Thursday, September 3, 2009


Sorry not to have produced this newsletter any earlier. But you know what summer is! I have two main topics in this edition - picnics and driving tests. But before I get into those, a quick weather update. Summer finally arrived here in NE Pennsylvania on August 10th this being the first time the temperature got into the nineties since April. Mind you, as far as I am concerned it has been lovely all the time as anything above 68f is OK with me! Currently we are enjoying what is probably the best week of the summer, no rain and wall to wall sunshine. At least it has been too wet for any wildfires unlike those being suffered in California.

Anyway to the main topics. Picnics in America are unlike any we have in England. Most public parks have picnic pavilions which are fitted out with tables, seats, electricity, barbeques, and sometimes refrigerators too. Our nearest, which is also an amusement park, is Knoebels. We go there twice in July, firstly to the Friends and Family Reunion which Joanie organises and, at the end of the month, the Church Picnic.

Knoebels is an amazing place, it costs nothing to park the car or to use a pavilion (which you book in advance of course) with the attendant facilities, nor is there any entrance charge imposed. All revenue is obtained from the rides, these are mainly of the traditional sort, timber rollercoasters, merry go rounds etc etc and from the many restaurants and speciality food kiosks dotted about the site. The car park is vast and has it’s own transport system for the customers. The cost of the rides is certainly not excessive, the average cost is about $1.50 I think - definitely less than Chessington or Oulton Towers! It is without doubt a cheap day out even allowing for the petrol cost of a 11/2 hour drive. All in all, we had two great days there.

Now to my next topic - obtaining a Pennsylvania Drivers License. I am bringing this subject up because this morning I finally passed the test and got one of my very own - after two previous attempts I have to say! The system here is totally different. Firstly you have to obtain a Learner’s Permit, but before this is issued there is a multiple choice theory test to be passed. Now when I went, I didn’t realise this and consequently failed it. So I read the manual thoroughly, went back the following day and passed. Next was the hurdle of the driving test proper. At that time, the Local Centre was not conducting tests, so I had to book at another centre and settled on one at Allentown, about an hour’s drive away. That was when I started to realise just how different things are here. The first thing is that you sit in the car, with the seatbelt on, while the examiner checks that you are competent in the use of the car’s ancillary controls. OK, simple so far, but when I was told to turn on the headlights, because they come on as soon as the Impala is put into drive, I honestly didn’t know how to do it!! - the examiner showed me so that was not a good start by any means. So, having had my confidence shaken, I was told to drive to a coned off bay and parallel park. This I made a total hash of; now one thing about these tests is, if you fail the parallel parking, the test is over. So I never got out onto the road. The next time I booked at Shamokin, about 45 minutes away. This was, in my opinion, the worse possible place for driving tests as the office was located in a shopping plaza. You know what such places are like, especially when all the Mums collect the Kids and do last minute shopping. Anyway, I got the headlights on OK and did the parallel parking, The examiner then directed me to the exit road to the plaza; now this was in effect a short stretch of divided highway, he had bought me out of the parking lanes to the end of this road, but, due to the slope and my total unfamiliarity with the area, I could not see the other part of the road and accordingly went straight ahead - on the wrong side of the road!! This was another fault marking the premature end of test number two. Not a good day by any account and it was pouring down all the time.

So this morning I went to the local centre at Schuylkill Haven and actually managed to turn on all the Impala’s lights, parallel park without demolishing the bay and successfully negotiate the actual driving bit. But I have to say that the test was not, in my opinion, a test at all. All it involved was driving around two blocks of almost deserted residential roads, there was no driving on the nearby Route 61, a fast divided highway or in nearby Schuylkill Haven proper with it’s many city traffic hazards. And this is the last test a sixteen year old has to take, I can understand why the accident rate is so high over here. There is no advanced test such as is available in Britain. Still I got my license now and I feel good about it as I have been using my UK licence (out of date by three months) to drive. At least it doesn’t cost anything extra for the driving tests. When I collected the Learner’s Permit I paid a once only charge of $33 (twenty pounds) This covered the issue of the permit and as many tests as it takes to pass, the permit is valid for one year, and may be extended if necessary, and the number of test attempts is unlimited. I now have a temporary photo card license, valid for two weeks during which time the equivalent of the DVLA at Harrisburg (State Capital) will send me the permanent card.

Maybe you are wondering why this has taken so long, after all I have been here for almost eighteen months, well until you get your “Green Card” you cannot apply for any licence. My Green Card only arrived in mid-June, six months late, and that was after I had written to our Congressman over the excessive delay.

So you see the differences between two ordinary things here and in Britain. I never imagined it to be so.

Until next time