Maswood Alam Khan
The discipline in every stage of living and the citizens’ strict adherence to law and order I’ve witnessed and the amount of personal freedom and convenience I myself have enjoyed during the last seven months of my stay in America has been wonderful and the thought of losing it all once I return home greatly disturbs me. But I made up my mind to return home as I don’t have any job that can feed me and finding a job in America, especially a white-collar one, is tough nowadays if you don’t have a degree or certification from an American university.
As I was readying myself to leave USA on the next 30th April, my friend Zohurul said: “Well, Maswood Bhai, you may go home for a comfortable living in Bangladesh. But, don’t blame America for your frustrations in not finding a job. As far as I know, you have not tried to find a job. Don’t expect that someone will knock at your door with an ’employment letter’ on a silver plate without your efforts at least to apply for a job. Before you go home, I would suggest you to take a driver’s license. Buy a car and move around different places in Maryland in this beautiful weather of spring. Meet people, present your resume and follow up. I can assure you that you will soon find a good job once you gain confidence and enhance your mobility with a car. America is still a land of opportunity, if only you know how to tap those opportunities.”
A week back, with some consternation I went to an office of Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) at Beltsville in Maryland near my house at College Park and approached the relevant department to know how to apply for a driver’s license. The officer on the desk, after learning that I drove in Bangladesh for 32 years, told me ‘you don’t need to get admission into a driving school for a 3-month course’ and having seen my driving license issued back in 1982 by Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA) advised me to attend a 3-Hour Alcohol and Drug Education Program at a local institute before I could appear for different examinations on: (1) My vision (2) My ability to read and understand all traffic signs (3) My knowledge of Maryland’s traffic laws and (4) My satisfactory operation of a motor vehicle.
All the examinations and tests I very easily qualified, except the one on my satisfactory operation of a motor vehicle. I was dumbfounded when a lady examiner, sitting by my side while I was driving a car inside a closed compound, said: “You have disqualified you didn’t check over your shoulder while reversing your car to park”. Courteous as the examiner was in explaining why I did fail, I was shocked. I said: “Madam, what are you saying? I have been driving for the last 32 years!” “Where”, the examiner retorted. “Bangladesh” I replied back. “That is why you need to be more trained in America to be oriented from your long habit of right-hand driving in Bangladesh towards left-hand driving in America”, she advised me with a tone of warning! “Never mind you may appear in the driving skill test as many times as you wish, free of cost, within the next six months as you had passed the timed test on traffic laws”, the lady consoled me. I mentally slapped myself for failing in the driving skill test after 32 years of my flawless driving back in my country.
My friend Zohurul, who watched me driving his car on a parking lot near his house, said: “Maswood Bhai, you are an ace driver. There is no reason I find for which you should fail. What you have to do is pretend that you are alert while you appear in the next road test. Always move your head right and left while parking and changing lanes in addition to putting on the right indicator light”.
So, I fixed an immediate appointment with the same MVA office for my second ‘driving skill test’ on a Saturday, April 23, two days after my first failure. This time, I became a real actor. I was alert, always watching on my right and left, turning my head over my shoulder giving an impression to the examiner that I am prepared for any car coming on my way.
There are two parts in the ‘driving skill test’: one inside a closed compound with road markings, stop signs and red cones denoting parking areas. I was asked by the examiner, this time a male examiner, to put on different switches and signals like emergency blinking, right indicator, left indicator, brakes, windshield wipers, windshield washers, high-beaming and low-beaming of headlights etc.
Then I was asked to enter a nearby fenced compound which I did following all the road signals like “Stop” signs and making sure that the wheels of my car didn’t touch the untouchable lines and areas. I was first asked to do a ‘parallel parking’ within three minutes. I did the parallel parking, a test most learners fail to pass, in about a minute in perfect manner. The examiner said: “Good”. In my interior mono-reply, I said in my thought: “Mr. Examiner, you don’t know how Maswood used to drive in Dhaka. Parallel parking, to him, on a parking lot is like taking an ice-cream. He used to park his car right on the edge of a deep open drain in a perfect parallel, never veering into the drain. One who can drive in Dhaka can drive anywhere in the world!”
After I had passed the easier part of the driving test inside the compound I was asked by the examiner to go to the main road. I breezed through the entire on-road test for about 25 minutes without committing any notable mistake. As I was asked to park inside the MVA office the examiner said: “Mr. Maswood, you have qualified. But, mind you, you have to practice a lot to get yourself used with the American roads and highways”. I felt great! As I was handed my first driver’s license within half an hour I exclaimed in my thought: “I have passed an examination. Thank you, God!”
