Fifty Shades of Dave


Photo Jan 29, 3 06 29 PMI don’t know what things are like in your state but in California, a trip to the DMV – Department of Motor Vehicles – is always an adventure.

And after taking my motorcycle exam a few times over the last few years, I thought I was through with my DMV visits. How wrong I was.

Here’s what happened. Ann’s birthday is in March and she got her driver’s license renewal letter in the mail well in advance. With my birthday only weeks away, I had yet to receive anything and time was running out so a call to the DMV was in order. And if you’ve ever tried calling the California DMV you know it’s a real pain to get anywhere. So what did I do?

Got on the Tweeter and asked @CA_DMV my question, naturally. I had an answer and phone number in a matter of hours. Ain’t technology grand?

I called and got through right away – this was their main office in Sacramento, I believe. I told the clerk my situation and she asked for my information so she could see what was going on.

It turns out that there was a hold on my regular Class C license after I failed to convert my motorcycle permit into a full-blown endorsement, meaning I didn’t renew or take the skills exam. And because of that hold, the renewal forms weren’t sent to me.

I told the clerk I wasn’t riding anymore and I wasn’t interested in the endorsement. She then cancelled the hold so that I could go to the DMV and fill out the forms to renew my license.

The problem there: getting an appointment. Ann tried for days to get one at our local office in Long Beach and couldn’t. She’s going to one in Orange County later in the month. She has time still. Me? Not so much.

After the call, I headed back to my work desk and immediately went to the DMV website in the hopes of snagging an appointment before my birthday/expiration date. No chance, I figured.

I ended up getting one a few days later – in Long Beach, no less. I had to text Ann and gloat about it. She replied with nasty Bitmojis.

Monday comes around and I leave work for a bit to take care of this business. I managed to find a parking spot no problem and since I had an appointment, didn’t have to wait with the garlic-eating masses outside who didn’t have an appointment.

When I was called I told the clerk the nature of my business. She gave me the form and I filled it out with only one notable change: my weight. I added a few pounds to it. Hell, I’m honest.

I went back and she double-checked it, then issued me a number to see another clerk. I waited maybe 10 minutes before I was called to another booth.

The clerk who helped me was a younger guy and rather affable, more than most others at the DMV. We chit-chatted as he went over my renewal form. All was going well until he spoke up about one detail.

“Hmm. On the computer, it has your hair listed as gray,” he said, pointing at his monitor with a black Paper Mate pen.

Strange. My current license has my hair as black. Then again when I renewed it I still had black hair. Then it occurred to me that when I went for my motorcycle permit, I must have written in “gray” for my hair color. He continued.

“So which one do you want me to use?” I was writing out a check for the renewal fee at the time. I put the pen down.

“Well, being I plan on letting nature take its course, let’s go with gray. I’m not bald and I’ve no plans to dye it. In fact I just had an inch-and-a-half trimmed off. Shit was past my shoulders.”

He was cool. Casual profanity didn’t phase him.

“Really? No way!”

We then chatted a bit more, mostly about aging, as he continued to process my information. He had to be in his early 30s and I gave him a little advice (as if my being nearly 49 qualifies me to be an expert on growing old).

“Man, just enjoy yourself. Stay young at heart. That alone will keep you going. And when your hair starts turning gray, embrace it and be glad you have it.”

And with that, he thanked me and sent me to the photo booth for my picture. Oh, and I had to take the written exam – again – and then wait about 10 days for my new license.

It arrived a few days ago. And although I’m thinner than I was in my previous license photo, the adjusted weight is definitely closer to reality.

And the hair? Proudly abbreviated as GRY.

Because this head will never see a drop of Just For Men.

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ARGH!


I guess you could call me SpongeBob.

If you’re not familiar with the show, one of its running gags is that SpongeBob is a terrible driver and has failed every single behind-the-wheel driving exam he’s taken, much to the dismay of Mrs. Puff. He’s even ended up inadvertently putting her in prison because of his poor driving skills. It’s a long story.

Anyway, you might recall my euphoria way back in July 2014 when, after studying really hard in the hopes of passing the written exam, I obtained my permit. That permit, despite a few restrictions, granted me the right to ride my scooter legally for one year and in the meantime, gave me time to schedule an appointment at the local DMV so that I could take my skills exam.

I did indeed take my skills exam in March 2015 – and I failed it miserably.

So here we are on July 28, 2015. I had scheduled my DMV exam a few weeks ago for this day, the day before my permit expires.

I’ll admit that it was probably a case of bad nerves that made me screw up the first time. I went into the exam with little to no practice and wasn’t quite prepared for it. But this time, I decided to do something much different.

