Eleven Seconds

Written by: Darlene

 

There is not an expat alive who lands on this island and doesn’t yearn to get behind the wheel of a car and onto the rest of her life. But first, there is the TCD – or more formally, The Transportation Control Department – to contend with. I am a brave woman. But the prospect of taking a driving test, both written and practical, filled me with a fear I have not known since the last time I had to take a test (and that was in college which, without revealing the exact date, was quite a long time ago).

“How hard can it be?” off-islanders would say.

And I started to agree with them. I mean, I had briefly reviewed the Traffic Code Handbook, hadn’t I?

*click for image credit

But who knew that when someone cuts you off, the correct response is to:

A) Write down their license plate number.

Honestly, I am usually too busy swearing at the guy to frantically fumble for a pen. So I chose:

B) Don’t retaliate.

I thought it was a very grown-up response to bad road behavior. Though the TCD didn’t, and I failed the test.

And so, I started to study. And by study, I mean to say that I memorized the book.

With my heart beating as fast as a hummingbird’s, I took my place at the TCD console for my written test. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt the answers to virtually all the questions, including the one about why you stay at least one car’s length away from the vehicle in front of you. And, NO, it is not to “avoid toads” as the test manual taunts.

I finished in record time and yes, victory was mine. I was joyful. I was grateful too, as I happened to glance at the poor chap sitting next to me who was clearly struggling. I heard a clerk remark that this was his fourth try. I was so relieved not to be him. And hopeful I would never meet him on the road. I mean, if he was that reckless in a chair, what would he be like behind the wheel?

Though the written test was now behind me, the worst was still to come. As I confidently strode up to the counter to schedule my practical driving test, I was informed that the next available date was in three months. What? There goes the golf season. But then I found Dolores. Dolores the Dynamic Driving Instructor who, for a small fee, gave me lessons and arranged my driving test within hours.

As exam day once again approached, my understandable anxiety turned into full-blown terror. I asked others if they had felt similarly, and the answer was always the same: “By God, YES!” We all know this is one of the fundamental rights of passage for anyone who chooses to make this beautiful aquatic oasis their home. We all could have just continued riding buses and ferries of course, but sooner or later, you must bite the bullet and become independently mobile.

*click for image credit

I arrived bright and early at the TCD and met my official tester. Although “meeting” is really too strong a word, as this was not a social occasion; this professional was all business. My anxiety grew. He shook my hand like a staff sergeant and displayed not one ounce of humor as he directed me to the car. Danger loomed large.

I got behind the wheel and listened to his instructions.

“Back up in a straight line.” he commanded.

I carefully slipped off the emergency brake, checked my mirrors, and placed my chariot in reverse. Then, just to make sure I was not treading too close to the yellow line (which was the object of the exercise), I opened my door and snuck a little peek.

“What are you doing?” he barked.

“You’re not going to flunk me are you?!” I retorted in panic.

He didn’t even bother to answer. Eleven seconds. That’s all it took for me to feel the sting of defeat once again.

Crestfallen, I called my husband to tell him about what had to be the fastest failure on record. He, of course, had passed his test the first time. He attempted to soothe my bruised ego by trying to convince me that, as an American, I was naturally unfamiliar with left hand drive. He said it should surprise no one that I would find the “European” driving style a bit challenging. (I didn’t have the heart to remind him that I had only been backing up, which is the same direction no matter what country you’re in.)

Dolores was horrified, but got me right back in line for another appointment. The next time I went for my driving test, I was thankfully paired with a tester who seemed determined to finally get me on the road. The first eleven seconds passed without incident this time.

The tester barely spoke to me when we finished, so I wasn’t sure if I’d actually passed, but I had! I wanted to kiss him but hugged Dolores instead, and she wished me well.

I was completely road ready. The terror was gone, and in its place came giddy relief. I now had my island freedom.

I will say that I am a more careful driver now thanks to the TCD, even though I still yearn to peek at those yellow lines every time I back up!

Darlene driving test_WWLOR

illustrated by Paul Szep

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11 thoughts on “Eleven Seconds

  1. Congrats on passing the test Darlene. I totally understand your dilemma. I didn’t have to take a practical driving test and I thank God for that everyday. And as hard (and absurd) as the written test was I still don’t know how the crazy drivers of my rock ever passed that test.

  2. Congrats Darlene … . I knew exactly where you are as soon as you mentioned TCD 🙂 I have grown up here and rode a bike before testing was required .. so never bothered to learn to drive a car until my son was in preschool. If it’s any consolation I have lived here my whole life and still failed the driving test first time until I got an instructor. The TCD rules and the real life driving rules just like a lot of things here – a bit incongruous! TCD just failed my car not for the bald tire or the squealing belt .. but because of the bits of rust and the sunburnt clear coat peeling. (And the tester at Rockaway is normally pretty lenient but they let me get away with it for a few years now!) To repaint the car costs more than the value of this 15 year old dependable Betsy! … but apparently there are “no safety issues” I have to worry about 🙂 We always say Only in … (insert your island) … Now don’t forget to beep your horn when you see someone you know – even though it is illegal … everyone knows that’s how real drivers do it! 🙂

  3. Sounds familiar, only it happened to me in reverse. Meaning that, after 10 years of driving on the left, I couldn’t quit get comfortable driving on the right when we moved back to the states. During the driving test, I was required to make a left hand turn…which I promptly did…only I turned into the left hand lane of on-coming traffic. Needless to say it took a couple of tries to pass. And I won’t even begin to get into how I pulled off onto the shoulder of the road and cried the first time I had to drive on the Baltimore Beltway!

  4. No driving test on Roatan, no road rules, no proving that you can ACTUALLY operate a car. To pass your drivers test you are given a psychological exam, that’s it. And people wonder why driving here is an absolute nightmare!!

  5. In Turks and Caicos it depends on where you come from with regards to a written/driving test. We came from the USA so all we had to do was pay our money….Our neighbors from Israel had take both tests to get their license…

  6. Totally loved seeing the Bermuda Handbook – I am a Bermudian and, having grown up there, I was pretty primed for my bike license at sixteen. Right of passage and everything. 🙂 Got to feel quite smug getting my next in Canada during my university years – such wide, straight roads, so much space, fairly calm drivers. Not quite so smug in Seoul, Korea, where they drive cars like pedestrians walk (think about it.) But of course my moment did come – many of them! I moved to Tortola, BVI, but (thank all the gods) moved when I was simply given my license upon proof of another. HORRIFYING place to drive! They have since insisted on testing and my heart bleeds. The stories I’ve heard – and I believe every one of them. Just trying to explain what it’s like driving there is a hilarious exercise. I have actually made a few videos with my GoPro because no one would believe me.

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