Getting Tested

Well, I guess it’s official: After two years of living in Portland, I’m finally a true Oregonian.

I don’t mean that I’ve started doing something ridiculous like selling weed or voting for libertarians. I just mean that I’ve finally acquired an Oregon driver’s license (printed on 100% recycled hemp products), replacing the California license I’ve had since I was 19.

I got my first license at the usual age of 16, then got a new one with a new picture three years later. After that, California kept renewing it through the mail, even during the 10 consecutive years I lived in Utah. The last renewal, four years ago, even came with my Utah address on it. This confused every police officer and other authority figure who ever looked at it: a California license with a Utah address, not to mention a photo that no longer looked anything like me.

It was set to expire this year, and I had to go to the DMV to register my new car anyway, so I figured I might as well get it over with. After dealing with the auto-registration stuff, I told the nice DMV girl that I should probably get an Oregon license, and she thought that was a fine idea. She said the fee was $50, plus $5 to take the test.

The test! There was to be a test involved! I was very excited, and a little nervous. (Also a little perturbed that it costs $5 to take a test that costs the DMV $0 to administer.) She asked if I wanted to study before taking it, pointing to a rack of driver’s ed booklets lining the wall behind me. I said, “It’s probably not a very hard test, is it?” She said, “Well, I failed the first time I took it.” I looked her up and down and decided I was smarter than she was. “I’ll take my chances,” I said.

The test was administered via touch-screen computer. Very high-tech. You read the question, look at the four possible answers, and touch the one you think is right. It even tells you your score as you go, so you’ll know if you reach the point where you should just give up.

Most of the questions were, as I had predicted, absurdly easy. Either the correct answer was obvious from reading the question, or three of the multiple-choice answers were clearly wrong. There was stuff like this:

You’re approaching an intersection just as the light turns from green to yellow. What is the appropriate response?

A. Stop, unless it would be unsafe to do so.
B. Floor it and yell, “Wooooooo-hoo!”
C. Roll down your window and leap out, sending the car careening down the street unoccupied.
D. Chicken strips.

I got 32 of the 36 questions correct, passing with flying colors. It’s good to have it certified that I know how to drive, considering I’ve been doing it for almost 17 years. The questions I missed had to do with specific figures. In one, the computer asked what the penalty is for drunk driving the first time you are caught: suspended license for six months, suspended license for a year, or something else. I guessed it was six months; turns out it’s actually a year. I’m not sure why we have to know that, though, unless the thought process of an intoxicated person goes like this:

“You know, I might be a little too tipsy to drive. But hey, if I do drive, and I get caught, they’ll only suspend my license for six months. Bah! I can do six months standing on my head. Wait, what? It’s actually a year? Oh, eff that. I’m taking a cab.”

How’s this for an arrangement: I won’t drink and drive, and you don’t require me to know what the penalty is if I do. I don’t have room in my brain to store information that doesn’t matter! Where am I supposed to put all the lyrics to TV theme songs?!

Speaking of irrelevant information, one question went something like this:

You’re driving on a country road and you see someone riding a horse on the other side of the road, coming the opposite direction. The rider is holding up her hand to you. What does this mean?

A. The horse is alarmed and you must slow down until it is calm.
B. The horse is fine and you should proceed normally.
C. There is a herd of cows up ahead.
D. I don’t remember what D was, but it was something obviously wrong.

I correctly surmised that the answer was A, you should slow down and let the horse relax, but what, is this question left over from the 1910 driver’s test? Why am I driving on roads frequented by horses? More to the point, what is a horse doing on the freeway, which is the only place I ever drive? I think the question should be worded like this: “Do you ever drive on roads where there are liable to be horses?” And if you answer “no,” it skips all the horse-related questions for you.

It seems like much of the material on the driver’s test is outdated and has little to do with driving in a modern city. I propose new questions be written in this manner:

You’re driving with your cell phone in your left hand and a beverage in your right hand, your knee on the steering wheel. It becomes necessary to shift gears. Do you:

A. Balance the drink on your other knee and shift with your right hand.
B. Keep the drink in your right hand and use your wrist/forearm to shift.
C. Reduce your speed so that shifting is unnecessary.
D. Move the drink to your left hand while moving the phone to your right hand, then cradle the phone between your right ear and shoulder, thus freeing your right hand to shift.

