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Should you speed up into oncoming traffic just for kicks?*

*and if not can someone tell the taxi driver we got back from the supermarket yesterday?

I was going to say something much more interesting and informative, but I have had a little collapse of the over-exhausted and slightly poorly kind, and have therefore been asleep for about 24 of the last 36 hours.

When awake, I have mainly been answering questions of a complex and automotive nature as I have experienced several taxi drivers I didn’t like at all over the last few days, and the only way to avoid them AND get to everywhere we would like to be able to get to, apparently, is to do it ourselves.

Yes! I will become a taxi driver!

No, well, I might just try driving around for a bit first, and besides, my visa means I can’t actually take paid employment within these shores, so I’d have to drive people around for free. So maybe I’ll just drive.

Neither of us drive. It isn’t a big environmental or lifestyle statement (although it is a small one, maybe) I just like public transport and have always lived in cities where the need to drive hasn’t been as pressing. However, here it would be useful to drive. So we will.

First, though, we both have to pass the theory test thing before we can take lessons, so I have been practising by taking sample tests all day.

I have discovered some very interesting and enlightening things. When approaching a rail crossing with the barriers coming down, it is better to stop and wait for the train to pass rather than speed up and hope you beat it, for example. Also, when turning left across an intersection into a road where a pedestrian is crossing, you should let them get to the other side before driving straight at them.

I am becoming an expert in all manner of lines, broken and unbroken and of various different colours, and can cheerfully tell you all manner of things about which way your wheels should be facing when parking on a hill, although not what the speed limit is, because no one seems to want me to know that.

My favourite thing I have learnt today, however, is the correct level of anxiety when approaching the top of a hill:


I’m not sure which I prefer, the idea of someone receiving a call at police headquarters from some kind of loon parked up on the side of a slope crying and wailing that there’s a hill and god only KNOWS what might be on the other side but they refuse to carry on over there without a police escort; or the idea of riding roughshod over the hill, beeping your horn like crazy and flashing your hi-beams like a mid-80s laser show. And possibly shouting “Yee ha!”

I chose the latter, obviously.

  1. Yee-ha all the way!

    BART is really fantastic- and much nicer than Vehicularly challenged cabbies.

    Comment by Nicole — 9 September, 2008 12:40 am

  2. Good luck with the driving thing; I learnt to drive on thr Isle of Wight, and the first time I drove anywhere that had more than 50 yards of dual carriageway was a 5 lane highway into the centre of Sydney!

    I suppose at least you haven’t been lulled into a false sense of security, I just don’t envy you the hill starts.

    Ps. In this country you now fail your test for splashing people, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/manchester/7605026.stm so just you remember that!

    Comment by Surprised — 9 September, 2008 1:34 am

  3. I passed my test before the whole UK theory thing came in. In fact when I passed my test it was obligatory to smoke whilst driving and wear those leather gloves with the holes in the back. No fags, no gloves; you weren’t even allowed in the car. It was a fail right there.

    And now I’m imagining you having to go to Drivers’ Ed classes in the local High School along with the cast of a John Hughes movie/High School Musical (delete as appropriate).

    Comment by MisssyM — 9 September, 2008 1:40 am

  4. You people are MURDERERS. I would pull over and wait for police assistance.

    Comment by Katy Newton — 9 September, 2008 3:27 am

  5. To be honest, that picture (which looks like it was done using paint in the early 1990s) does make it look like road could have a potentially infinite drop. Or that the mountains have been painted on a big bit of cardboard and there’s some ACME dynamite just behind. So maybe you should call the police, you know, just in case…

    Comment by minifig — 9 September, 2008 3:29 am

  6. Yee Ha and indeed wave the cowboy hat out of the window.

    Comment by Debster — 9 September, 2008 3:39 am

  7. they didnt include “change your mind about where you are going and do a u turn” then…

    Comment by rosie — 9 September, 2008 5:41 am

  8. While you’ve got that book, could you check and see if using turn signals has been abolished? Nobody seems to use them any more and I was wondering if I just didn’t get the memo.

