Those of you who do not drive or who live abroad and have not had the joy of taking one of these tests should know that they are filled with questions like:

"What is the minimum distance you can park from a fire hydrant?"

a) 30 feet

b) 35 feet

c) 40 feet

d) 45 feet

I'm making these numbers up, of course, because I can't remember the actual answer, and I took the test years ago. But suppose for a moment the correct answer is (b). If I mark (c), I am wrong, and I am obviously a danger to drivers everwhere as I will be leaving sixty extra inches of perfectly good space when I park my car, which will no doubt confuse the fire brigade when it arrives. ("Where the hell is the hydrant?"..."Over there"..."That can't be a hydrant you imbecile, that Lexus is 40 feet away easy").

The irony is that besides a set of totally arbitrary and unfair questions, the rest of the test is just plain common sense, which reminds me of a driving test story. My cousin moved from New Jersey to the Bay Area to go to graduate school. Now, most states are pretty cool about reciprocity, so if you are already a licensed driver in one it is a formality to switch your license to the new state. California, alas, was not one of those states, and forces you to re-take the written test. So he goes in to take it cold, remembering that it is mostly common sense, and...just barely fails, because of arbitrary questions like the above.

In California, apparently, you have only two chances to pass the test for a license transfer, and if you fail the second time you have to wait a month, or take a road test, or something suitably awful. So after he fails they tell him all this and say, "when would you like to schedule your retest?".

He takes a look at the printout from his first test (which shows him what questions he got wrong), looks up and says: "I'd like to schedule it for right now". They can't believe it. "What do you mean, right now? Now? Are you sure? Don't you understand that (horrible thing that will happen) will happen if you fail the second time?". So he quickly commits to short-term memory the eight or so arbitrary ones he guessed on and missed, takes it again, and passes with flying colors.

From the way he described the look on their faces, they are probably still talking about it.

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