A Long, Strange Trip

August 3, 2007

People often have landmarks in their life. For many it’s when they’re old enough to drive, or when they’re old enough to vote, or when they’re old enough to drink. In my case if you add when I was old enough to drink to when I was old enough to drive, well, mixing those two is a bad idea.

Let me start over. I’ve known for many years that a driver’s license would be a good thing to have. For one thing when I get asked for identification and hand over my Commander USA Fan Club card people tend to look at me a little funny. Pardon me, but it does say that the signatory promises to remain an all around good guy forever. Sure! For another thing if I’m ever driving along and get pulled over a cop is probably going to do more than look at me funny when I hand over the card that declares me an official tan line inspector.

But I digress. I took driver’s ed, but that was a few years ago, so I decided the first thing I needed was a learner’s permit. You can’t learn without one, just like you can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.

But I digress. So I went down to the DMV, taking my state-issued ID card. It had expired, but I figured, this is the same place where I got it, so it should still be a valid ID, right? Wrong. I knew I was in trouble when I saw the woman behind the counter, the same woman who’d flunked me on two previous driving tests. She had an eggplant-shaped body, buck teeth, and a beehive hairdo that scraped the ceiling. Also, I’m pretty sure that red rubber stamp that says, "FAIL" is permanently attached to her hand. She explained, politely speaking at the top of her lungs, that the only valid form of identification she would accept was a birth certificate. Now, it’s been a few years since I was born, and if I was given a certificate I don’t remember, mainly because I was a little distracted at the time. All I do remember clearly is seeing some guy with a mask over his face and asking him, "Is this a stickup or a re you just ugly?" Of course I didn’t tell any of this to Bee Hive, and, in fact, I barely managed to escape having the word "FAIL" printed on me as I dashed out the door. After doing a little checking around I found I could get a copy of my birth certificate downtown from a nice woman who sits behind bulletproof plastic, because, you know, there’s no place more dangerous than a records department. So I went back to the DMV. For reasons of dramatic tension I didn’t mention previously that I went by bus. Of six DMV offices in the county the bus only goes to one, on a special route that runs every two hours. Strictly speaking the bus actually goes near it. And strictly speaking it depends on how you define "near". For instance, at 27 light years, or one hundred fifty eight million, three hundred seventy thousand million miles, the star Vega is "close" to Earth.

But I digress. Once I got out of the bus I had to cross an interstate exit ramp, climb a hill, cross a busy road, then navigate through a parking lot where teenagers were zipping in and out, either taking their driving tests or celebrating getting their license. Why is it so difficult to get to the DMV by bus? Because anyone who needs to go to the DMV drives there. No one takes the bus there, and by no one I mean me and five other people: three students, a woman with a baby, and a guy who I’m pretty sure was older than me. And since it was January the DMV employees were generous enough to let us and about thirty other people stand outside on the sidewalk. As the crowd inside thinned out we were allowed to enter the building in groups of three. I was given a ticket with A223 printed on it and took a seat by the window, waiting for my number to be called. At one point a man walked through the crowd, stopped to look around at us, and said, "See y’all in five years." I wasn’t so optimistic. After calling A220, then A221, then A222, the DMV loudspeaker started calling for B187, then C075. I was afraid they’d decided to skip me entirely, but then my number was up. I handed in my application, fee, and sat down at a computer to answer forty-seven questions about whether or not tractors carrying hazardous waste are required to stop at four-way railroad tracks with a blood alcohol level of 3.1459276 in the rain at night. Finally I finished and joined my fellow bus riders across the street at the bus stop for a two-hour wait. Six of us went in. Five came out empty-handed.

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