A half hour into April Fool’s Day, 2012, I was pulled over 100 yards from my exit to home. My dinner party buzz was long gone when Officer Buck-something informed me of my ten mph driving overage. And my blouse was not low enough to keep him from asking if I realized my license had been expired …for over a year and a half. “You’re sh**ing me!” I said as I squinted to see the numbers. As I received a $70 ticket for driving on an expired license and warning for speeding, I thanked him. He laughed as I said I’d probably be the only one thanking him for a ticket this week.
I know what you’re thinking. What about that license renewal notification the DMV sends you? Had I seen this reminder, I’d surely have gone straight to the DMV and renewed the daggone thing. I’m so conscientious, the moment my bank statement comes in the mail, I balance my checkbook.
Early Monday morning, I was walking into Easton’s Department of Motor Vehicles. My non-plan was to just show up and everything would turn out fine. They refer to this as denial. Outside the door, a mockingbird sang loudly in the only bush. Was the bird a symbol of my innocence soon to be crushed into a paste? After I checked in, I turned right back around to go home and fetch all the documentation Mr. Brandon said I actually needed.
See, when your license has been expired for more than a year, you have to take the knowledge and drivers tests over again. And you have to bring and do a lot of stuff for this to happen. As I drove home, I tried to remember the perfect catch phrase the characters on Seinfeld were neurotically screaming at the end of one particular episode.
Back at the DMV, a nice lady named Rochelle said, while I had proven I lived in my house, she still needed my social security card or a recent W-2 form to prove my American citizenship. My tax documents weren’t acceptable. My Social Security card had been stolen with my wallet 10 years prior and I don’t work. Cue my first teary moment. It was then that I remembered the catchphrase: Serenity Now! Serenity Now! She kindly told me where the Social Security Administration was.
I found it behind the Wal-mart 20 further miles Southeast in Cambridge. After my half hour wait accompanied by an older gentleman from Church Creek who showed me a booby picture on his phone, a nice young lady told me my expired driver’s license was not a valid form of ID. No real surprise there. My intuition had finally shown up and had warned me of this possibility. Did I have a life insurance policy handy? I got teary eyed again. How about a note from my doctor? Pshew. It was a good thing I’d been sick once or twice and had a doctor…in Easton.
I drove back to Easton to beg for the form from my doctor’s office. It needed to be signed in any color but black ink. An hour later, I handed her a form signed in red, green, and blue ink and, having sworn everything I had told her was true, she said to go home and wait for my card to come in the mail. The beatings will continue until morale improves.
I had driven 120 plus miles on my expired license and now I returned home to wait. Serenity was nowhere in sight. My shoulders were tense, my eyelid twitched and I chewed on my lip like it was dinner.
The mailman delivered my Social Security card on Thursday, April 5th. I returned to the MVA at 11:39am. Everyone else was there too. The bouncy leg of the woman next to me mirrored my anticipation of taking the written drivers test. I jealously watched as happy teenagers left with their new licenses. The speaker above me dumped a favorite Level 42 song onto my head. Then my number came up.
Ms. Rochelle, the nice woman who deserved a thank you note, was on counter number 8. But I was called up to counter number 9. My “Everything’s gonna be alright” attitude was gone Daddy gone. Something told me this gal didn’t really feel the love for her job like Ms. Rochelle did.
She had a problem with the social security card being out of its envelope. “But I just got it in the mail this morning and the envelope is in the trashcan”, I whined. She was indignant that the payment portion was missing from the bill I had brought. And that I’d ripped off the attachment to my voter’s card to fit it into my wallet. Again the tears rose. I would come undone if I took another trip home. I don’t know how I escaped her torturous clutches but I was shaken when I headed to station 11 for my test.
Again, faking it until I made it, I sat down to take the knowledge test confident of my knowledge as a seasoned veteran driver. Did you know the legal blood alcohol level in Maryland is .08% not .02 %? Erratic lane changing is a symptom of aggressive driving. You can actually use your cell phone in the car but only in emergencies. And double yellow dashes mean something other than what I guessed. I had failed the drivers test at the age of 45. The gentleman asked if this was my first time taking the test. “In thirty years”, I said. He laughed and said I could retake the test tomorrow. My text message to my friend read, “Please, kick my puppy again”.
I got the Drivers-Ed book from the library that afternoon. As I studied on my back porch, I reached up and found one of the earrings my sister had just given me was gone. Much to the dismay of my men, I began to bawl. The big man kept the little man from telling knock knock jokes to cheer me up. They allowed me my despondency for 10 minutes. Then it was bath time.
I returned Friday, now a shadow of my former confident self. I passed the test with nary a question wrong. Then the woman behind the counter had to schedule my driving skills test. Yes, schedule. The next available appointment was May 14th, a month in my non-driving future. Again, I waited to speak with the nice supervisor who gave me a direct number to call every day to ask about cancellations.
Understand, if I were caught driving on an expired license after a nice officer had given me a ticket, I’d be taken to jail. The system doesn’t pander to dingbats like me. And I’m almost un-American in my ridiculous honesty. So when I drove once to go for groceries, I could hear the heart of my expired license beating under the floorboards. The ‘Tell Tale“truck.
Someone suggested to me that I enjoy my time off. Maybe I needed to look at all of this another way. I should treat it as a break from burning gas and adding to the ozone problem. Asking for a ride didn’t seem so bad in this light. My kid rides a bus to school and there is always public transportation.
Just as I was adjusting to this new eco- friendly perspective, I caught a break. Husband and I were already headed to town when I called the DMV and there was a one o’clock opening. We ran our errands and showed up. He let me drive a little to rewet my feet and adjust my seat.
He had to sign a sheet saying he was the responsible adult. He didn’t know which to take umbrage from more, the word responsible or adult. The sweet woman laughed and pointed out that he was the responsible one because I was irresponsible enough to let my license expire. And that was the truth told in just the right way. Zing.
I was happy to see Brandon was the driving instructor. We’d already spoken several times inside the DMV. He said, while I took the test, hubby could actually go inside and renew his license. You can renew up to six months before it expires. So, of course, I‘d had eighteen months to renew my license.
While parallel parking, he hinted I needed to get closer to the curb. And he told me three times to use two hands. We chatted up our 15 minutes. He said his little brother had failed nine times. Of course I passed the test. I was so extremely grateful for Mr. Brandon and Ms. Rochelle’s kind treatment of me that I dropped thank you notes off to them two days later.
What did it all mean? The feelings of shame I felt having been outcast from the driver’s club had me searching my soul something fierce. How should I feel about my inability to renew my driver’s license or pass the driver’s test? This is what I may have learned. Dignity belongs to everyone. Losing your money or your house or your driver’s license doesn’t make you less of a person. Or less deserving of compassion. And forgiveness is a divine gift you give yourself. And be grateful because you never know when your license has expired.
Shalagh Hogan lives in Denton and writes a blog at Shalavee.com