight. What??? Aren’t I done? Left. Right. Left. Left. We were getting further away. Was she willing me to make more mistakes? This is becoming a competition now. I wasn’t going to fail after all this. I passed mini test after mini test she was giving me. I had to turn left into a street but the cars were banked up past the turning lane left so I dutifully waited behind the cars. (You know when you’ve got your licence you just cross the wrong side of the road so you can join the turning lane so you catch the lights?) Two cars overtook me and I laughed awkwardly. She was impressed I could tell. I could sense we were heading back.

“Left,” she said. There was a pedestrian crossing yet I was free to go. I had heard that the pedestrian had to fully cross the road before you could go. What do I do? Do I go? Wait? I’m going to fail on my way back to the DMV. I went but turned wide when the pedestrian was crossing on the other side of the traffic. I’ve failed. Keep calm she would’ve asked you to pull over by now.

I pulled into the DMV. As far as I could see I was perfect: I stopped ahead of the lanes, I used my mirrors all the time (as in checked them remembering when I was 18 and sat my test in Melbourne and passed on the first go) and I didn’t speed.  That damn pedestrian.

“You can have 15 errors,” she started. Great. No way, I couldn’t have failed.

“You made 11 errors.” I passed. Yay me. Wait, what 11 errors?

“You must take care not to turn too wide,” she said. Oh yeah, I’m lucky I made the right call there I’ll take that one.  “Awkward giggle, oh yes I know where I did that,” I said out loud.

“You must always look both ways.” But I did, I did. I looked in my mirrors I looked everywhere.

I nodded as if to agree. Who cares? I passed.

“Go inside, give them this and you can collect your licence.” No congratulations? No well done?

“Ok. Thanks.”

I went to the desk and said to the girl (a different girl at a different desk). “I passed. Just.”

“Oh,” she said looking at my paperwork.  Then, looking at the girl next to her she said, “She got you-know-who guess how many errors she made. She passed.”

“14,” says the girl next to her.

“11,” she laughs back at her.

“Oh you’re good girl,” said the girl looking up at me then and the girl next to her and continues serving the person at her desk.

“She’s tough that one.  Let’s put it like this.  I’ll get in the car with you any time.”

Only then did I breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m a licenced Californian driver. I had to sit a written test then (endure) a behind-the-wheel test and I live to tell the tale. Not only that I passed.  With the toughest tester in Winnetka.

Could you pass a behind-the-wheel test if you had to resit it today? How did you go? I’m just glad this little obstacle is done and dusted.

xx It Started in LA xx

PS: For more information on applying for your California Driver’s Licence head here.

Moving to LA, Posts

Getting my Californian Licence–part one (written test)

This entry is part 1 of 2 in the series Getting my Californian Driver's Licence

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?”

Letter-for-letter-word-for-word.

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?)

Studying for my California driver's licence tomorrow. I don't know what or who's a peace officer? #itstartedinla #myreality

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

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!

Here's what the app looks like that I found so helpful--minus the typos and stuff of course!

Here’s what the app looks like that I found so helpful–minus the typos and stuff of course!

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.

“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). 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.

Place your right thumb on the scanner then stand and get your picture taken.

Snap.

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.

Step one done. Behind-the-wheel test to go #cadriverslicence #myreality #itstartedinla

A post shared by It Started in LA 🌴 Gwenny John (@itstartedinla) on

 

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

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