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Driver’s License Chronicles, Part 4

April 16th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

Before I took the driving test the first time, the guy at the Interac Chiba office in charge of driver’s licenses told me on the phone that whether or not you pass largely depends on the proctor you get. The first time I took it, the proctor seemed very nice but I automatically failed for driving up on the curb in the S-curve. The second time I took it, the proctor was a young woman who seemed nice enough but who failed me for trivial, nit-picky reasons. I was hoping to get a proctor more like the first one on my third try.

I had to go in the morning this time because the afternoon slots were full. Now that I’m working again it’s hard to find a weekday in which I can go, but because there was school on Saturday (which I’ll write about in another entry) we had Monday off. It wasn’t quite “off” for me though, as these driving test days are pretty much just work days that I don’t get paid for. In fact I have to pay every time, about $15 for train transportation and $22 to take the test itself.

I had to catch the 7:08 train, the commuter line to Tokyo. I’ve never ridden a train during the morning rush-hour before—it gets so packed with people that everyone is squeezed up against each other, like a cattle-train full of businessmen and high school students. Even when you get off the train, it’s still a massive herd of people making their way to the station exits, and everywhere the streets look like a parade of suit- and uniform-clad Japanese people on their way to work or school. As I rode the bus to the Menkyo center I realized I’ve never actually been out in a city during this time of day. It’s like a different world.

When I got to the Menkyo Center and Window 10 opened up, I found myself lining up directly behind none other than my Middle Eastern friend from the first test. He recognized me and took off his headphones, and we exchanged stories about our second attempts, now having both failed twice. He got a nice proctor but hit the poles in the crank. I explained to him about the absurdly strict woman-proctor. We were both hoping it wouldn’t be her.

But of course, that’s who we got. As soon as she walked in to the waiting room I felt my hopes of finally passing this time drop significantly. The Middle-Eastern guy, whom I learned is actually from Tunisia, looked at me for confirmation and I nodded silently that yes, it was her. We’d drawn the short straw.

After she went through her explanation of the course, I found myself talking to the guy who’d be taking the test right after me and thus riding in the back of my car at the time. It was actually a Japanese guy, but he only had an American driver’s license because he’d been living there since high school. He’d actually been living in a town in Long Island close to Huntington of all places (it is a small world), though I forget the exact name of it. We chatted for awhile—turned out he’s a huge Billy Joel fan—and I gave him all the pointers I could about the driving course, as this was his first time and he hadn’t read anything about it beforehand. I figured he didn’t have a chance, especially with the woman proctor, but I wanted to help him as best I could.

I ended up riding in the back of the car with my Tunisian friend yet again. I was really pulling for him this time, and was pleased to see him making none of the egregious mistakes he’d made the first time. He stayed in the left lane, stopped for a full three-seconds at the stop sign, checked all his mirrors before every turn and so on. He made it to the crank, so it was the first time I got to ride in the back for that, and he seemed to do everything properly there as well. He had to back up three times, but that’s allowed, and it looked to me like he sufficiently checked his mirrors every time. But when he got out of it, the proctor told him that unfortunately he’d failed and to take the car back to the dock.

Needless to say, that did not bode well. I stepped out of the car as she gave him the explanation for his failure and I told the Japanese guy I had no idea what happened because it seemed to me like he’d done everything right. The explanation seemed to drag on forever, but when he finally emerged from the car, the Tunisian guy told me she said he hadn’t been checking his mirrors enough. Wow.

I wished him better luck next time and that’s the last I saw of him. I got in the car, went through the whole routine, and began the test.

This being the third time, I felt right at home there in the left-lane with my right-side steering wheel. As I made my way around the outside of the course, I felt like I knew every part of it intimately. I practically live on this driving course.

I made it around the whole course as easily as usual, and came to the first right-turn. I made sure to get close to the center lane because that’s why I failed last time, I did my four-point check and said “yosh” (all clear) and just started to make the turn when she said, “honto?” (really?) and I immediately stopped because there was actually a tractor and a bus coming towards us on the other side of the road. It hadn’t been “all clear” at all—I was just so focused on going through the motions of checking around me that I’d neglected to actually check.

At that moment I knew failure was a virtual certainty. I’d only gone a few centimeters into the turn, but it was clearly a mistake and one that no doubt cost me major points. Even if I hadn’t failed already, I’d have to do the rest of the course perfectly to have a prayer of passing.