    Comment by asta — 9 September, 2008 5:58 am

  9. You have seen some of the SF hills, right? And now you’ve personally experienced the Nor-Cal brand of taxi driver as well so you should be aware that the correct answer is D. Refuse to even start up the hill on the premise that a deranged taxi driver is revving its engine in the wrong lane on the other side and assuring its white-knuckled fare that “Is fine! Is best route to airport! See picture of my son? I’ll answer my phone… yah? yah? I don’t see them yet but as soon as they come over the hill I’ll nail them.”

    Do they still have the question about what to do when you miss your exit on the freeway? A) move into the left lane to execute a u-turn B) pull into the hazard lane and reverse back to your exit…

    Comment by Megan — 9 September, 2008 6:16 am

  10. I was too worried about how many I was getting wrong to actually get to the end of the test. Especially considering I have both a)had a UK licence for 10 12 years and b)drove around Maine an awful lot at one point. I still don’t get that turn right on red thing – I chose to mostly look embarassed and hope when approaching intersections as I was driving a borrowed Canada-registered german car…

    May I suggest you also buy a copy of ‘Bullitt’ for research purposes? It has a few useful pointers on that question about hills.

    Comment by Dury — 9 September, 2008 6:32 am

  11. Are you sure about this “stopping for pedestrians” thing? Because in France, the correct instruction when you see a pedestrian is to drive very fast at them to teach them a lesson (drive next time?) It’s, like, considered a public service.

    Comment by Jaywalker — 9 September, 2008 7:31 am

  12. It is far easier to get a driving licence there then it is here in the UK. I got mine in the US at 14. Yes, 14 years old. The test was a breeze. Now, I drove in the US for 14 years and then came to the UK and had to do mine here. Um, not so easy. I passed the first time, but still… Don’t stress too much about the test, really. You have obviously seen the skill at which people drive there. Maddening.

    Comment by Tracey — 9 September, 2008 7:33 am

  13. Theory tests are hilarious, especially when they have those little books with all the questions that can possibly be asked, with the answers. If you have a good memory you can do it in four minutes, get full marks and still come out knowing nothing.

    Don’t know if you saw this (I think it was published after you left) in la Grauniad about driving tests (of course you did, it’s the Grauniad; but just in case). Sounds like it should be a piece of cake ;-)

    Comment by Rachel — 9 September, 2008 7:34 am

  14. Jaywalker – note that Anna says the US instructions are to let the pedestrian cross the road BEFORE driving straight at them, not INSTEAD OF. because clearly once they’re on the pavement (sorry, sidewalk) you can get more of the bastards with one sweep of the SUV. It’s the American way. (Well, if you’re out of ammunition.)

    Comment by Rob — 9 September, 2008 8:48 am

  15. I too took my UK test back in the day before all that theory nonsense. Despite mounting a kerb whilst navigating a roundabout at high speed and driving 2 full miles with my left indicator going, I passed first time.

    I always assumed this was due to an incompetent/bored/target hitting instructor, but when I recently told my Other Half this story he jumped the immediate conclusion that, 20 years ago, I obtained my license by wanking off my instructor. (Americans: look it up).

    I’m still not sure if this is funny or deeply offensive.

    Comment by HFactor — 9 September, 2008 8:48 am

  16. If you live and drive in Brasil it is necessary to know how to pass on a curve / going up hill / with double yellow lines / with your eyes shut and holding your breath just incase there is a bus / motorcycle / taxi / or dump truck passing going down / on a curve / with double yellow lines / with his eyes shut…. etc.

    Comment by GingerV — 9 September, 2008 10:10 am

  17. Oh heavens, the thought of those possibilities just made me fall off of the couch laughing. Thanks.

    Comment by hope — 9 September, 2008 10:14 am

  18. I also managed to pass my test first time before the theory tests came in, and that was even though somebody drove into me on the way back to the test centre ! (well i was in a queue of traffic at a pedestrian crossing on a busy market day in the yorkshire dales so anything was possible !?) do they have parallel parking in the us test ? I would still be taking mine if it had been on the test when i took it ..

