Learning to Drive in the UK: Ticket to Ride (Part 2)
Updated: Aug 27, 2020
Okay, where did we leave off? Oh yes, the time when Mr. Driving Instructor played mind games with me in London traffic. That was fun. Let's jump right into finding a car and obtaining a license because they are equally as fun as round one. (Buckle up y'all.)
So, word on the street here, is that the written UK driving test is extremely hard to pass.
So after I had a physical driving tutorial, I figured it was time to buy the 400 page Driver Theory study book and resurrect "college-study" Baileigh. I didn't know if she still existed as I feel every year of parenthood has killed a few thousand of my brain cells. Luckily, my pride made me determined to pass. This was in great disparity to how serious Zac felt about the test. While I studied, he would needle me to see if this testing experience would work as it did when we dated in college. I did his English, he did my Math. ( It's been great for our marriage, as we are completely co-dependent when it comes to adulting.) To wave him off, I told him to "pound pavement," or get use to pounding pavement because he may be walking if he didn't study.
We called our contact at the Air Force Base Croughton on Wednesday to confirm our safety briefing and testing appointment for the next day. What do you know!? Yesterday they changed the entire process and would only be testing on Wednesday mornings from this point forward, meaning, WE MISSED IT. I laughed out loud like a deranged woman. After talking to him for about an hour he relented, I believe mostly to get me off the phone, promising to honor the original test date we had been given. One obstacle down. Zac arrives home from work and I give him the whole scoop. I also ask him if he is ready for the test. He gives me a very Zac-like answer, "I downloaded the app babe, I'm good." This could mean he downloaded the app this morning and studied all day, or he downloaded it 5 seconds ago and plans to study in the shower before the test. Who can tell? I remind him the trip to the base is a long one, an hour and a half by car, and about 2 hours by public transport. I warn we will need to keep a tight schedule and we only have 2 chances each time to take the test. (I learn later one person had to take it 23 times. Geeze.)
During this time, as a means to get to know all of his brand new co-workers, Zac goes out with the group on Wednesday evenings to try a new pub and grab some British grub. While I am jealous he is making more friends than I, I am grateful he has this kind of work atmosphere. Tonight though, I am a little nervous knowing what a challenge the next day will be. As soon as the kids are in bed I am taking practice test upon practice test. I study about three hours and feel pretty confident. I am also having college flashbacks at this moment: me in bed studying, Zac out with his fraternity brothers. (Do we REALLY ever grow up?) About 11:30 I hear Zac meddling with the front door. Judging from the uneven thud of his feet down the hallway I would guess he is about a level 5 intoxication. Then he opens his mouth. I was wrong. It's a solid level 7. He keeps saying, "Babe, babe, babe, tomorrow will be fine. I got this." Famous last words I think.
The next morning Zac looks grayish around the gills. After grabbing him a coffee, I pray our trip there goes smoothly. I get out my city mapper app, google maps, a compass and a globe to find the route I think is easiest and least expensive. After we board our first tube we realize we have, as we say back home, "screwed the pooch." Our best bet to be on time is to get off at the the furthest tube stop and Uber the rest of the way. This makes me even more determined to get my damn license as I miss the freedom of a car. While I ride, I ponder all of my future adventures upon securing a proper license. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Zac frantically swipping on his phone. Yep, he is studying. Probably for the first time. He begins to ask me subtle questions like, "do you get this road sign?" or "does this mean NO people can cross, or this is FOR people to cross?" Holy shit, if he fails and I have to be his chauffeur for the next foreseeable future I may kill him. We arrive at the front gate in good time but with a large Uber tab. Zac and I then bolt across the base to meet our test proctor. He gives us a short and scary safety briefing that outlines just how treacherous the roundabouts are here and how serious it is if you speed. (Think Big Brother style cameras- EVERYWHERE) Zac looks super gray at this point. Perfect, just in time to test!
They separate us, and give us our Scantron and pencil. I am having so much flashback right now, my inner dork is leaping with excitement. So happy for the chance to prove my excessive study skill. We have 50 questions and 50 minutes. I read through the test at lightening speed. Feeling a small concern for about three questions, I am pretty confident in a passing score. I finish in less than 10 minutes, to the shock and trepidation of my proctor. He thinks I set a record, but looks leery of my success. He grades me. I missed two questions, one of which is debatable, but I PASSED. Peeking in the other room I see Zac moving at a glacial pace, his test is covered in dashes, most likely denoting the ones he is unsure are correct. Driving Miss Daisy, Here I come. He finishes with about five minutes to spare. Want to know what is worse than being his future chauffeur? Him making the exact same damn score as me while being hungover! I'm not bitter, I'm not bitter. I'm outraged, (but also proud.) College really is repeating itself. We head home on the train feeling accomplished. We have a license! Now we need a car...