Last Sunday I rode over to the local DMV to ride their test track so that I could get a good feel for it without being stressed out about it. They even left the cones out for some reason.

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I had the track all to myself to practice so I took advantage of it. After about 10 runs of the Serpentine Ride (weaving between the cones), I was confident in my ability. In fact I didn’t hit a single cone the whole time I was there so I was pretty happy about that.

Then came the Slow Ride in which you start in the right lane, ride around the circle at the end twice, then end in the left lane. That was a bit more challenging.

But after a few runs, I had figured out that if I didn’t touch my front brake, the bike wouldn’t suddenly stop and pull me out of the circle. (Riding on the lines is fine but going outside or inside the circle is an automatic disqualification.) Not only that, but if I throttled up at the last cone, the momentum would carry me about halfway through the circle. A few more tried and I had this one down perfectly.

With the Serpentine Ride mastered, I started the Slow Ride. Again, laying off the front brake worked wonders and I eventually got the hang of it. I was going to kill my exam this time.

I then came home and drew a huge circle – the exact dimensions, no less – in my neighbor’s driveway so that I could practice even more before today’s exam. I was going to pass no problem because I could now ride at least five times around the circle before falling out or putting my foot down.

My appointment was at 1:45 and I was ready. And because I had already taken it once, I had to pay a $7 re-test fee which I could have easily lied about because my previous DMV witness didn’t write my results on the permit as they are required to do. Had I known that, I would have probably told them this was my first time.

So I get in line and there was a guy ahead of me with his shiny BMW motorcycle who didn’t even acknowledge me, most likely because I was riding a scooter. Whatever, dude.

He failed the second he entered the circle when he put his foot down. He then complained that the circle was smaller than at the DMV office where he practiced. The DMV official wasn’t impressed.

“They’re all the same size,” he said as he marked the results of his exam on his permit. “Go inside and schedule another appointment.”

Off you go.

Then it was my turn and on boy, was I ready. The instructor was really cool and probably a rider himself with how he was speaking to me and the previous guy.

So how did I do? The Serpentine Ride was perfect. Flawless. Unbelievably simple. The instructor even gave me the thumbs up when I was done. Just one more to go and that M1 license would be mine.

I started the Slow Ride. In the right lane, no problem. Around the circle once, no problem. Around the circle again…problem. Watch what happens at 0:59 of the video.

No. NO. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.

One more turn and I would have had it. I don’t know what the hell happened to make me swerve into the circle. I didn’t hit the front brake. I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary.

Whatever the case, the instructor let out a loud “OH NO!” the second I fell inside the circle and unlike my previous exam, he wouldn’t give me a second chance which I thought was kind of lame. My first exam, I put my foot down which is an automatic DQ but they let me go again. What does it matter if I drifted out of the circle for three feet this time? I was literally 99.5% through the exam and had only one section to go. Why not give me another chance or better yet, just pass me so I can get this over with? I showed him I could do this.

Nothing doing. He marked the Slow Ride a DQ. After all this practice, one minor mishap killed me. I was NOT happy about this because with my permit expiring, I now have to pay for and take the written exam again (already scheduled) and then take the skills exam again.

ARGH. Just unbelievable.

The good thing is that scooter riders aren’t exactly tops on the list of people to get pulled over. So I have that going for me for the next few weeks, which is nice.

Better Luck Next Time 


Way back in July of last year, I boasted about the fact that I passed my written motorcycle exam which granted me a permit to operate my scooter, albeit with a few quid pro quos. 


That was then. This is now.

I had made an appointment with the DMV a few weeks ago to take my behind-the-handlebars exam and I was ready for it. After all, how hard could it be? It’s just riding in a simple serpentine pattern through some cones, going in a circle, then riding back through the cones. The second part is easier than that. 

Today I found out just how not easy this test can be because, despite my thinking that I would easily pass it, I didn’t. Oh, how I didn’t.

First things first, the exam is done on the property. The lollipop course is painted on the parking lot and tiny cones are put up by the DMV official. You are then given a quick quiz about where things like the horn, ignition switch, brakes, etc. are located on your bike. Easy enough.

Once that’s done and the way is cleared, you’re free to start the exam. 



And there are three simple rules to follow or you’re immediately sunk: your feet/foot can’t touch the ground, you can’t hit a cone, and you must stay within the lines at all times. Any one of those is cause for disqualification.

So I was ready. I eased my way through the cones and started to follow the circle. About a halfway through it, I noticed that I was slowly drifting outside the circle and tried to correct myself. In the process I lost my balance and my foot touched the ground. In most cases that would be the end of the exam.

