Today I took my motorcycle license exam. I was nervous about making the appointment. It’s been six months since I took the motorcycle safety class. Part of the class involved the driving portion of the license exam; I had one year from completion of the class to complete the written portion of the exam, which could only be taken at the DMV.
One of the last times I was in the DMV involved a fairly traumatic and embarrassing experience. It was September, 1992. I had just moved to San Francisco. I wanted to get my CA driver license as quickly as possible, to start the clock ticking to qualify for in-state residency (I thought I wanted to go to a UC graduate school. I ended up in Egypt instead. That’s another story.). I went to the DMV, stood in line, completed an application form, showed them my NC driver license and they told me I’d have to take an exam. I was a little surprised (I already had a license), but figured I was there, so I might as well take it. How hard could it be? I had been driving for years at that point. I took the multiple choice exam and handed it to the examiner. She marked one question wrong with her red pen, then another, then another. I was slightly worried, but not really. You were allowed to miss up to ten questions. There was no way I’d miss more than ten. Except I did. I missed 11. The examiner handed me back my paper with a huge “-11” circled in the middle of the page. She gave me a study book and nonchalantly said, “Why don’t you study for a few minutes and come back to retake the exam.”
Here’s the embarrassing part. I had never failed before. Especially not on a test. I looked at the study guide, burst into tears, and ran out of the very crowded DMV, sobbing.
In hindsight, I’m truly grateful for that experience. I have failed at many things since then, which has made me realize it’s not that big of a deal. The world doesn’t end, I grow a little more resilient, and I take bigger risks. And occasionally, there are tears.
I studied for the motorcycle exam, as well as the regular driver license exam (both were required). I took all the sample tests online and read the manual. Multiple times. This morning, I wore one of my favorite dresses and my friend Warren drove me to the DMV, providing a pep talk and moral support.
The DMV is a soulless institution. There is a prevalence of drudgery in the atmosphere. It was as though I had stepped out of a Technicolor world, into a black and white scene. I took my number. I completed the form. I answered the verbal questions, had an eye exam, and provided my fingerprints. I stood in line again. I took a photo, paid a fee, and took an exam. And then another one. I waited in another line. One by one, our tests were graded. I was nervous. I greeted the inspector with a smile. The rules had changed. Now you’re only allowed to miss three questions on the regular driver license exam and four on the motorcycle exam. He graded my regular driver license exam first. With his red pen perched, he wrote a number in the center of the paper and circled it. 100. He looked up. “Not bad,” he said. “Let’s see how you do on the next one. That’s the one that people usually mess up on.” I smiled. His red pen hovered. What was probably only a minute or two passed, although it seemed like much longer. “Not bad at all. You only missed one. Hm.” He looked up. “You’re going to ride a motorcycle?” I nodded and smiled.
This time, instead of crying and sobbing as I left the DMV, I was beaming and doing a “Life is good and I have my motorcycle license” dance. A much better way to leave.