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Learning to Drive in the UK: It's My New Super Power (Part 1)

Get out your pin and paper, it's time for flow charts and Venn diagrams to understand the process that is, "Getting Your Military Driver's License: UK Edition." This process began in the middle of July, and we wrap up the last leg of the tour tomorrow night, God willing. Let's start at the beginning.

Studying for the UK Theory Test
Studying for the UK Theory Test

After arrival and setting up the things that were top priority: phones, schooling, permanent housing and medical, it was time to get licensed and find personal transport so we could join the driving force of Great Britain. The welcome packet outlined what seemed pretty simple. Buy a Theory Driving Test booklet, study, go to the nearest military testing site to take the test. After passing your test you will attend a safety briefing. You will next take your passing test to the ID Center to obtain the military addition to your US driver's license. This seemed pretty straight forward. (Much more straight forward than banking, which after 45 days has still not been successfully completed. That is another post for another time as it will require more alcohol and more self control.) I call the nearest military testing site from the welcome packet. What do you know?! The only person qualified to test us has just moved, and the base is so small it has shut down until January. I think, not a problem! I'll just find the next testing facility. After hiding out in the front bathroom of the flat, because it was the only room in which I could maintain peace and quiet, I am able to get a nice gentleman on the phone that is willing to gently burst my, "Lets hit the easy button," bubble. He relays to me that the nearest place is the Air Force Base in Croughton, and that I will have to go there twice. Once to take the safety brief, then the following day to take the test and go to the ID office for completion. Okay, I am still not rocked, it will be a bit of a hassle, but I love a challenge... then I look up the location... IT IS 2 HOURS AWAY. I do what any woman does, I call him back in tears. "Um, I just looked that up and, we are 2 hours away. Um, can you make any kind of exception for us? We are likable people. We just need licenses to keep liking each other. Did I tell you we have 3 kids? Please help me. We don't have a car to get there. Please help me!" (Embarrassingly pretty close to what I said.) He acquiesces because I think he secretly knows I am hiding in my bathroom to make this phone call. He hears my desperation loud and clear. He says, "Okay, I can help you. You take the test online, print out your test once you have passed, and bring that with you when you come. Come on a Thursday, we will do the Safety Brief and then you can go and get your license. I'll let you do the whole thing in one day." Yahtzee! The tide is turning and I am considering taking a bubble bath in celebration of the new events. I cannot thank him enough.

In the meantime, we need to find a car! The big day is drawing near for us to move into the Guinea Pig Palace, and because it is further outside the city, public transport will no longer be a suitable option. It's time to start hunting for the perfect British-mobile. Zac gives me my budget. I make a face. Then Zac gives me a new budget. This time with a high and low exception and some wiggle room. I get on every website known to sell pre-owned cars. I search for hours and pin all kinds of exciting options. I run across a gold MINI with a leopard roof and almost have a coronary. The thought of selecting a car to love for a set period feels thrilling. A bit like holding a new born baby: so fun to cuddle and adore, even more fun to give back and enjoy your full night of sleep. Hours upon hours, for days upon days, I look as I study for the driver's test. It is during this time I stumble upon a service that will take you out to practice driving on the "right side of the car, wrong side of the road." I figure, I don't want to wreck my leopard Mini so I better book a class.

The Last Time I Drove in the States....
The Last Time I Drove in the States....

A few days later, my instructor calls me and I give him the run down of how I came to be in need of his expertise. He reassures me, I will do just fine. I pick my most intelligent and authoritative outfit for the lesson, I really feel you should dress the part when you can. I have also recently learned that standing in a superhero stance for 15 minutes a day can help your confidence and lower your stress. I go into our front bathroom and stand in the mirror like a goon. I am ready. He arrives to pick me up right on time. He is an older gentleman, grey hair, proper and he smells like aftershave. I think we are going to get along. After talking in the street I tell him I may just need him to drive me around so I can get a feel for the road. In doing so, he not only gives me a verbal lesson in road etiquette, he also tells me all about growing up in the city. This includes a drive by his childhood home and favorite park that he now visits with his grandchildren. (He has a carseat in the back of the loudly marked "Learner's Car") I can feel we are reaching the time for me to actually drive. I try to coax him to take me out of the city, but he refuses. He believes the traffic will help me remember what side to stay on, and teach me about city distractions. We pull over and I get behind the wheel. He asks me to start the car. I turn the key and he suddenly shouts, "What are you doin' dear girl? You haven't checked your mirrors, yer sitting far too close and yer foot is not in the ready position." I'm screwed. Can I ask him if I can get out and do my superhero pose before I try this again? My palms are now sweaty and gripping the wheel like the monkey bars on a playground. After doing what he says, I finally put the car in motion. He tells me to imagine I have a glass of champagne sitting on my dashboard, and I am not to spill it. Here are my thoughts in order. 1. Champagne sounds so good right now. 2. That is just irresponsible. 3. I am set up to fail unless that champagne flute it taped down with duct tape. I decide to play along anyway.

After driving around the block a few times, he repeatedly tells me to move over, I am too close to the left. I say, " I thought I needed to stay left!" He comes back with, "Yes, but I already had my shave this morning and I don't need you to give me another one." I knew he smelled like aftershave! Well played Mr. Instructor. After he begins to let go of his passenger side door handle, he tells me I'm ready to take on a big street. So here we go. I am cruising down the street going what feels like 72 but in reality is about 30 miles per hour. The street is lined with throngs of people heading to work. Bikes are dipping, in and out of the bicycle lanes while pedestrians are shuffling in between parked cars to cross the street. May I also mention that cars and motorcycles are wizzing past me like rocket ships. I feel like I am doing pretty well in staying in control while hiding my unyielding perspiration and white knuckle grip. Then there it is. The thought that kept me up the night prior. The dirty "D" word. DOUBLE. DECKER. BUS. This road is tight, with cars lined on both sides. I start to breath heavily, I also start to wince as the bus is careening towards me. Just then, Mr. Instructor yells out, "Hold your ground, Hold your ground!" What!?! Is he serious? Look, I know when odds are stacked against me, and these odds are 2 stories high stacked against me. I call out our Lord's name, just then, the bus edges over and narrowly passes me. I want off this ride please. Mr. Instructor starts to chuckle and asks me if I need a rest. I tell him, I need a bar. He tells me I'm doing great and to keep going. So I do. I keep going and I suddenly feel lighter. I can do this. I can totally do this! We start to chat as I drive along, I'm feeling a bit more human, less cowering mouse. We banter back and forth for a bit when I see a driver of a delivery truck speeding my way. Ha! You don't scare me truck driver. I just took on a bus. As we come closer to each other my instructor frantically begins to press his passenger brake as he yells out, "Cut the wheel dear girl, you are going to get yourself smashed!" I dramatically cut the wheel and the truck driver speeds past. Mr. Instructor is gripping his door again and breathing like I punched him. I break the silence, "You told me to hold my ground! That was a truck! Not even a scary bus." He looks me dead in my eye and says, and these are his words, not mine... "Dear girl, hold your ground for a bus but don't dally with the "crazy white truck drivers" as they have a delivery schedule to keep and they will run your ass over." True story. When my lesson is over I pour myself out of the car like a jelly fish. I've never been so content to walk. I must go home now, and stand alone in the bathroom in a superhero pose just to get through dinner.

Want to hear the finale? So do I! Part 2 to follow....

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