Thursday, July 06, 2006



We don’t drive much. The car stays in the parking lot unless we need to leave town. No, we don’t take buses or taxis either. We walk. You don’t have to live in the city center for your feet to take you interesting places, to find the small gems that hide down narrow streets where you’d never notice them driving. And why not? Because your eyes would be on the road while you maneuver around parked cars, avoiding oncoming traffic and stray pedestrians like us who might not know the rules. Whether you want to go to a government building, a specialty shop, restaurant or bus station, you can walk there. Lunchtime, Union Street turns into a river of pedestrians who will run you down if you’re “not in the flow.” But be careful when you step off the kerb. Roads are for cars. Californian etiquette of pedestrians having the right of way is as remote from here as Hollywood Boulevard. But when you do get the green pedestrian walk sign, you can walk into the middle of the intersection, do a yoga pose or dance a Scottish jig and you’re perfectly safe.

So it comes down to knowing the rules, spelled out in that booklet called “The Highway Code.” I read it at bedtime as it’s useful and helps me fall asleep. Amber swears she won’t touch it until the night before her practical test. Unlike in Texas where at 16 you can take a certificate to the drivers license office, signed by your dad where he says that he taught you to drive and that you’re a good ol’ boy – and they give you your drivers license, over here it’s not only a rite of passage but a commando course. The practical test is like the SAT – and you’d better take practice tests or a course if you want to pass. For the practical test, the inspector can flunk you if he doesn’t like the way you hold the steering wheel.

After we bought our car, Amber and I stopped at a self-service photo booth at the post office, snapped some mugshots and with application forms and passports in hand walked over the driving licence office. We don’t have to do this now, as our Texas licenses are valid for a year, but if by then we don’t have our UK licenses, we’ll be relegated to the ranks of learners – having to drive accompanied by a kid who has a UK license, with “L plates” on our cars and forbidden to drive on freeways. Better get started ASAP.

At the driving license office I pulled out the ace from my sleeve, my old UK license that expired in 1974. The small two inch tall booklet with a red fabric cover imprinted with a crown and the words “Driving License,” made the female attendant laugh. “What have we here?” She showed it to her colleague who shrugged, but nodded affirmatively.

“Yes,” she said. “We can exchange this for a full license. You won’t need to take the test.”

A sudden gasp from Amber beside me. “This is SO not fair! I can’t believe it! You owe me a beer – much more than a beer for this one.”

The official looked at my passport and return it. However she took Amber’s and said it would be returned by mail. Nothing personal – it’s just that those transatlantic colonials need an extra check. Not unlike how Americans fingerprint the Brits as they arrive in the States. We’re not there yet with international trust.

We followed-up our errand with a beer at the Prince of Wales, an old-fashioned pub in one of those hidden alleys, near Corrections Wynd. They serve their own beer, with a very yeasty and light taste. A good place also to talk to people.

Come visit us and we’ll take you there.

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