Taking a driving lesson taught me I have no business looking for a manual car. They may be the majority of pre-owned cars that are out there, but I also want to live. I switch my filters in search of an automatic, estate sized Mini. I find the most perfect candidate. A zippy little red number with 5 seats, racing mirrors and low mileage. I must have her! I discover the price and realize it is right outside my budget, which had already been increased after a large amount of alcohol and puppy eyes. Even though it is marked as a very fair price by all my research, it is still several hundred over what we intended to spend. Damn it. I need a miracle or the courage to rob a bank. I show the red Mini to Zac and he gives me that, "you are working my last nerve woman" look. I ignore it, and make an appointment to view the car in person, thinking Zac will see my elation and hand me his wallet.
The appointment day arrives and I am calling Zac as I make the 45 minute trip out to the car lot. He finally answers and relays he had a meeting run long and he is just now leaving the office. Of course. Using public transport, it will take him almost an hour to get there. I am going to have to go at this one alone. Zac gives me his bottom line and says that is the only way we will be purchasing this perfect car. Please note: I have NEVER purchased a car before. I am embarrassed to admit this out loud. My mother bought my first and second vehicles and Zac purchased my third one when we had Arden. I know a little more than zero about the process especially in a foreign country. I am walking up to the dealership and my palms are sweating. I decide to do the most common sense thing. I dive in a hedge around the block and start googling. I read every article on the Google Machine that gives tips, like "5 Things to Know When Buying a Car, " or "10 Ways to Get the Best Car Deals." I like it when things are numbered if you can't tell. Don't think I don't see the irony in the fact I am resorting to Zac's quick study tactics. Irony is a b-word. I am now 15 minutes late to my appointment which, lucky for me, was one of the tips I read to show the dealership who is boss. I apply the priority items for battle. Lipstick, deodorant and dry shampoo. I may lose this fight, but I'll be damned if I am going to have flat hair or smell bad. I roll up with swagger. "I have an appointment to see a Mini," I say. I sound like I have a romantic rendezvous with a car. The dealership is packed with men. I am the only woman here and I am now rethinking my outfit, I should have worn trousers and a blazer, maybe even a temporary neck tattoo. I need to evoke fear. My contact comes out and I fist bump him. What the hell. What the hell am I doing? Am I Jay-Z? Cool it. Be like-able. I see the car and refrain from jumping up and down like a kid in Chick-Fil-A. I really want this car. I sit in it and try to look disinterested. I poke around like I am displeased with a few items to make him feel like I know what I am doing and he is getting a deal just by me being here. In my head, I want to give him my credit card and roll out. In reality, I then proceed to ask a bunch of questions that Google told me to ask. I am unsure if his answers are correct, but they sound plausible and in line with my 15 minute research session. I tell him I won't go any higher than Zac's hard line. He chuckles and takes a few hundred off but still doesn't hit my budget window. I say, "Okay listen, the market is down, times are scary, you are going to want to take my offer or you're going to sit on this car for who knows how long." I see a glimmer in his eye. He knows I'm not playing around, my husband has given me parameters and this car is meant to be mine! He says he needs to talk to his business partner, he turns to him in a whisper. He turns back to me and says, "Okay, I'll take your offer if you write me a good review" I fight the urge to dance again. Instead, out of nowhere, I go full on Mafia Boss. "I am going to need a good warranty for any maintenance issues that may arise. I also want a deal on my MOT renewal stickers and delivery to our flat in the city." Slay! I hear Beyonce playing in the distance. I tell him before I can sign I need to make a phone call to my business partner. I want him to think I am a professional car buyer. I call Zac and gloat how I delivered on all his requests, he chuckles and says, "Ok, buy the damn car." He starts the international money transfer process before we hang up, which sends my heart singing. I fist bump the salesman as I exit, and soon as I round the corner near my research shrub I do a tiny dance. This feels like a big personal win. Add top level negotiator to my resumé please!
In total, we now have a car, a license to drive and in less than 10 days we get the keys to the Guinea Pig Palace. Things are shaping up around here! Already I am not the same girl that left the states in July. Sure, I am winging most of this. But with every new obstacle, every new experience, I meet a new side of me. Like Jay-Z...I think I have a hidden Jay-Z side. During this process, I may look like an idiot as I attempt some of the things I have never done before. But I'd rather be the idiot that is trying, than the REAL idiot that never tried for anything. Adventure doesn't always mean going somewhere new, it's often accomplishing something new. Pretty soon, I'll be driving around in my zippy little red Mini like a pro. Because with a little lipstick and dry shampoo, I am fearless.
Stay tuned... First day of School to come!
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