Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Dreaded Driving Test: Part Two

Part One

On the morning of the dreaded driving test, I woke up at 4.30 am, which was only 30 minutes before my alarm. I planned to leave at 8am. When you hear that my test was scheduled for 11.55, you might think I was beyond compulsive about arriving on time. I'm not quite that bad. I had a lesson scheduled for 10.00 am and it was going to take at least an hour to get there. That gave me an hour to deal with unexpected contingencies. I hate feeling rushed.

I had a leisurely morning that included reading blogs and writing email. Since it was Valentine's Day, I baked Peter a batch of his favourite cookies and made him a card using my trusty Crayolas. (A few Christmases ago, I splurged on a 120-crayon box and routinely make cards for my nieces, nephews, and Peter.)

When I was worrying about the driving test back in January, I got a kind email from one of our friends. (I will call him Vader, because it amuses me and he uses a picture of Darth Vader as his IM avatar.) Vader had some level-headed advice about how to look at the test. He passed his first time, despite the fact that he'd only been driving for a few months. He told me to ignore the "bullshit mythology" of it and that he found it an accurate and fair assessment of his driving skills.

Not only did Vader help me change the way I thought about the test, he made me think about what the difference would have been between him taking the test the first time and me taking the test the first time. Besides the fact that he'd be able to control any jitters better, I also realised there was a fundamental difference between how we present ourselves. Vader always dresses nicely and neatly (I've known him over 12 years and don't think I've ever seen him in blue jeans) and he projects an air of supreme confidence.

Me....well, in general, not so much. I dress overly casually and my hair is usually sticking out in 8 directions. When I get nervous, I don't project confidence. I barely project confidence when I'm in a familiar situation that I can handle. I realised that what I had to do was treat the whole thing like a job interview. I tend to do very well in job interviews because I know the questions, I've practised my answers in my head, and I know I can do the job well.

As part of my job-interview approach to the driving test, I dressed up in a nice pair of pin-stripe trousers and a smart tailored blouse. I brushed my hair to within an inch of its life and used multiple rubber bands and a hair clip to put it into the tightest braid ever seen outside of a teacher's training college or a nunnery. I even polished my shoes. Everything about my outfit screamed "Competent driver, coming through!" I knew I would just have to work on the actual driving bit, to make it match my newly borrowed persona.

I left the house at 8:00 am precisely and arrived in Skibbereen about 9.15. Since I was early, I decided to do a bit of driving around Skib by myself, just to get some extra practise. I took a right over the New Bridge and drove up past a nasty little warren of streets that I don't like. Then I drove down into the town and then back out again. I'd never driven around Skib by myself and I found it a little more enjoyable though no less confusing and nerve-wracking.

I'd borrowed Emily, Peter's GPS unit, so I had a better sense of where I was going. I navigated as best as I could to my trouble areas, but I avoided the street I like to call Santa's Grotto of Hell. It's a narrow street, not more than a laneway, with a tall cement wall on one side and parked cars on the other side, which then curves around past Santa's Grotto or Winter Wonderland or whatever it's called. (Essentially a place where parents can take their kids and pay an outrageous sum for a picture with Santa.)

I hadn't had to traverse Santa's Grotto of Hell in my first test and I was terrified I would have to navigate it during my second test. I also was worried about some of the places where two streets merged together, since right-of-way is determined by the status of the road. Major roads, like national roads, take precedence over minor roads, but if you're unfamiliar with a town, it's hard some times to tell which is the major road.

The biggest problem I saw was a guy on North street who was painting one of the storefronts a cheery colour and had his ladder set up in the road. There were also a couple of big trucks out making deliveries, but I imagined they would be gone well before my test.

I arrived at the test centre to meet M, my new driving instructor. G, my regular driving instructor, is always booked up 3 weeks in advance. Since I only had 1 week notice of my test, G had sent me on to M, a no-nonsense sort of woman who reminded me of a amalgam of my favourite teachers from high school. I'd had a lesson with her the previous Sunday and I liked her style. When not giving me a mock test, G's style is to narrate every move I should be making, which never made much sense to me because on the day of the test, I needed to be able to know what to do myself. M's style was more observational, with occasional tips or advice thrown out when needed.

Since I was early and M was early, we got started right away. The first thing I did was have her check my lights, which were all working properly. Then we went out onto the mean streets of Skibbereen to get ready for my test.

G calls this sort of lesson right before the test "The Cleansing Hour." He's right, too. It felt good to know that I could work out all my mistakes and problems and then take the test a wiser, calmer driver.

M first took me to a spot to practise turn-abouts (essentially 3-point turns, but you can take as many points as you need) and reversing around a corner. These are two of the three named maneuvers, the third being my former nemesis the hill start. I was using the Cleansing Hour for all it was worth, since I was repeatedly hitting the kerb, using the wrong gear, and committing all manner of other failable offenses. The area was full of other learners who were also out practising with instructors.

At one point, one of the other learners nearly backed right into me as she was reversing around the corner. M told me to hold my ground, that she had to stop, but I didn't trust her and moved into the opposite lane. Had it been an actual test, the reversing girl would have failed. I don't know if I would have failed or not. I probably would have gotten at least one fault for freezing up - I should have carried right on around her after I moved into the opposite lane.

