January 30th, 2006

So I did it! I took the written DMV exam, and got only two questions wrong out of, oh, umpteens. (Okay, so a thick broken white line doesn't mean you're allowed to go extra-slow -- sue me!) I'd like to think that Rita Moreno, my guest on the rerun that airs tonight at 7:30 and on Friday night at 10:30, would be proud that a fellow New Yorker had made it even this far towards driverosity.

I was incredibly nervous going into the test: the gnawing anxiety reminded me -- unpleasantly -- of my school days. And in fact, I remember very little about what happened beforehand -- except that I chatted with a guy who was watching his adorable baby daughter while his wife took the exam. I had an uncomfortable premonition that this child would get her license before I did.

After administering a perfunctory vision test, they sent me over to the Examination Area. ("No conversation! No cellphones! Violators will be disqualified!") The little pencil they gave me broke after only a few questions -- possibly an indication that I was pressing a bit. And yet -- kind of like a minor Hanukkah miracle -- the pencil continued to eke out checkmarks until the very end.

As I waited on line for the woman grading our tests, I felt a growing sense of apprehension. She had this way of rolling her eyes while grading the people in front of me, as if she couldn't believe she had to deal with such idiots as ourselves. You get three chances to take the exam, and some of the folks in line were down to their last attempt. If actually driving is anything close to this nerve-wracking, I thought, I might have to rethink this whole project.

And then came my moment of truth! The grader took the test from my trembling hands. Knowing that more than six mistakes would doom me to a re-take, I watched her red pen twitch malevolently as she compared my exam with her answer-sheet. Check, check, check, check, ... then an "x"! ... then more checks, one more infernal "x" ... Finally, without saying a word, she handed the marked-up sheet of paper back to me.

"I passed?" I asked breathlessly.

"Yes," she said, in a tone of voice that indicated she found this moment to be less historic than I did.

Smiling at everyone I passed -- something that you apparently don't see often at the DMV, based on their reactions -- I made my way to the exit. A sign on the door announced, in all caps, "FACILITY MAY BE UNDER VIDEO SURVEILLANCE." As I stepped outside, my mind -- newly freed of all the driving rules that had been crammed into it -- explored the possible meanings of this statement. Perhaps the facility wasn't under surveillance, and they just didn't have it in their heart to totally bluff? Or maybe no one at the DMV had been able to figure out whether or not this surveillance was happening, so they were hedging their bets? ...

It was a longish walk back to BART, past many industrial-type buildings surrounded by barbed wire to keep out the likes of me. I wondered what they actually produced at the "Tension Envelope Corporation," and whether people there ever just, you know, snapped. I pondered the Darwinian competition that had left "PICK-N-PULL" with a thriving business while, just across the street, "U-PULL" had been reduced literally to rubble. But mostly, I just noticed what a drag it was to be walking! Some of the route had no sidewalk to speak of, and there were very few traffic signals geared to the needs of pedestrians. The whole layout seemed to be sending the message, "Walkers Are Suckers!"

Finally on the BART platform, I reflected on my current, limbo-like condition -- not yet a real driver, but no longer basking in the Edenic innocence of pure bipedalism. At some point I realized that a man with a suitcase was asking me how to get to the Civic Center station; snapping back to the "Now," I gave him clear instructions (with zero eye-rolling, by the way). Then I asked him what had brought him to the Bay Area. "Oh, I'm with the Eternal War on Television network," he replied, cheerfully.

A bit taken aback, I said, "Wow! I knew television had its critics, but I didn't realize there was a whole network devoted to waging an eternal war on it."

He laughed. "No, it's the Eternal Word on Television. We're a Catholic network."

And for the first time that morning, I truly relaxed -- relieved not only that there was no Eternal War being waged on the medium I am now pleased to call my home, but also that the DMV hadn't thought of giving me a hearing test!

Entry Filed under: citizenship,let's digress,tv episodes


  • 1. Julie Bernstein  |  January 30th, 2006 at 6:53 pm

    Way to go Josh! I think I got two wrong myself, back when I took it in ’92. There were at least 50 questions if I recall, a far cry from the Pennsylvania test I took in ’89 which only had 10 and they had photos to aid you (“What do you do when you see this?” while looking at a photo of a stop sign… with tough questions like that, I guess that explains all the lousy PA drivers…)

    Now comes the hard part though: the road test. Take my advice – learn to drive stick, so you’ll have more options later. I wish I had…

  • 2. Josh Kornbluth  |  January 30th, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    Thanks, Julie! I’m feeling pretty darned proud of myself, I must say. … As for the road test, people have generally been telling me I should learn on automatic, to make it easier on myself for the exam, and then to learn on stick. I haven’t made a decision yet, but I think first of all I need to find out which pedal thingie is for the gas and which one’s for the brake. …

  • 3. Jean  |  February 1st, 2006 at 2:31 pm

    heheh, I enjoyed your report…congrats!

  • 4. Gloria Burt  |  August 13th, 2006 at 4:22 pm

    Josh: Love the show and and web site but I don’t see anywhere to ask a question. I want to buy the book that a woman you intervewed wrote. Talk to Strangers , Talking to Strangers. You did a field experiment as well….. It is my good friends birthday and so I am in a hurry.

    This doesn’t seem like a very effective way to get ahold of you but here goes. Sorry about myspace problem.


  • 5. Josh Kornbluth  |  August 16th, 2006 at 1:18 pm

    Hey, Gloria: If you get this in time, here’s the info: The book is titled “Talking to Strangers” and it’s by Danielle Allen. I hope you can find it in time for your friend’s birthday — it’s an amazing book!

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