A driver’s license to an American, especially to an immigrant, is more essential than any other license. A Bangladeshi friend of mine, who is an immigrant to the USA, said: “A Driver’s License is the second Green Card in America. If you can’t drive a car in America you may have to starve. The first thing an employer will ask you is whether you have a Driver’s License or not.” Living in America without a Driver’s License is like trying to walk without legs. Driving license is a dire necessity for a man or a woman of any age for sheer living in America. Driving in America is also a great pleasure to perk up your mind when you are bored with monotony and need a break badly.
Of course, there are advantages too to not driving: You don’t have to pay for registration for your car you don’t have a monthly car payment you don’t have to pay to get your car inspected you have no upkeep on your vehicle, so you don’t have to pay for parts or labor when it breaks down you don’t have to spend almost $4.00/gallon for gas. Still, the advantages of driving a car far outweigh the disadvantages, if you can afford to buy or hire a car for your living in America.
There are certain keystone events in every man and woman’s life that are memorable: Going to a cinema hall to watch a movie unaccompanied by a guardian, attending a prom with a friend, getting your first driver’s license, getting married, the birth of your first child—each of these ubiquitous rites of passage conjures up images of excitement and pride. We all develop romantic and intense expectations regarding these events in our life.
For an American teen, getting a driver’s license can be one of the most anticipated milestones in his or her adolescence. A Driver’s License signals a great freedom and also a lot of new responsibilities. It’s a new road, literally, in a teen’s progress toward becoming an adult. It is an independence of an American teen from his or her Mom and/or Dad, a new status that comes with having his or her own set of wheels, even if those wheels are borrowed.
Life in America is full of thrills if you come here when you are young and drive for thousands of miles on roads and highways like free birds flying in the free sky!
The other day, as I was waiting in the lobby of MVA office at Beltsville, I was enamored by one teenager’s exhilarations. She was perhaps in her late teens. She looked restless. The moment her call waiting number was announced in the public address system and displayed on the screen board she jumped to her feet and rushed to the designated counter. As she was handed her new Driver’s License she screamed in ecstasy and kissed the license. I was watched her thrills and fancied: “I had to be young as the girl was to enjoy the kicks of getting the driver’s license for the first time in life”.
Hundreds of Bangladeshis are arriving at America as legal immigrants. Some Bangladeshis, especially those who won Diversity Visa lottery to get immigration to the USA, may find living in America very difficult if they don’t get an American Driver’s License. In the winter, when there are snowfalls and in the summer when the weather is inclement, a Bangladeshi may not find a job or even lose a job if s/he can’t drive.
When driving in the US, there are obvious traffic rules and regulations that are different to what we are used to in Bangladesh, where we drive on the left hand side of the road. But, driving in America means you must adapt to driving on the right! In America, one must be aware that the speeding limit in front of schools is 15mph when the warning lights flash. By law traffic in both directions must stop for the benefit of a school bus, which has flashing lights. Such rules are strictly set in stone and there are severe penalties for transgressors. And, drinking and driving is strictly forbidden.
I would advise my Bangladeshi brothers and sisters to learn driving in Bangladesh and get a Bangladeshi Driving License before s/he proceeds to America. A driving license issued by BRTA is deemed a valid document by the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) in America and such a license would help a Bangladeshi immigrant apply for out-of-country driving privilege and free him or her from the time and expenditure on 3-month course in a driving school. A little practice of driving in Bangladesh would greatly help one pass the driving tests for getting a driving license. With the increase of road accidents MVA has of late toughened the process of examinations and tests on driving. Even Americans, who were born here, fail these complicated and rigorous tests.
Most of my friends and relations drive cars with ‘automatic transmission’ and I find such cars not really sexy. I much enjoy the control and connection to the car that only a manual transmission with a clutch provides. Now that I have a driving license I wish I could drive a car along the windy mountain roads with the wind blowing through my hair as I would shift at the right moments, brake at the right times, and hit each apex with precision to enjoy the sights and sounds of America with the warm weather and the excitement of spring perfectly timed! The best way to fully appreciate the beauty of America in this great season is to hire a car to get around.
– From Maryland, USA. The writer can be connected via email@example.com