What is the proper thing to say when the person in front of you is driving too slow?

A. “Come on, grandma!”
B. “Let’s go, idiot!”
C. “It’s the one on the right, genius!”
D. “Speed limit’s 45, retard!”

You are originally from State X, now living in State Y. Which of the following is true of State Y drivers?

A. They are the worst drivers in the country.
B. You thought State Z drivers were bad, but State Y drivers really take the cake.
C. Seriously, you’ve driven in lots of different states, and State Y natives are truly the worst.

Why do people become highway patrol officers?

A. Because they think there’s truly no greater good they can do in the world than to give people tickets for going 76 in a 65.
B. Because they couldn’t become real cops, the kind who actually fight crime and catch bad guys.
C. Because they have low self-esteem.
D. Because they are stupid jerks who have low self-esteem and couldn’t become real cops and now they’re just bitter and that’s why they write speeding tickets all day long and they get off on the fact that everyone hates them, and also they’re jerks.

Maybe the questions will have been updated the next time I take the test, in 2019.

The question about State X and State Y refers to this principle: Any driver who grew up in one state but now resides in a different one will believe the natives of his current state to be the worst drivers anywhere. Californians who now live in Utah think Utahns are the worst drivers; Texans who live in Ohio think Ohioans are the worst drivers; Georgians who live in New Jersey think New Jerseyans are the worst drivers. But the fact is, generally speaking, drivers are about the same everywhere: some good ones, and a lot of bad ones.

Now is the part where you post a comment saying, "But [state of choice] drivers really ARE the worst drivers!!" Just know that I'm not listening, because you're wrong.

When I was talking about horses in the column, I was going to include the following tangent, but ultimately decided it was too off-topic. Here it is, though:

Speaking of horses, here is a picture of Zara Phillips, 11th in line to the British throne, falling off her horse during an equestrian event on June 8:

Alt text

She and the animal were both uninjured, but I don't care, because that's an awesome photo anyway.

Really, I just wanted an excuse to post the picture.

But my cavalier attitude toward the horse struck a nerve with a reader named Amber, who discovered this column five months later and posted three very angry comments (#60-62) below. She also sent me the following scorching e-mail, from a return address of "beautyofhorses@[something].com":
Have YOU read my posts ERIC!!?!?!!?!?!??? If you have you can tell that I'm pretty pisted off!!!!!!!! All my friends are too and they all [swear word] HATE YOU now!!!! How rude is it to post a picture of an inosint horse and rider getting injured and then say I DON"T CARE!!!!??!?! [So she read the part of the sentence that said I didn't care, but missed the part of the same sentence where I said they weren't injured. That is some seriously selective reading.] YOU [swear word]!!! It's people like YOU who kill animals and the environment!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe I should post a picture of YOU, yes YOU ERIC doing something painful and say "well I just wanted to post this picture because it is a good picture,but I don't care that Eric's hurt. I DON"T CARE!!!" [Fine with me! I'll send you some.] That's what YOU did with the horse and rider!! Horses are amazing, beautiful animals and deserved to be treated with respect unlike YOU i may add!!!!!! SHOW A LITTLE RESPECT FOR OTHER THINGS IN YOUR PATHETIC LIFE!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and to think I used to like this site!!!!! HA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I [swear word] hate it now!!!!!!!!!! I bet A LOT of other people do now too!!Oh ya and the driving learn how to drive YOURSELF [swear word]!!!!!!!!!!So please e-mail me back SOME kind of response.You should read my posts too. THEY might scare away some potential ericsnider site lovers!!!! BYE

P.S.I'm right to be doing so too!!!! Even though I didn't put this letter in THE ANGRY LETTERS SECTION I want this to go STRAIGHT to YOU!!!!!! [I do wish more readers shared her foresight and labeled their correspondence as "angry" when appropriate. It would save my staff so much sorting time.]

