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The Bermudian

There is not an expat alive who lands on this island and doesn’t yearn to get behind the wheel of a car and on to the rest of her life.

But first, there is TCD, or more formally, the Transportation Control Department, to contend with. I am a brave woman, but the prospect of taking a driving test, both written and practical, filled me with a fear I had not known since the last time I had to take a test. That was in college, which, without revealing the exact date, was quite a long time ago.

“How hard can it be?” off-islanders asked. And I started to agree.

I had briefly reviewed the Traffic Code Handbook, hadn’t I? But who knew that when someone cut you off, the correct reaction was to “write down their license plate number”? Honestly, I am usually too busy swearing at the guy to frantically fumble for a pen. So I chose “don’t retaliate,” which I thought was a very grown-up response to bad road behaviour. TCD didn’t, and I failed the test.

So I started to study. I mean I memorized that book. With my heart beating as fast as a hummingbird’s, I took my place at the TCD console. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the answers to virtually all the questions, including the one about why you stay at least one car’s length away from the vehicle in front of you. And no, it is not to avoid toads as the test manual taunts.

I finished in record time, and yes, victory was mine. I was joyful. I was grateful, too, as I happened to glance at the poor chap sitting next to me who was clearly struggling. I heard a clerk remark thatthis was his fourth try. I was so relieved not to be him—and hopeful I would never meet him on the road. I mean, if he was that reckless in a chair, what would he be like behind the wheel?

But the worst was still to come. As I confidently strode up to the counter to schedule my practical driving test, I was informed that the next available date was in three months. What? There went the golf season. Then I found Dolores. Dolores the Dynamic Driving Instructor, who, for a small fee, gave me lessons and arranged my driving test within hours.

As exam day once again approached, understandable anxiety turned into full-blown terror. I asked others if they had felt similar misgivings, and the answer was always the same: “By god, yes!” We all know this is one of the fundamental rights of passage for anyone who chooses to make this beautiful aquatic oasis their home. We all could have continued riding buses and ferries, of course, but sooner or later you must bite the bullet and become independently mobile.

I arrived bright and early at TCD and met my official tester. Meeting is really too strong a word. As this was not a social occasion, this professional was all business. My anxiety grew. He shook my hand like a staff sergeant and displayed not one ounce of humour as he directed me to the car. Doom loomed large.

I got behind the wheel and listened to his instructions. “Back up in a straight line,” he commanded. I carefully slipped off the emergency brake, checked my mirrors and placed my chariot in reverse. Then, just to make sure I was not treading too closely to the yellow line, which was the object of this exercise, I opened my door and snuck a little peek.
Suddenly he barked, “What are you doing?”

I responded, “You’re not going to flunk me are you?”

He didn’t even bother to answer. Eleven seconds. That’s all it took to feel the sting of defeat once again. Crestfallen, I called my husband to tell him about what had to be the fastest failure on record. He, of course, had passed his test the first time. He attempted to soothe my bruised ego by trying to convince me that as an American I was naturally unfamiliar with lefthand drive. He said it should surprise no one that I would find the British driving style a bit challenging. (I didn’t have the heart to remind him that I had only been backing up, which is the same direction no matter what country you are in.)

Dolores was horrified but got me right back in line for another appointment. The next time I went for my driving test I was partnered with an instructor who was determined to finally get me on the road. The first 11 seconds passed without incident this time. The instructor barely spoke to me when we finished, so I wasn’t sure I’d actually passed, but I had! I wanted to kiss him but hugged Dolores instead, and she wished me well.

I was completely road ready. The terror was gone and in its place came giddy relief. I am a more careful driver now thanks to TCD, even though I still yearn to peek at those yellow lines every time I back up.

From The Bermudian, Spring 2010

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