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January QuickThrottle Column

I started writing this monthly column in Quick Throttle Northwest a little over six years ago -- more than 75 columns. I'm amazed I've lasted that long and that my publisher and readers haven't grown tired of me. In all that time they have used the same header and photo -- with the picture of me glowering down at the reader like the Wizard of Oz glowered down at Dorothy, but without the flames coming off my head.  Well in honor of the new year and of my years writing every month as well as my relocating to sunny climes with a more sunny outlook on life (try not to laugh at that), we decided to revamp the column with a new photo.  A somewhat more "smiling" me sitting on Angus in a field of flowers. So as I unwind from the holidays and the contractors are digging out the hole for the pool in my backyard, and I start writing my February column -- while my former colleagues all head back to the opening of the Washington State Legislature in a massive snow storm in Olympia, I'll post the January column, which goes into my struggles to become a Californian....
Well here we are again, the start of brand new year. We toss out last year’s calendar and start with a brand new blank one. A little over six years ago I started writing this column for Quick Throttle. The idea was to cover political and policy ideas affecting riders in the Northwest as well as talk about the joys of riding and being part of this amazing community.  Now, nearly 75 columns later I’m still here.  Well most of the time I’m here, and so we figured it was time to give this column a new look.

As many of you know I retired from the political and lobbying world at the end of 2013 and have been spending the winter months in Palm Springs and the rest of the year in Seattle.  My official legal home has until now been Washington. But that has changed, and as of this new year I’m officially a newbie “Californian.”  I’ll be doing the reverse “snowbird” thing – spending most of the year in the desert and escaping to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest in the summer when it’s 125 degrees here, and visiting often too. But don’t worry, I’ll still be the grumpy curmudgeon, freely offering up news and advice about politics and riding in Washington and the Northwest, I’m not going away.

So why the change in residency? One reason is it’s also gotten damn expensive in Seattle, as you all know, and there is no sign of that changing. Here’s a great case in point: I surprised the clerk at the DMV here in California when I went to register the vehicles and she told me the total for my registration and plates and I said “Are you sure?” and she said “yes, we are a bit more expensive than other states, people are often shocked.” I laughed and told her to turn over the old Washington registration she had in her hands for my Hummer and look at that total. Her eyes about popped out of her head and she said “wow”. My California registration for my truck was about 1/3 of what I paid in Washington, with better roads and less traffic.

But it’s not all sunshine when it comes to becoming an official resident of the Golden State.  I had to take the written exam for both vehicles and motorcycles in order to get a new drivers license. So like I good citizen I picked up a copy of the handbook for both vehicles and motorcycles and took them home and read them – twice.  I took the practice tests in the back and passed and then made my appointment for the test (a cool feature here by the way so you don’t have to wait hours in a waiting room).

You know these tests. I swear they are designed to get you to fail by asking tricky questions where all the answers are partially right, and only one is more partially right than the others. The system instantly tells you if you got a question wrong. You are allowed three wrong answers and the fourth kicks you out with a FAIL! and a big red “X” like on a game show only without the loud buzzer.

I got a perfect score of 30 out of 30 on the driver license part, and so it was on to the motorcycle test. I figured I’d ace this since I did so well on the other one. I’ve been riding since before I could drive, and I consider myself a damn good rider. I’ve taken the advanced riders course several times. I taught group riding skills for HOG. I think I know what I’m doing. Well, not according to the folks at California DMV. Apparently I don’t know squat!  I missed four questions and I wasn’t even half-way done!  Shocked I went to the counter and the clerk asked if I wanted an immediate retest. One is allowed three attempts at the test before failing. Since my Washington one expired in less than a month I had to pass and soon. My pride got the best of me and I said “Yes!” and immediately went back in and failed yet again!  How could this be?  I passed the drivers test flawlessly and here I can’t pass the damn motorcycle part?

I mean really?  I failed!  Twice! Me! The clerk said you have one more chance and I said, I’ll reschedule and left with my tail between my legs.  For a week I would read the manual cover to cover each night before bed. Hell I practically memorized it.  A week later I go back and get the same clerk. “Last try,” she said with a smile. Gee thanks for the pressure I thought. I went in. I carefully and methodically thought out each question and possible reply. I nervously chose my answer and each time before I submitted the answer I genuflected, prayed and crossed my fingers, and I’m an agnostic! Things were going along fine but then I missed two in a row. I was starting to panic. Then I get to this question:

“The best way to avoid injury while riding is: A) ride in a fast straight line. B) Ride defensively using the SEE method. C) Be aware of the road and traffic conditions and adjust riding speed accordingly. D) Wear a helmet.”

The more logical answer to me was B: “Ride defensively using the SEE method.” But nooooooo according to the State of California, best way to avoid injury while riding is “D) Wear a helmet.” I got the big red “X” on my screen.  That was my third miss.  If I missed one more I failed and couldn’t retest for 60 days and would have an expired Washington license in my pocket. The cuss words floating in the air above my head in my cartoon thought bubble were many.  I plodded on and three questions later I get a “Congratulations You Have Passed” notice.

I almost fainted from relief.  And it doesn’t matter in the end what I missed and why. I know I’m a good rider, and I have the license in my wallet to make it all legal.  But oh good Lord I hope I don’t have to take that test ever again.  And to my friends in ABATE, who I’ve occasionally managed to tick off over the years, I have an idea for a bill in California for your CA chapter to get working on.  It has to do with the motorcycle license test and a certain question…

Gary can be reached at roadsigns@comcast.net and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com

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