Per her request, I replied to her e-mail. This is what I said:
Yes, yes, I saw your comments. I had to edit out the swear words before I could post them.

First, let me point out a couple of obvious things. The horse was not hurt. (Neither was the rider, but you don't seem to care about non-horse beings.) Also, I did not take the photo myself. I believe I got it from Yahoo News. It was taken by a news photographer at the event, and then widely posted by various news outlets. Have you written hilarious angry letters to all of those outlets, too, for printing the photo?

Now then. Let me tell you a little about yourself. You are a teenage girl, and you are obsessed with horses. That's fine! A lot of teenage girls are obsessed with horses. You grow out of it eventually. (Don't say, "I'll never grow out of it!," because that's something that teenage girls say. Eventually you grow out of that, too.)

You've chosen horses as your one thing to care about more than anything in the world. You're the Horse Girl. It's becoming your defining characteristic. People will say, "Do you know Amber?," and someone will say, "Hmm, Amber... Amber...." and the first one will say, "You know -- the Horse Girl." And the second person will say, "Oh! Sure, Amber!"

Horses are your "thing." As a result of this, you blow horse-related things way out of proportion. Becoming enraged by the sight of a news photo of a horse falling down, for example. Posting multiple angry messages on a website. Writing to the person responsible because you're CONVINCED that he will see it your way and apologize. These are all symptoms of horses being your "thing" to the exclusion of all rationality and common sense.

Other teenage girls have other "things." One of them is the movie "Titanic." Some girls became very obsessed with it, to the point that when I made fun of it ( ), they flew into a rage that was very similar to yours. They even said similar things about how they used to love my writing but now they hate it. You might read those angry letters and laugh and think, "Wow, those girls sure are getting worked up over nothing!"

The thing is, that's what people will think when they read your angry letter, too.

You're far too young to be this angry. Relax. Calm down. You have your whole life ahead of you. It's already going to be hard, since most girls named Amber wind up working as strippers. So chill out, don't sweat the small stuff, and enjoy life. Someday you'll look back on all this and laugh.


Far too late, I realized something: The picture was of a woman falling off a horse. Nothing even happened to the horse. It didn't fall or anything. Amber's outrage was even less reasonable than I thought.

She sent a reply that cleared up some confusion. Is she really a teenager? No! Did she misread "uninjured" as "injured"? No! Have her reading comprehension skills improved? No! (I've broken her e-mail into paragraphs to make it easier to read.)
Ok Eric, maybe I did get a little worked up but you don't even know who I am. For one thing i am NOT a teenager, I am a 25 year old mother/riding instructor/horse trainer. Both me and my friends (Simone, Ashley, and Beca) have loved horses ever since we were babies and we have been friends ever since we were babies. I have NEVER GROWN OUT OF LOVING HORSES and nethier have my friends.

You have gotten one thing right though that I AM OBSESSED WITH HORSES. I care A LOT about horses and my family but I also care about the environment and my friends. I am PROUD to be that 'horse Girl' and that's what everyone knows me by. In school my nickname was horsey chic, and even the teachers called me the horse rider. I loved it. I met my husband at a horse show. Horses are a BIG part of my llife and I am happy to say that!

You have no right to be saying stuff about my that isn't even true! You also have NO right to be calling me a stripper!!! What is that all about?!?!?!?!!? [Of course, what I actually said was that most people named Amber grow up to be strippers. If this particular Amber has thus far avoided the pole, then good for her!]

I just want more people to be more careful about the environment and its animals. These days no one seems to care because they're like 'Oh I don't care'. I'm trying to stop that behavior. I am sorry I yelled at you like that but please next time don't even post things like that on your site. Even if the horse and rider weren't hurt (which I knew) you still SHOULD NOT be posting things like that and saying 'I don't care'. Maybe we could be friends if you don't post another picture like that?

Now I'm torn. I really, really want to be friends with Amber, but I also really, really want to post this picture of Mongo punching a horse in "Blazing Saddles." What can I do?
Alt text