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Relearning to Drive

February 10th, 2005 · No Comments · NYC

As I mentioned not that long ago, I’m in the process of getting a valid New York State driver’s license.

Since I don’t own a car and I am lazy, I figured a driving school would be the way to go. I figured they’d have a package that would whisk me through the whole process while holding my hand. So the first step was finding a school.

It seems there is a vast chasm between the internet and people who run driving schools, though. And that whole lazy thing keeps me from picking up a very heavy Manhattan Yellow Pages. But a query for “Driving Schools 10036” (which is my ZIP Code) gets Google Local to give me some results.

From these, I notice one school with the noble sounding name “Professional Driving Schools of the Americas” has its own web site! I can’t go wrong with these guys. Here’s a school with huge ambitions. Other schools might settle for “Professional Driving Schools of America”, but not this one. This one covers all of North and South America! Must be why they get the whole “World Wide Web” thing too.

Tremendous scope notwithstanding, the web site is a bit dusty. But it does have an address, some out-of-date but encouraging information, and a phone number, so I have all I need. I make a call to find out what I need to do.

For around $240 I can get an expedited road test, in about a week. The price includes the use of a car for the road test, and a 90 minute preparatory lesson in a simulator. High tech, eh? It also includes a state-required five hour road safety class, which I must take before scheduling a road test.

There are about a dozen people in my class. All but two are experienced drivers, and almost all of those are people who hold foreign licenses, like me. None of us want to be here, not even the instructor. She takes out her resentment on us by calling on us to answer questions constantly, thus preventing dozing, reading or daydreaming. I’m sitting in the back row, though, and the guy in front of me conceals my typing away on the Sidekick completely. My ability to touch type on my PDA while keeping my eyes mostly on the instructor allows me to keep my sanity by using instant messenger to help pass the time.

I find myself flashing back to when I was in high school and I grew my hair long enough to cover my ears. This allowed me to run ear buds under the back of my jacket so I could listen to my walkman in the boring classes. You wouldn’t believe the amount of AA batteries I went through in those days.

The good news so far is that the class is really only going to be about three and half hours. There’s an hour to take the test, which doesn’t count for anything anymore, and a half hour break for dinner, which we can cut short and eat in class to get out sooner. The bad news is that we still have to sit in this mind numbing class for three and a half hours in chairs that make airline coach seats seem like La-Z-Boy recliners.

Our instructor tries to trick the class with a perception test. She flashes a sign very fast, for about a second, with this text in a triangle:

He
saw the
the bird sitting
in the cage

She then went around the room and asked people what they saw. Some people couldn’t manage to read the whole thing in the short time. But I was the only one who noticed that there were two the’s in there. All those endless hours of playing video games finally paid out some real world benefits, if you ask me.

After over an hour of blackboard diagrams, matchbox car demonstrations and seemingly endless questions, we get to take our dinner break. As I dash out to a nearby Wendy’s for a greasy pick-me-up, I consider buying a bottle of beer at a deli to take back to the class. Especially when I know the next part of the class is going to dwell on the dangers of alcohol and driving. What could be better way to kick off that segment of the class than the sound of a beer being opened?

Not to make light of the real dangers of drinking and driving. But I already understand those dangers, and forgive me if I don’t want to hear about it again for the next hour and a half. I get it already.

I wimp out, though. No beer for me. I regret my choice, though, when we get to sit through a tedious video introduced by Carly Simon that covers all the gory details of a incident involving a former Olympic diver, too much beer, a fast car, and a bunch of teenagers who picked a bad night to hang out at the end of a dead end street. It’s your usual “scared straight” affair, the type of which I haven’t had to watch in at least sixteen years. At the end of it, my conviction to never drink and drive is only surpassed by my desire to kill myself.

This isn’t to say we don’t actually learn some useful information from the class, like:

  • If you are taking your road test in New York City, go to Staten Island. Apparently they pass everybody. Do not go to Brooklyn, though, because they fail lots of people.
  • People who hold New York State licenses should choose New Jersey for any high speed pursuits or other moving violations, because infractions committed there don’t count for points on your license.
  • Oddly, it seems our relationship with Canada is closer than with New Jersey, since infractions committed in the Great White North do count for points on your license.
  • When the road test inspector asks you if you hold a valid foreign license, lie. Unless, of course, you want to surrender it. While my own Bermuda driver’s license is of questionable value, it’s certainly got a novelty factor that I like, and it’s valid until 2009. Lord knows I might accidentally show that license to a cop who pulls me over, who then might decide to go easy on the international tourist. Accidentally, of course.

Finally, it is test time. Twenty-five multiple choice questions are posed to us. Since the test counts for nothing, I finish it in under three minutes, and I actually bother to read to the questions. I figure with the results of the test, we will get our certificates of completion and be done.

After the slowpokes finish up, the instructor informs us we have one more video to watch while she scores the test. We get to sit back, relax, and soak up thirty more minutes of “Ultimate Driving Challenge” hosted by Craig T. Nelson and Paula Zahn. I think my sob was audible.

Brought to us by the sadistic people at Ford Motor, this video had appearances by Tim Allen, Annie Potts (to which the woman seated next to me leaned over and asked “Who is she?” to which I mentioned her fine performance as the secretary in Ghostbusters,) Scott Bakula, Barbara Mandrell and Hammer. Yes, Hammer. I suspect more than half of the people in the video were fulfilling a court order for community service.

It was only the knowledge that I would need to see for my road test that kept me from scratching my own eyes out of my head to stop the pain. I think I wept for joy like an Oscar winner when I received my certificate of completion at the end of this ordeal.

Now just a few more hours for the road test next Wednesday, which of course, will take place in Staten Island, and we will speak no more of driver’s licenses.

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