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There aren’t many cities in the United States where it’s easy to live without driving a car. Las Vegas is definitely not one of them. Having moved here from Germany recently I had no valid US driver’s license, so I started my quest for a Nevada driver’s license. In the past, I’ve had an Ohio license, a California license, and a Virginia license, but none of those mattered. My most recent one, from Virginia, had expired several years ago. Since I had no US license I had to take a written test, an eye test, and a driving test. But wait, there’s more! First stop was the Social Security office because a quirk in the Nevada rules requires people to bring their Social Security card to the DMV. Perhaps because of this the Social Security office, located just south of West Charleston Boulevard at 1250 S. Buffalo Drive, is very efficient. Taking a certified copy of my birth certificate and my passport (luckily, I had those readily available) and having filled out the application I downloaded (from here), I applied for a copy of my Social Security card. I know I used to have one, but only Xurg, the God of Things You Need On Rare Occasion, knows where it is now. In less than an hour at the office, even though it was packed with roughly half the population of an average Nevada town, I walked out with two eight-and-a-half by eleven pieces of paper proclaiming to anyone who cared those magical nine numbers the government uses to keep tabs on certain aspects of my life. I was also promised they’d send me a replacement card in the mail; but I was assured that the DMV would give props to the papers in the meantime.

Next stop, the Henderson DMV located at the corner of Stephanie and American Pacific Drive. For some reason the parking lot of this DMV is just a bit too small, guaranteeing that you’ll drive around for ten minutes looking for a space. Once inside the DMV I stood in line to get a number, and then I sat down to wait for my number to come up on an easily visible overhead display. Then I talked to one of the many workers there, confirmed that I’d have to take the written test, and was directed to the appropriate office, where I was invited to sit down at a computer to take the test. It’s actually not written at all, it’s poked, using your finger, on the computer screen. But I declined to take the test just then because I decided it might be wise to first read the handbook explaining the laws. That took me ten or fifteen minutes. Maybe I should have taken a bit longer, because I failed the written (or rather, poked) test by one question. You’re allowed to miss ten questions out of fifty and my eleventh wrong answer was question 49. I had to go back the next day because you’re not allowed to take the poked test more than once per day. The second time I took the test I passed easily. Then it was on to the driving test! Except I had to make an appointment and the earliest date open was a month later.

(A month passes) Hello again! Time to drive around the parking lot of the DMV looking for a space… oh, wow, there’s a car pulling out right in front of the door! Great. Now let’s make sure we have everything we need. Car registration? Check. Proof of insurance? Check. Passport? Check. Certified copy of birth certificate? Check. Two eight-and-a-half by eleven pages from the Social Security office stating authoritatively what my Social Security number is? Check. Turn signals working? Check. Brake lights functional? Check. Horn able to make noise? Check. Seat belts working, window able to open, passenger seat present? Check. And they really do check those things. Finally, on to the actual test. Pull out, get on the street, turn left at the light, turn left again, stop at the stop signs…

Now, everybody knows that when you are taking the driving test, you come to a full stop behind the stop sign, and use turn signals well in advance of a change in direction. Everybody also knows that nobody ever actually drives like that. But no matter, as long as you know that’s how you are supposed to drive, and you dutifully do it during the exam. Because if you don’t, you won’t pass. Other things you can do during the test to automatically fail: get in an accident that’s your fault; go over the speed limit in a school zone; or use a cell phone (“Hi! Just wanted to let you know I’m taking my driving test!”).

I passed the test. After all, I’ve been driving for 40 years and only had one accident, when I was 18, and I swear it wasn’t my fault. Afterward, driving back from the Henderson DMV, observing the driving behavior of those around me and feeling a bit smug, I thought that having to take a driving test might be something that everyone should do every ten years or so. Just to remind people how they are supposed to drive.

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