James figured he should get his Washington driver’s license. According to our relocation advisor you can drive on your Australian license for a month but then they start getting narky about it. We signed up for Zipcar for the rare occasion that we need to go somewhere that the buses can’t take us. Incidentally, it was a thing of tightarse beauty when I did it – I found a Groupon where I paid $35, which covered the $25 membership sign-up fee, a $50 yearly membership, and $50 of driving credit. Plus I went through Fatwallet and got 3% cashback.
/dusts off hands
Anyway, the first attempt at doing the written test was a complete bust. Our relocation advisor said she would pick us up Saturday morning and drive us to the Bellevue department of licensing because you have to get there early since the wait is so long. We were up bright and early but she slept in! So she told us to go pick up our Amazon-provided rental car, drive to Bellevue and meet her there. Four points of interest:
- We had to walk 20 minutes then wait in line for another 20 minutes to get our car
- They “upgraded” us to a freaking enormous car
- James had never driven on the other side of the road before
- You have to drive on a terrifying freeway to get from Seattle to Bellevue. Look at this fucking thing.
image from Wikipedia
So yeah, James’ first time driving in the US was on the i90 to get to Bellevue in a huge Dodge Charger that barely fit in its own lane, using my phone as a GPS. Then by the time we actually got to the Bellevue Department of Licensing (having accidentally exited the freeway and then having to muddle our way back on a few times) they were no longer accepting new people in the queue because they stopped doing driving tests in 2 hours and the wait in the queue was 3 hours. GAAAH!
Here is a quick snapshot of the queue. We saw 3 licensing departments and they all looked the same.
We called our relocation advisor but she wasn’t picking up her phone so we left a (really annoyed) message telling her that we were leaving. So we drove back, missing the i90 entrance due to iPhone lag, and then once we’d gotten on, exiting the freeway one stop too early due to my own confusion. But eventually we found our way back to our corporate housing and then, when we were driving into our parking garage we scraped the bottom of the car because it was too low to handle the hill going into the garage! Oh yeah, and cos the car was so enormous and had such a horrible turning circle, it took a really long time to park.
So yeah, by then we’d spent like 4 hours and accomplished nothing.
Fortunately James only had to drive the Charger one more time when we moved, which was like 5 minutes away. We planned the route in advance, loaded almost all our stuff into it, and in the morning he drove from corporate housing to our current apartment. There was only one briefly terrifying moment when he turned right onto Denny Way and I looked at the cars stopped a few traffic lights down and was like “why are they all facing us?”
Then James went “oh shit!” because he realised that he’d turned onto the wrong side of the road, and had to quickly maneuver his very unmaneuverable car back into the correct lane.
Anyway, after our boxes had been moved in, we decided that we weren’t up to braving the steep parking garage hill again so we decided to return the car early. The whole experience convinced James that for his driving test he wanted to use a much smaller car. But he still had his written test to get to, and the next weekend our relocation advisor took us to the Renton Department of Licensing to do his written and for me to get my Washington State ID. The drive was about 30 minutes and the wait was 3 hours. James didn’t want to have to wait in line again if he failed, so he spent most of the wait doing the online practice test. By the time he actually had to do the test he’d memorised all the answers and got a perfect score.
We celebrated by going to Ikea.
It’s largely the same as Australian Ikea but the food court is different. Chips (not fries) as a side seems to be a thing here. Bizarre.
OK a week later James did his actual driving test. Normally he would have had to wait for over a month to do his test on a weekend but some guy cancelled his appointment so he got in earlier. We were on our own this time because we’d apparently used up our allotted time with the relocation officer. James strongly suspected that she’d counted the Bellevue fiasco in her hours and also the various other times that she’d been late to our appointments, but we didn’t need her anyway, so eh.
James made sure to hire a Mini Cooper because that was a car he’d driven before and found to be pretty similar to the MX5 he used to drive. Also I love Minis. =D The appointment was at a different licensing office (West Seattle) but we only took 2 wrong turns getting there. James’ test was at 9am so he had booked the Zipcar until 12. He figured the process was do the test, fill out a form, get your photo taken, get your card in the mail. The actual process was wait, do the test, wait in line to get a number, wait in line for 2 hours, get your photo taken, get your card in the mail.
There were two people who were doing the driving tests – one scary looking Russian lady and one young Asian guy. We both wanted the Asian guy because we saw the Russian lady be really mean to a guy who was there for his test (James had chatted to him earlier – this was his second time doing the test). He didn’t have the correct insurance papers, so she told him to get in the 2 hour line I mentioned earlier, and ask for an exemption to do his test. Geez.
Asian Guy came up to James and started the test process where he made sure all the blinkers and lights were working correctly. We were like “yes!” It was going well – he and James laughed together and I was like “yay they have a rapport!” But then Russian Lady cut in and said that she wanted Asian Guy to take her next test because they couldn’t speak english and she’d take James. OMG. (Russian Lady told James during the test that Asian Guy had actually really wanted to test him because he wanted to be in the Mini).
But after that rocky start it all went well and he passed his test. You need 80/100 to pass and he got 85/100 – he lost marks for stuffing up his parallel park and driving too hesitantly. Yay James!
After that we waited in line. The line to get the ticket took maybe 30-60 minutes and once we got out of that line and into the waiting area it became apparent that things weren’t moving fast enough for him to return his Zipcar in time. We tried to rebook it but it was taken for the rest of the day. I possibly could have summoned up the nerve to drive it but I wasn’t insured. So James drove the Zipcar back to its reserved spot and took the bus back to West Seattle while I nervously looked at the numbers ticking down. While I was there I talked to a couple of people who were also waiting for their licenses and one guy was behind me in line so I swapped tickets with him. My number was called with James about 15 minutes away so I had to try and stall.
Me: My husband is almost here. He had to return the rental car and take a bus back. Is it possible to call me back in 15 minutes?
Her: (scowling) But I called you here now.
Me: (thinking) Oh shit oh shit
Luckily she relented and told me that when James got here to just go up to her counter. But it was around lunchtime and she’d kept the ticket, so I was worried that she’d go to lunch and James would get here and then we’d be stuck. Fortunately James understood the urgency and had sprinted the 10 blocks from the bus stop. He thought the lady was really nice and I was like “whatever, I softened her up for you”.
So that is the epic story of how James finally got his license. He said the tests were actually quite easy (the driving test was apparently a lot easier than the Victorian one) but it’s the waiting around that kills you. Mentally prepare to sacrifice half a day for each test, and you too may one day hold a Washington driver’s license.