The Bloody Quest for a U.S. Driver’s License

Bloody. That’s how my journey from driving newbie to smooth SUV sojourner has been. It’s taken bloody long enough. Congratulate me now. Because after almost a year of careful analysis of the didactic DMV materials and mastering the various intricacies of American road travel, I have finally earned and acquired my first-ever driver’s license.

Sure, I took lessons in Manila before emigrating. 10 hours worth of lessons which got me up to speed with the basic rules of physics and friction, steady acceleration and easy braking.

The writing exam itself was arduous. I got it on my third try. Never mind the details about that.

So I took the first actual driving test in July 07 after having practised a few weeks. Agnes coached me on the fine points of difference between Manila and California driving (note: everything’s faster and traffic fines are in dollars, baby). And I felt pretty good. I got a critical error however when I actually slowed down at a 2-way stop where I had the right of way. (My tester said: “That was a very dangerous move that could’ve caused an accident if there had been cars behind you. You had right of way!”)

So more practice. A month later, in August 07, I returned to Fremont (where Agnes works) to retake the driving test. In a single word, FAIL.

And yet, somewhere around July or August 07, we took a long drive to California City, which is 8 hours away from where we live, and I drove all the way there and back, using my learner’s permit.

Third time around, I decided to take the test in my own city of Hayward, whose streets I was slightly more familiar with. Everything seemed fine this time around, but I was still super nervous and couldn’t relax. No critical errors but a whole lot of minor mistakes that added up. More errors than was acceptable. Mostly from NOT scanning both ways before crossing an intersection, and for wide turns. Glumly, I conceded defeat. Goodbye learner’s permit (valid for only 3 driving tests, after which you have to take the written test AGAIN to get a new learner’s permit.)

And then September 07 came around. Agnes had a high school class reunion in Vegas which we were attending. Because I didn’t want her to drive all the way there on her own, I got up off my posterior and took the written test again, passed it, got my learner’s permit, and helped to drive the long, dusty highways to Vegas.

And that was it for a long time. I just lost interest (and hope) in trying to take the test a fourth time. God bless my wife though for encouraging me to tuck in my pride and call in the professionals. The professional driving schools, that is. I took a 2-hour lesson from a funny Sikh wearing a turban, who drilled me on the fine points of unassisted left turns (the ones without green left arrows at stoplights, where one must yield to oncoming traffic). And then I finally scheduled the FOURTH driving test for yesterday.

Now, finally, I have the privilege of burning rubber on these blessed asphalted freeways. Talk about a long arduous process I don’t EVER EVER EVER want to repeat.


So… how long did it take YOU to get your license?


12 thoughts on “The Bloody Quest for a U.S. Driver’s License

  1. Excellent work! Lucky for me, all it took was to pass the written test. No driving test. Driver’s license is venerated here in the US more than a visa or a passport. That little piece of plastic has come to symbolize freedom and survival. As you know, it’s pretty hard making a living if you’re not able to move around by yourself. Except ofcourse if you live in places like New York city. But that’s more of an exception than the rule. Congrats and here’s to a clean and safe driving record in your future!


  2. Congratulations! I concur with Ernie. All you have to do is watch “The Price Is Right” and observe the reaction of the contestants when a car is up for grabs. Never mind gas, insurance, and maintenance costs. The car symbolizes freedom.

    “Right Of Way” – Know them ahead of time. You will piss off others even though you are just trying to be safe.

    “Speed Limit” – Better to go with the flow than strictly following them. Even cops get pissed when everybody’s driving 70mph except for that one driver following the 45mph speed limit.

    “Look Before You Turn” – The turn signal does not guarantee chance to change lane.

    “Road Rage” – Don’t do it and avoid those who do.

    Thanks for reading my shameless, unsolicited advice! Happy driving!


  3. Love your tips. Yeah, my wife keeps telling me to “look first!”
    My driving instructor has an acronym to help with this: SMOG!

    S- signal your turn with lights.
    M- look in rear/side mirrors before turning.
    O- over the shoulder look.
    G- GO GO Power Rangers!!!


  4. Yes…driving tests can be tough if you choose the wrong suburbs to test in.
    I got lucky and did my test and passed the first time around.


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