Friday, July 11, 2008

What Are All Those Squiggly Lines For?

In my introductory post here I'd made mention of the fact that I wanted a scooter in part to avoid having to get a motorcycle license. Perhaps it's a bad attitude for a teacher to have, but it had been a long time since I had to worry about making the grade for anything and I was fearing the tests involved, both the knowledge test and the road test. Thus it was that I bought the Fly50.

Before I could upgrade to the BV250 a few months later I had to get the dreaded motorcycle permit. I picked up a copy of the Pennsylvania Motorcycle Operator Manual and gave it a few cursory glances before I headed down to the testing center the following Saturday. My plan was to nail the test and then head to Team Effort Cycle to buy the BV. Much to my horror, I failed the knowledge test and because of the schedule at the testing center I wouldn't be able to retake it until the following Tuesday. Shamefaced I made my way back home and started studying the manual in earnest.

I hit that manual with a highlighter as if it were a 500 page Psych 101 book in a bad back-in-college dream.

With the permit in hand on Tuesday, after passing the test with flying colors on the second try, I got the BV and was on my merry way. I was disappointed, though, to learn that without the full license I wouldn't be able to ride after dark nor carry a passenger. Dark comes early here in Northeast Pennsylvania in October, and my riding time after work would be very limited as winter approached and each day got a little bit shorter. Besides, I couldn't take the bike to work because I typically dropped my daughter off at school on my way to my own school and couldn't let her ride with me. I needed the license!

In Pennsylvania there are two ways to get the coveted "M" added to one's driver's license. One way is to take a road test like a 16 year old kid with a crotchety old examiner. The other is to spend some serious hours in taking a rider safety course. The experienced rider's course caught my eye - six hours on a single day and you get your license upon the successful completion of the exercises. Of course there's always a "but," however, and since it was late October there would be no more courses offered until the spring. I needed to take the road test! Failure, however, was a mighty big crow to eat and digest when I flunked that knowledge test and I wasn't crazy about the thought of having to risk it again.

I rode every now and then to the testing area a few miles out of town and stared at the lines in the parking lot which I knew were part of the motorcycle test, and it didn't help that they were mixed in with the CDL testing grids and markers. I'd hoped to find somebody running through the test so I'd know would be expected if I were to take the road test, but there was never anybody there taking the test and I wasn't going to take a number inside only to wait an hour to talk to a civil servant who might have been no help at all. The few bikers I'd approached and asked about the road test all said that they'd taken the safety course and recommended it, but that fifteen minute test compared to wasting the better part of a Sunday sounded awfully inviting even if I had to take my chances at failing.

There were way too many squiggly lines in that DMV parking lot, with nobody around to explain them.

Try as I might, I couldn't get the scoop on that nefarious test in the least and by the time I grudgingly started thinking about taking the safety course winter had come and nearly gone. Pennsylvania offers the Motorcycle Safety Program free of charge, and now I'm among that group of riders who recommends it highly. I took the experienced rider's course in early May and learned a number of skills that I use every time I'm out. I'm very grateful to Marty and his crew of instructors at the Dunmore location of the MSP. And I got my "M" endorsement without having to figure out all those strange lines in the DMV parking lot!

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