Traffic in Skibbereen can be a nightmare, because of the sheer volume of traffic trying to squeeze through narrow roads made worse by parked cars. (This picture is a fair illustration of the point.) On this morning, the traffic was light enough for M to comment on it. The schools were not in session, which might have had something to do with it.

Once it was clear that I'd worked out my issues with the reversing and turning, M was fantastic in putting me through the worst parts of Skibbereen and making me work on my trouble areas - namely handling the gear changes involved in going into and out of turns and roundabouts. She also took me through all the tricky merge/yield situations, of which there are many. (This picture is a good example.)

I was vacillating wildly between calm and nervous. Every time M. told me to relax, I felt more nervous. Odd little things throughout the lesson calmed me down though. Like when we were stopped three cars back at a tricky junction. I noticed the car directly in front of us was missing the back window. Instead, it had black plastic taped up over whole window. I noticed a long, pointy, black and white border collie nose slowly poke out of a gap in the lower-right corner of the window. How can you see that and not smile? And then I learned that it's nearly impossible to stay nervous when you're smiling.

So I tried to notice all the things that would make me smile - a little kid trudging up a hill behind his mother, a puppy chewing on his leash while his owner tried to walk him, the shop front of Pierce Hickey, which was a reputation for selling winning lottery tickets.

By the end of the hour, we'd narrowed my problem areas down to three and had worked on them relentlessly - the nightmare junction by the post office box, which was miserable to approach from any angle, Santa's Grotto of Hell, and the roundabout by the Lidl. I love roundabouts, but the one near the Lidl doesn't have the handy exit sign and I was having a horrible time remembering which lane I was supposed to be in for which exit.

We returned to the test centre and M moved her jeep so I could back into her parking spot, since it was the only one left in the centre that had an open space on one side. The car park was filled to capacity and it gave me another thing to worry about - what if I came back from the test and the spaces were few and far between and I was asked to back into a spot that had a car on either side. Although I've mastered reversing around a corner, my spatial relations are dreadful and I avoid parking between cars whenever I can (and that's when I'm just pulling in straight-on).

M. gave me a pep talk ("Your observation is excellent. When you concentrate, your reversing and turnabouts are perfect, just mind the car drifting out after you've made it around the corner. Other than that, just relax. And text me afterwards.") Then she left me alone with my thoughts and nearly an hour until my test.

To Be Continued...


At 16 February 2008 at 20:39, Blogger Kaycie said...

This really does sound nerve wracking. What did you do for an hour while you waited?

At 16 February 2008 at 21:56, Blogger laurie said...

my god this is so much more elaborate than an american driver test.
i love the border collie snout sticking out of the plastic window, though. and what a wise observation--that you can't smile and be nervous at the same time.

At 17 February 2008 at 02:24, Blogger Sweet Irene said...

Man, this is nerve wrecking stuff, I don't know if I can make it to the last installment. I never knew driving a car was that hard. They must be really tough in Ireland. I thought they were tough here, in the Netherlands, but there you have to be perfect!

It was so easy in California. I just drove around the block a few times, made some mistakes and got my license. I didn't even know how to drive properly and was a menace on the road until I became proficient. That was after I got my license.

At 17 February 2008 at 02:50, Blogger karenrob said...

So are you allowed to drive around ALONE before you pass your drivers' test? Here in the US you have to have a licensed driver with you any time you drive until you get your own licenses.


At 17 February 2008 at 05:06, Blogger Cynthia said...

I am getting nervous!

At 17 February 2008 at 06:17, Blogger -Ann said...

Kaycie - That'll be in Part 3, of course.

Laurie - It's a bit challenging alright. I suppose it could have been worse - I could have been taking the test in Dublin.

SI - They do have high standards here. I know when I passed my test in Ohio when I was 16, I was probably something of a menace as well.

Karenrob - Yeah, Ireland is a little odd. You have to wait a LONG time to get a test and there is no public transport in the rural areas. To try to satisfy everyone, they created this arrangement whereby for your first provisional license (learner's permit), you have to have a qualified driver in the car with you. After 2 years, that one expires and you get a second provisional, which lets you drive by yourself. That one expires in 2 years, then every other provisional license requires a licensed driver in the car with you. Although that law isn't really enforced very much. (Supposedly, the government is going to start cracking down in July maybe.)

Cynthia - How can you be nervous? You already know the ending. :)

At 17 February 2008 at 09:12, Blogger Babaloo said...

Pity you had an hour to go between your last lesson and the test. That hour would've killed me. But not you, obviously, because you passed!

At 17 February 2008 at 09:13, Blogger Sweet Irene said...

I have an award for you over at my place.

At 18 February 2008 at 20:44, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - I wanted the time in case anything went wrong. Like if I'd had to get a bulb changed or if my tire exploded during the cleansing hour. I'd have felt much worse if I needed the time and didn't have it.

SI - Thanks, that's very sweet of you. (You're living up to your name!) I'll be over to check out soon. :)

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