Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Driving on the wrong side - Part 1

So, my UK license is only valid for about a year in the land of the free.
That's fine. I know how to drive and cars being mainly automatic - no problem (my beloved peaugot was an automatic).

Knowing that I'd have to get a US license, I ventured into the nearest bookstore thinking that I'd purchase the US equivalent of the Highway Code. I looked and looked but to no avail; so I spoke to the lady at Information. Luckily, she was English and understood me saying "do you have the American version of the 'Highway Code'?" It seems no, but if you go the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) site I can download it for free (as opposed to going to the DMV office and paying $5?!! Go figure, someone missed a trick there!)

Whilst chatting, she (Information Desk lady) said the road test was very easy - 10/15min it's nothing to worry about. Excellent, I thought but then again ten or fifteen minutes road test? No wonder there are so many bad drivers around. No wait, that's due to them driving, whilst on their cell phones, around corners, ignoring/getting annoyed at pedestrians on the crossing.

Moving on. Hubby, the gem that he is, printed out a copy of the Massachusetts Drivers Manual for me to start revising. I should point out that every state has their own set of road regulations and signs as well as the 'doesn't matter where you live, these are the road regulations'; and if you move to another state, you need learn their state laws, re-take your test and surrender your previous state driver's license. Geez...

I start to read/memorize road signs and regulations. And, although I've driven a few times on American soil, reading said material made a lot of things clearer! having said that, common sense plays a major role in driving - where ever you are in the world (lesson over, ahem).

There isn't a lot of difference in US signs to UK, just different expressions. For example, the 'Give Way' sign is 'Yield', the motorway is called the interstate etc; oh and of course, driving on the right hand side of the road. That's not too much of problem...it's the fact that the drivers sit on the left-hand side of the car. Thank God an automatic car means no shifting gear otherwise I would be doing moves from Saturday Night Fever trying to remember that the gear stick is to the right of me!

As I continued through the book I came across the section on 'Rotary Systems'. And in English...that's a roundabout; but bizarrely enough a smaller 'rotary' is called a roundabout?! In my world, ain't that the same thing? I have no issues with roundabouts, but being over here...well, I'm not overly keen on them. Firstly, I'm approaching them from the right hand side of the road and then giving way to the left. It was clearly stated that the car travelling in the rotary has right of way. Well, duh! otherwise you'd go ploughing into them?!

Anyway, I found a free online testing site and worked through the test papers getting between 80-95% (who had the right of way at an intersection always tripping me up). So between reading the manual and taking the online tests, I figured I'd pass the written exam.

I arrived at the DMV office, sat around waiting for my ticket to be called then realised after 40mins that the receptionist didn't tell me that I had to go to the 2nd floor. She claims she did. I refrained from pointing out that if I had heard her would I have not trundled up there? So, having cursed her with a miserable day, headed up to hand over my paperwork. This aforementioned paperwork consisted of -

my passport
my UK license
my application for a drivers permit
my birth certificate
a letter from the social security office stating that I don't get benefits and documentation with my current home address

I'm only getting a drivers license...not a renewal of my visa!!

Anyway, the guy at the counter didn't take long to go through all of that stuff. Unfortunately, he mumbled so I felt like I kept saying "Hmmm?" and "Sorry?", "Ah..um, excuse me?" all time and thought he'd insist on my taking a hearing test. He was interested and pleasantly surprised that I was from Guyana and recommended that I go to South Africa - although he hasn't been himself? (shaking my head in a perplexed manner)

I then entered the room where you take the "written" test. It is in fact a touch screen set up. I had 25mins and had to get 18 questions correct. The first 8 questions, I sailed through (they tell you straightway if you got the question correct), got the next 6 wrong only because they were blithering on about if you're 16 what's the minimum fine for driving without an adult, what's the fine/sentence if caught with an illegal substance. I don't know...I completely forgot reading about that and who cares if a 16yr old gets done...it's their problem for getting caught! The next 10, fine...they were road signs and before I knew it I had passed (yeah me!)

I now have the road test to endure. And for that...I need to have a sponsor. What's that? I hear you cry. No, it's not someone I will call in the middle of the night when I have a crisis about why it can't be called a roundabout instead of a rotary, no, it's someone who will be with me in the car as I take my test. Yes, in the car with me as I take my test. Crazy, I know. It's bad enough I'm worrying about taking a test on American roads, but I have to have a passenger with me? beyond comprehension, I tell yah.

Oh and as for my 'curse' to the receptionist who claimed she told me to go to the 2nd floor? As I left the DMV offices, she was talking in an exasperated manner on the phone and had a queue of 12 people, looking bored and annoyed, waiting for a ticket...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Chauncy St,Cambridge,United States

Monday, 6 June 2011

What, No Cheese?

Americans have an obsession with cheese; and not in any 'la-dee-la' have you tasted this sheep's milk cheese infused with a hint of garlic and a sprinkling of chive way. No, it's the square, processed can be used as putty type of obsession.

Once you get over the initial cloying slightly plastic taste (oh and the luminous yellow color) it's not that bad. It actually has a nice flavor to it - but am I just lovin' the processed part? Plus it has a good melting consistency to it - all gooey and stringy - very nice.

But, what I want to know is - does everything have to have cheese in it? Let me enlighten you...

Like its 'rival' state NYC, Boston is well known for its sandwiches. Call them what you may - subs, panini's, grinders...they'll make whatever you want...all with added cheese. And to be fair, it's not just the great American slice that's your choice; there's also provolone, pepper jack, swiss and non British cheddar (Cor, do I miss a nice bit of British cheddar...said in my best Wallace voice). Picking up one half of a sandwich requires both hands and that's not to do with just the size but more to stop the filling from falling out.

Once you've accepted the cheese in your sandwich - comes breakfast and cheese. Even if "America runs on Dunkin' (Donuts)"...there's a plethora of other breakfast items like croissants, bagels and English muffins (yes, you can find English muffins over here - they love 'em). And whilst you can get it plain (the offer of some sort of cream cheese or butter is never far behind), the most popular way to have these breads is with sausage (flat patties - not the bangers that we're used to), bacon, egg and of course cheese! Sometimes because of our 'deep' English accents, they mishear us and forget the sausage altogether and we've ended up with just an egg and cheese muffin.

Pop into a restaurant for brunch and the scrambled eggs come mixed in with cheese. I'm not convinced how much flavor this adds - chives yes, spring onion or red peppers definitely, but cheese? Hubby doesn't mind it too much...I've yet to be convinced.

Why this post on cheese? Well, the other day I popped into get a sandwich from a local place. A sandwich of turkey on rye, black pepper, lettuce with mayo and the following conversation ensued...

Me: can I have a turkey on rye, lettuce, mayo and black pepper please?
SL (sandwich lady): did you want cheese?
Me: No (otherwise I would have asked for it, I thought)
SL: OK. So, that's turkey on rye, lettuce, mayo, black pepper.
Me: Yes, thanks
SL: No cheese
Me: (oy-vay), no...thanks
SL to assistant: Turkey on rye, mayo, lettuce, black pepper - no cheese
Assistant: no cheese?
SL: no cheese

For the love of all that is good! I'm asking for a sarnie without cheese not an assault rifle (although I'm sure that wouldn't be given a second thought if I did ask for one!) So, now the word will spread around all Cambridge sandwich proprietors...watch out for the woman with a funny accent who doesn't like cheese in her sandwiches.

Don't get me wrong, I love a good bit of cheese as much as the next person...just not in everything...America - please forgive me!