    Comment by Fee b — 9 September, 2008 11:53 am

  19. That one “you can turn right on red as long as you give pedestrians right-of-way” made me laugh. Never going to happen.

    They are bloody weird across the border in the Canadia, mind. A pedestrian just has to glance in the general direction of the road to instantly bring both lanes of traffic to a complete standstill until they’ve crossed. Bloody brilliant. Erm. If you’re a pedestrian.

    Comment by Mr Farty — 9 September, 2008 11:59 am

  20. Oh phew, thanks for clarifying Rob. I would hate for American pedestrians to miss out on salutory lessons through the medium of being run over.

    Comment by Jaywalker — 10 September, 2008 1:06 am

  21. Oh Anna, yours was the third blog I ever read, and I liked it because it made me laugh out loud, so I carried on reading, and here I am however-many years later and you are STILL making me laugh. Out loud. God bless you. Or, you know, maybe somebody who exists should bless you, God knows (or he would if he was there, but hey, maybe he is, well actually I don’t think he is, but you might, in which case he might well know, as far as you’re concerned at least), maybe it should be me that is blessing you, I mean after all, why should I pass the buck on to someone else – particularly someone who doesn’t exist – because how lazy is that?

    Comment by clare — 10 September, 2008 3:34 am

  22. Surely there should be a “move your car back into the left hand lane before going over a blind summit” option. Anything else is just madness.

    Comment by Mis Noma — 10 September, 2008 4:46 am

  23. I remember taking that test when I wanted to drive in the USA many moons ago…I went with the yee ha option, I’m sure.
    My favourite question was: “What should you do when you see a man with a white cane crossing the road – a) slow down and let him cross b)speed up and knock him over or c)jump in the back seat and wait for the car to crash”. I kid you not…It was a struggle, obviously.
    My examiner for the actual driving part was so over-excited at the prospect of an English person in the car (clearly some sort of anglo-file) that he completely forgot to test me on any basic driving skills as we drove around down-town Chicago. He instead spent the entire duration of the test asking me what we did in Britain in our tests for the various elements he had on his list, once I had questioned him on the wisdom of reversing into a main road as part of a three-point turn and telling him that it was, in all probability, somewhat illegal in the UK. As Mis Noma says. It is just madness.

    Comment by mel — 10 September, 2008 2:31 pm

  24. Who cares about the hill, you’re driving on the wrong side!!

    Oh, no wait thats not right…

    Comment by dataphage — 10 September, 2008 7:09 pm

  25. Well, this is America, we all drive around yelling “Yee ha!” out the window. Especially after we run over those darn pedestrians.

    Comment by JoeInVegas — 11 September, 2008 8:42 am

  26. I’ve just thought: Why does moving to SF mean you’ll be blogging more? There may be temporarily less freelance work, but won’t there also be more time spent settling yourself in, exploring, doing associated admin?

    Comment by clare — 11 September, 2008 10:42 am

  27. In the mean time, here’s some advice from a New York Cab taker: Adopt a laisse-faire approach to your journey. DO NOT look at the roadway what ever you do. Just look up at all the pretty, pretty buildings.

    Comment by verismo — 11 September, 2008 4:19 pm

  28. ahh… that really made me laugh… a lot… out loud…. and that doesn’t happen very often…. and reminded me about when i first moved to spain, and had to take a driving test (after 15yrs driving experience previously)… full theory, prac etc everything – again…. in spanish… and i didn’t speak spanish… and so i wrote a little post about it on my blog… linked to yours of course…

    love your blog!

    Comment by mondraussie — 14 September, 2008 2:25 pm

  29. oh bollocks… just commented and (after too many red wines) have completely typed in my url incorrectly… have fixed it now… hiccup..

    Comment by mondraussie — 14 September, 2008 2:27 pm

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