Friday, September 18, 2009

60 posts in 60 non-consecutive days: the stink of failure

So...I failed my road test. But it wasn't totally my fault.

Wait, let me rephrase that. It was my fault. Nobody failed my road test for me. But the nature of the failure wasn't (in my opinion) related to skill or disobeying traffic rules or running over granny or anything like that. Well, let me get to that part.

First of all, yesterday (the day I took my road test) was maybe one of the rainiest days I've seen since moving to Atlanta. This was not rain as you or I understand it, this was monsoon season on the Ganges. This was, "I can barely see out of my front windshield with the wipers going at full speed, giant lakes of water on either side, can't hear what anyone is saying because of the volume of water beating down on the roof" typhoon level rain. It was also the first time I had ever driven in the rain. Ever. Not making excuses, just saying. There was a note on the DMV website that said that driving tests would be cancelled under unsafe weather conditions, but I guess they were talking about, I don't know, tornadoes or something. I know I'm going to have to learn to drive in the rain at some point, since, you know, it does rain sometimes, but probably trying to do it for the first time the day of the road test would not be the way I would want to break into the practice of inclement weather driving. Anyway, again, not an excuse, but non-ideal conditions they were.

We waited at the DMV for about two hours. It was a little annoying since we actually made a 9:00am appointment for the test (in the end, it turns out there was some sort of problem with the light-up board that calls your number, hence us waiting an hour past the appointment time for our ticket to get called), but at least it allowed us to play sociologist in the fascinating and occasionally grim world of the DMV. Like, for example, noting this conversation next to me, between a a mom and a teenage girl filling out an application for her learner's permit.

(going through checkboxes on form)
"Do you want to be listed as an organ donor on your license?" What does that mean?

It means if you're in an accident and they have the choice between saving you or saving your organs, which one should they save? If you say you're an organ donor, they'll just take your organs and let you die.

Oh. I don't want that.
(Checks "NO" on the form)


When it finally came time for the test, we had to run out from the rear doors of the DMV to this tin metal shed, where "the licensed driver" (Joe) was instructed to pull up the car. The rain on the tin roof was deafening. The road test instructor was kind of a small lady, clad in a full-length (and I mean full-length, down to her ankles) yellow rain slicker with a gigantic hood. With the hood up, she looked like that killer with a hook for a hand in "I Know What You Did Last Summer," except, you know, yellow. I know that instructors aren't supposed to give a lot of feedback or show emotion or whatever, but she was also rather sphinxlike. Meaning that she was unusually stoic and stony-faced, not that she had the body of a lion or anything. (Though, under that rain slicker, who knows?)

"Get in the car and (blum blur blar) so I can check your (inaudible)," she mumbled grimly.

"Excuse me?" I moved closer to her so that I could hear. "Sorry, I didn't catch that, the rain is really loud."

She looked at me about a beat too long. "I need to check your TURN SIGNALS and your BRAKELIGHTS," she said, as though to someone of questionable intelligence.

"Oh. Yes. Right away." I duly fired the signals, and she neither conformed nor denied that everything was OK, just got into the car.

"Cool raincoat," I noted. I wasn't trying to kiss up, though the second those words were out of my mouth, I wish I hadn't said them, because--complimenting your road test instructor's attire? How could that not be perceived as kissing up? In any event, she didn't respond, just telling me to pull out into the driving course in the back lot.

The driving course part went OK, I think (again, I didn't get any feedback, so who knows. It was fairly hard to see out of any of the windows despite the windshield wipers going full blast and the defrosters going front and back, but I think I parallel parked OK, and I think I managed to do what she was telling me. ("Yes ma'am." Southern people seem to have this innate ability to say "Yes sir" or "Yes ma'am" sounding totally sincere, but for some reason, when I say it, it sounds sarcastic, even if I mean it. But no matter.)

The real trouble came when we had to start the "road" portion of the road test. Now, let me just say this first: I had been told by several people (including one of our OR techs, whose daughter just took her road test at this same DMV location a few months ago) that this would consist of "driving around the block." I also heard from one of the other parents standing under the tin shed (I guess they were there for a repeat road test too) that the instructor would take us "in a circle." So I was all geared up for that. We pulled out of the parking lot, turned right, and started going down this long, straight road which ran parallel along a larger street.

"Up ahead," the instructor droned, "there's a left turn coming up. Go left, straight."

"Left, got it." I approached the turn and saw a couple of signs indicating that I could make a left turn to double back at this point. Figuring that this was the part of the circle where we turned around, I signaled, pulled up to the intersection, and turned left, heading straight down the road back the way we came. Only as I was completing my turn (visibility not so good, remember), did I see a small, side street a little off to the right from the left turn, across another lane of traffic, which went straight down into kind of a warehouse-y type neighborhood. And I probably wouldn't have thought much about that, except that for the first time, the road test instructor showed a human emotion, a barely perceptible moue of annoyance and displeasure.

"Oh wait," I said, trying to salvage the situation. "Did you want me to go into that side street? When you said 'left, straight,' I thought you wanted me to turn left and head straight down this road. Sorry, I didn't understand what you meant. Do you want me to go back?"

"Pull back into the center," she said. And that's when I knew that I'd failed.

Anyway, after I made the Drive of Shame back to the shed, she told me that I "didn't make it today" and that I "needed to learn to follow instructions." I remembered that not following instructions was one of the automatic fail criteria of the road test, lumped in with trying to bribe the instructor or driving on the wrong side of the street into oncoming traffic. I would argue (not that I did, NEVER ARGUE WITH THE DMV) that "not following instructions" is different than "not understanding instructions" (for example, if she had said, "turn left here, across the lane of traffic slightly off to the right is another road, I want you to go straight down there" we might not have had this issue), and I exhibited no unsafe driving or violation of traffic laws...but whatever. You can't semantically debate your way out of a DMV fail. I will make another appointment for as soon as I can and hopefully, it won't be hurricane conditions that day.

(And I definitely didn't say this part, but saying that a former medical resident needs to learn to follow instructions? Until last year, following instructions was all I ever did. Medical training is like the army, but with worse food.)


  1. Anonymous9:24 PM

    Your post is outdated yet I had a bad experience today with my driving test. My instructor said that I neither passed or failed. There was a kind of two lane drive at the right turn exiting the DMV office, and he wanted me to take the one leading up straight, not right into another street. I believed I drove safely, but I failed to get myself back where he wanted us to go at the beginning. He even asked me, after having me return to the DMV, if I am dyslectic. Maybe, maybe, I do have trouble remembering oral directions to go either left or right. I still have all my tries, so I am grateful my first time was not a real fail.