Time To Renew (December 1999)

I have been afraid of the Secretary of State ever since I accidentally machine washed my driver’s license the week after I earned it. It was in the back pocket of my jeans along with a wad of tissue and I never checked before I tossed them in the washer. Neither survived. At the tender age of 16 I had to prostrate myself before a large civil servant who stood behind a huge counter and had the power to revoke my driving privileges forever. Or so I thought. I was lectured at, harrumphed at, and forced to take a number and wait --- even though there was no one in front of me. I think she told everyone in the state what I had done, including the mailman who delivered the replacement license 6 weeks later. He wagged his finger at me, and told me not to wash this one. Despite almost 30 years of driving without so much as a parking ticket every subsequent trip to the Secretary of State has been traumatic.

I renew by mail whenever I can. This year, however, it was time for a new picture and I had to go in person. Like the mature and intelligent adult female that I am, I waited until I was having a good hair day. I put on blush and lipstick and enough hair spray to keep my split-ends in place in 40 M.P.H. winds. I looked good. I felt good, and I was not about to be intimidated.

And I wasn’t. I was shocked. Something must have changed. It was almost fun! All the clerks I remembered from previous visits have been transferred back to the gulag. The carpet was new. The office smelled nice. Most of the lights worked and the people behind the counters were actually friendly!

I am happy to report that the state of Michigan has finally switched over to licenses that look more like credit cards instead of glossy paper. They even have digital video cameras and with just a little whining will allow you to pick from a selection of several “proofs” before committing your face to plastic for another 3 years. You can even donate organs on the back! Now it only takes 10 days for the license to arrive by mail. That’s progress!

The woman working the camera actually smiled at me as we tried to adjust my head to the perfect angle so the flash wouldn’t bounce off my glasses and break the camera, and yet keep me from having a double chin in the picture. I took a glorious picture and was ready to leave when she caught me half way out the door with the test. What test? I had forgotten. My heart sank, my blush fell off, and the big, stiff hair I walked in with was now flat around my ears and stuck to my forehead. I had to take a written test to renew my license. Great.

And I couldn’t do it at the counter, pretending like I was getting tabs for my license plates. No, I had to take the test and a #2 pencil and go sit in the pretend classroom way over at the other end of the room where everybody could stare at me. Sixteen cold, metal folding chairs with flip-up arms that only right-handed people can write on, all facing front. As soon as I sat down I forgot everything I ever knew about driving. Panic took hold. I would have to walk home.

Then I read the test. Pa-LEEZ. Who wrote this thing? Who could FAIL this thing? They had questions like...

You're driving along and see a person
with a white cane. You should:
            a) yield the right of way.
            b) sneak up behind them and blow
                your horn.
            c) run them over.

In a construction zone you should:
            a) drive the speed limit.
            b) go as fast as you want.
            c) go double the posted speed,
                but only on the right shoulder.

When entering a freeway you should:
            a) merge with the flow of traffic.
            b) enter at light speed.
            c) come to a complete stop at the
                bottom of the ramp and have a
                Chinese fire drill.

OK, so I guessed what to do when making a left turn while hauling a boat, but we don’t have a boat and if we ever get one I promise never to turn it.

I double checked my answers, drew a smiley face on top, and printed my name carefully in the upper right hand corner, with the date and the time. On the walk back across the room my blush returned and my hair was beginning to inflate again. I triumphantly handed it to the clerk who proceeded to flip it into the waste paper basket!

I couldn’t believe it. “Don’t you want to check the answers?” I blurted. Trying to placate me (she noticed my coiffure receding again) she glanced at one side, yawned, and said, “You passed.” (She didn’t even LOOK at the back!) I was shocked! I bet I got 100%. I should have gotten a gold star! The lazy thing! At the very least she should have stapled it to something and put it in a manila file folder. Nope, she just chucked it!

Disbelieving, I wandered towards the door, periodically looking over my shoulder, waiting for her to call me back to the counter for the recognition I so deserved. Maybe a congratulatory song with clapping and stomping, like the waiters do in restaurants when it’s your birthday. Nothing.

Having gone through far too many emotions in my 12-minute adventure I decided to go home and take a nap. At least I got a great drivers license picture out of the deal.

I should have known better. When it came in the mail 10 days later I learned the woman was a total incompetent. Not only didn’t she recognize my superior test-taking abilities, she punched the wrong button on the computer. That certainly was NOT the picture I had OK’d before the test! You can’t see the color of my eyes through the reflection on my glasses, I’ve got a double chin hanging down halfway to my navel, I’m way off to the left, and a big chunk of hair is sticking up! Not only that, but it says STATE OF MICHIGAN across my forehead. What kind of picture is THAT?! I put it right in the washing machine. With bleach. (c) 1999 by Ami Simms.