But somehow I did. I got through the crank with the least amount of trouble ever, now having the mechanics of that obstacle pretty much down. I only had to back-up once, and I made sure to look around and check my mirrors every few seconds throughout as though I was worried some band of ninjas was going to pop out at any moment. I didn’t want to make the same mistake as my Tunisian friend. And when I got to the dreaded S-curve, I pulled into it at just the right angle to get me through the whole obstacle without having to back up even once.

My heart was pounding heavily as I made the right-turn out of the curve. She’d been marking things down on her paper the whole time for reasons I couldn’t fathom so I knew at any moment she might pronounce my failure. But I went through the whole rest of the course, a couple of intersections and one last right-turn before returning to dock.

When I parked the car and the Japanese guy got out, I looked over and didn’t see my paper with the fail kanji on it, but rather her map of the course. Was this a good sign?

She started talking and the only word I heard was “zannen”, which means “unfortunately”. Yep. That’s right. I failed again. The third time was not a charm.

Why did I fail this time? Well, I’d obviously lost a few points for my mistake on the first right-turn, but that hadn’t done me in. Two of my left turns were not tight enough—she drew a diagram showing how left-turns were supposed to look like 90-degree angles but mine were more like 100-degreees. And on two of my right turns I hadn’t gotten close enough to the center line. That final right-turn, the one after the S-curve, had taken away the last few points I’d needed to pass. Because of a few centimeters, I’ll have to come all the way back here and take this fucking test again.

She was acting sympathetic as she gave her explanation and even wished me good luck next time. All I could think was “the luckiest thing that could happen is not to get you as a proctor.” When I stepped out of the car, my Japanese Long Island-friend looked at me hopefully and I shook my head. “Are you serious?” he said in disbelief. That had seemed like a passing run to him too, but nope.

It’s beyond ridiculous. I can’t have a driver’s license because my left turns weren’t tight enough? Riiight, because every single Japanese driver always takes every left turn at perfect 90-degree angles every single time. I’ve actually been paying attention—Japanese drivers take wide left turns, don’t get close to the center lane when making right turns, barely watch where they’re going let alone check their mirrors all the time, and never even come to a complete stop at stop signs. Watching them drive these past few weeks has been like a constant rubbing it in my face.

The worst part of the ordeal is always going to schedule the next appointment. The line of driving test failures is always long, then you get to the window and they tell you the next available date is about a week and a half in the future. Unfortunately, now that I’m working I can’t just take the next available date. The only time of the week I never have any lessons is Friday afternoons, and because of upcoming national holidays the earliest Friday afternoon session available is the 10th of freaking May. So unless I can work something out with the school, I have to wait almost an entire month before I get my next chance.

I accept the date and take my new form, go pay my $22 to get it stamped, then return to the appointment line to find my Japanese Long Island-friend and ask him how it went. He failed because at one point he’d forgotten to drive on the left side of the road. Ironic for a Japanese person, but he’s only been driving in America his entire adult life. But at least that’s a legitimate reason to fail. I failed because my left turns were off by 10-degrees.

Needless to say, I was not too happy as I made my way home. The only positive thing I can say is that I feel much more confident about my chances next time. Hopefully I’ll get a different proctor, but even if I don’t I at least know exactly what this one is looking for. I’d thought my left turns were tight enough but I now I know to take them even tighter. And I certainly won’t forget to get close to the center-line for every single right-turn, as my mind had been on too many other things before. But most significantly, I now feel like I’ve got the two big course obstacles—the crank and the S-curve—pretty well figured out. The most nerve-wracking part of the test is knowing that no matter what you do otherwise, you can still fail instantly with just one slight mistake in either obstacle, but now I’ve got the technique figured out. The rest of the test is just not making the mistakes you made before, and since all of those mistakes are burned so deeply into my brain it’s unlikely I’ll forget.

In any case, the only daily-life consequence is having to continue to ride my bike to and from work four days a week, and to take a taxi on Wednesdays. I’ve got to pay for the taxi out to M-sho, but Interac will pay for the taxi from M-sho to K-chu. I’ll just walk home for K-chu—it’ll take awhile but it’s doable.

The most negative consequence is simply having to go back to that damned place and go through the whole damned ordeal yet again. I’m sick and tired of it. Hopefully the next episode of these Driver’s License Chronicles will be the last.

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