But the DMV official gave me a second chance which I thought was nice. I made my way to the starting point again, took a deep breath, and hit the throttle gently.

I ran over the third cone and immediately turned around to meet the examiner. It was over this time — no third chances.

She marked up my exam sheet and handed it to me, telling me to schedule another appointment and to avoid the cones next time. I nodded, thanked her,  grabbed my paperwork, and disappointingly left the property.

And you know what sucks about not passing this exam? It takes place in the parking lot where people are waiting for whatever reason and where there is a line of cars with drivers waiting to take their exams. That means that unlike the car license exam, you’re exposed to a bunch of people hanging around watching you. You fail and everyone will know it — especially if you do something stupid like run over a cone. It’s really embarrassing.

So now I have to schedule yet another appointment to take the exam again. This time, however, I will make it a point to practice both serpentine ride and circle, ensuring that the exam will be easier next time.

Because I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had to slalom through cones and ride in a circle while out and about in the city. 

Legit


Well, it’s official: as of today, I’m a permitted motorcycle rider according to the wonderful state of California.

Permitted but not licensed. I will get that one I pass the skills exam, the behind-the-handlebars test that shows the DMV that I can skilfully navigate through a row of five cones and a “lollipop” course, both scenarios that drivers routinely encounter on a daily basis here in the Golden State.

I’m being facetious, of course.

But yeah, anyway. I had been reading the official handbook and studying for the written exam off and on until I got a good idea about what the test might include. Once I believed I had learned enough, I went online to schedule an appointment to take the written exam.

That was a week ago. I now had a week to make sure I knew my stuff, so I then started taking some online quizzes that are supposed to be very similar to what the DMV administers. I took them over and over this past week plus studied the handbook in PDF format. And while you get three attempts to pass the exam, I wanted to be done with it on the first try, hence my endless studying.

And people, I did that. I fell asleep countless times with my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 on my lap, the screen still displaying the page where I left off. For that week, I did nothing online at night. I wanted to get this exam done and over with.

Well, today was the day I made it happen and like most Californians, I despise dealing with the DMV. Even with an appointment the place is always packed with not just people who need to be there, but also their entire families complete with screaming kids. And, at least to me, most people there seem to be shady or of criminal intent. Call me crazy but that’s just how I feel. It’s a perfect environment for taking tests for a legal document that shows you know how to drive.

Fortunately, freaky people and families aside, my process turned out to be painless, probably because a) I had an appointment and b) I filled out my forms properly. That said, I don’t think the appointment expedites things as much as correct paperwork does. It makes the otherwise miserable DMV employees a bit less stressed when they are dealing with someone who is competent.

The good thing about going to the DMV is that the average person doesn’t have to go there more than maybe a dozen times in their life and usually there are years between said visits. At 45, I’d wager to say that I’ve been there maybe a total of six times for exams and behind-the-wheel tests. I couldn’t tell you the last time I was there but I do know that when I took my exam, it was on paper.

It’s not like that anymore. The DMV now uses touchscreen monitors which I think is an attempt to not only cut down on paper use but to also discourage cheating. The exam questions are no longer numbered as they used to be on paper so there’s no real way to cheat. They could also be completely randomized as far as I know, and your incorrect answers are shown immediately after you touch the Submit button.

But I didn’t know this when I started taking my first exam which was the standard driving test that I was required to take for some reason. I answered the questions and didn’t know if I was getting them right or not until, finally, I got one wrong. I missed only one question on the driving exam.

Then I started the motorcycle exam. This was it and I was nervous.

I read the first question and chose my answer: it was wrong. Ugh. I was screwing this one up already. That sort of set the stage for the rest of the exam with me taking my time with each question, pressing the Submit button with my face wincing as if in pain.

The exam seemed to go on forever with me missing a few here and there. I think I was up to about five wrong answers when I started to feel the pressure. I didn’t know when it was going to end when finally, after what seemed like Question 5,742, I submitted my answer.

There was a message on the screen congratulating me on passing the motorcycle exam. I took a deep breath, pumped my fist, then finally smiled. It was over, and I can finally ride without fear of being pulled over. Because, you know, police are always looking for guys on scooters to bust for exceeding the speed limit.

I walked over to waited in another line to turn in my paperwork for approval. The clerk congratulated me, I had my picture taken (it’s 1,000x better than my Class C license, back when I was a 300-pound gastropod), and I was done. She then told me I had a year to schedule my skills test which gives me some time to get even more used to riding. I’ll wait a bit to schedule that one.

In the meantime, I’m just happy to have gotten this far and that my endless nights of studying paid off.

Composed on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 using the WordPress app, because the laptop was too cumbersome for me tonight.