The Road Worrier Returns

Days here: 20. Consecutive days without rain: 20…

You’ll be pleased to hear – I know I was, anyway – that I managed to scrape through the first part of my Arizonan driving test, and am now the fully-fledged holder of an instuctional permit, from which my ugly mug is beaming broadly, with a mildly shocked expression. I didn’t actually think it was that tough: the pass mark was 80%, but with only three possible answers for each question, blind luck would have been sufficient to get you a good way towards that total. I had more problems with the eyesight test, which involved you putting your head into a contraption, which then flashed lights at you to test your peripheral vision and screened lines of letters for you to identify. What they didn’t tell you was that you needed to keep your forehead pressed forward onto a contact switch for it to function; fortunately, I realised this just in time to avoid being led out of there with a guide-dog rather than a driving licence.

The Motor Vehicle Division is not exactly the most homely of places, with a depressing and apathetic feel to the place, mirrored in quite a number of the employees. Though I suppose we should be grateful we were talking to liberated citizens: if you phone them up, you are given stern warnings that you must not, under any circumstances, divulge your name and address to a Level One employee. If it becomes necessary, you need to speak to a Level Two employee first. The reason for this is not immediately explained, but we discovered subsequently that Level Ones are actually inmates of local jails. The last thing you want is Bowling Ball Bob taking a liking to the sound of your voice and popping round for a cup of tea and your liver – hence the restrictions.

The next step is, obviously, learning to drive, and I’m pretty glad not have done much driving in Britain over the past five years, since I’m effectively starting from scratch. Chris’s car is really more of a truck, much bigger than anything I’ve dealt with previously; that alone would be enough to cope with, but there’s also things like it not starting when it’s in neutral, and the absence of a hand-brake, as well as obvious things like the gear-stick being on the other side. Our first couple of sessions wisely kept death off the road, by keeping me in the parking lot of a department store late at night, though even this had more enemy targets e.g. other cars in it than I’d have liked i.e none at all. Having acquitted myself these with only the occasional reminder about which side of the road to drive on (and here seems a good point to praise Chris’s patience and tolerance to the heavens – she stayed in the car long beyond the point where I’d have opted for somewhere safer. Such as Chechnya.], I’ve now been permitted to hit the roads.

So far, that hasn’t been too bad – there are probably fewer targets there than in the parking lots, and the streets are generally wide enough to allow me the margin for error which is probably A Good Thing for the moment. Oddly, parallel parking is a major part of the driving test, despite the fact that it’s something you hardly ever have to do in Arizona. Parking space is hardly at a premium in a state which is bigger than all of Britain, with maybe a tenth of the population, and indeed, they have to fake it on the test, with road-cones. But that is a joy which is yet to come, when I’ve got the hang of driving what seems like a monster truck compared to the Renault 5 I used to have. Until then, unwary tourists should probably pay special attention crossing the road in the Phoenix area.