July 30th — I was driving with my girlfriend the other day and we were comparing shortcomings – poor time management, feeding our kids pigs in a blanket for dinner (her, not me), not washing our face every night before bed (that was totally me) and so on. It evolved to one of those silly chats where we were trying to top each other.
I have an expired driver’s license.
“That’s not that bad. How long has it been expired?”
“Over two years.”
“Two years? Are you kidding? That’s unreal…I can’t believe you haven’t been caught. That is WAY illegal.”
“I know. But I am a very good driver,” I said. I couldn’t help the lame Rainman riff. So sue me. Or arrest me as I do have an expired license.
And it was true. In addition to being a very good driver, I am a very alert driver. Speeding tickets? Not since college. Expired registration? Not since college. Expired license plates? Not since college. Expired license? Not since I turned 40 and could not find EIGHT uninterrupted hours to drive myself to the DMV and get a new license without my kids. Since then, all air travel required my passport, which is a slight hassle. And I was always slightly worried that the bank would decline to cash a check with an old license. So the hassle of living life with an expired license outweighed the hassle of spending an entire day in line at the DMV with the rest of the world.
So here’s what happens when you show up at the DMV with a license that’s been expired for more than two years.
Before you leave the house, you find your birth certificate, your marriage license, your passport, a utility bill that documents your address, a compass, a water canteen and a notarized copy of your last will and testament. After all, who knows when you’ll be back, right?
Then you drive across town first thing in at the crack of dawn, fighting traffic in the lame hope that you might be first in line. Which never, ever happens because there are always people waiting in line at the DMV, no matter what the time of day. Even on holidays.
Once you arrive at the office, you are immediately triaged, just like in the ER. Paperwork in check? Go to that desk. New citizen and first-time license? No chance, friend, head on home and wait for a better day.
And if you’re me, you you call your insurance company in a panic and beg them to fax Form E#12583482373543495873489572348957438754 post-haste to the wide, bored, good ole boy DMV officer sitting at a special desk in a roped off area of the DMV office. Because out of the reams of paperwork I bring to the DMV to document my birth, my marriage, my citizenship, my home state and where I want my children to reside in the case of my untimely death, but I don’t bring Form E#12583482373543495873489572348957438754. Once he receives proof that you own and drive an insured vehicle, you take a number (like at the deli), grab a study guide for the NC Driving Exam and take a load off.
I sit between a woman with a newborn baby and a woman in a floor-length burqua. I can’t focus on the study guide – there are too many compelling questions than how to make a left hand turn in traffic. I mean when’s the last time I’ve even been in a DMV office? Well, apparently, not in this millenium it seems. This place is practically brimming over with sights to see.
First, why would a brand new mom with a brand new baby be at the DMV…by herself…with a newborn baby… in a germy, gross, smelly office with lots of nasty, germ-infested people. I know I took a shower this morning, but I can only vouch for myself, and all these people are cooing and fussing over this tiny little baby. I mean, if you want to show off your baby, can’t you go to the park? Or to the grocery? And I can assure you that getting a license photo taken days after giving birth was not going to happen in my lifetime. Don’t new moms get some kind of temporary DMV exemption? Can’t they have one of those shadow heads in the photo?
Next, I turn to the woman in the floor-length burqua. Where to begin? Does she have to show her face in her license photo? Does she take the test in English (which she speaks not a lick up, by the way). Can she drive with her face covered? Is that fair? Is that legal? Is that attractive? Is that a good idea for me?
I can’t study for this silly little test. The DMV is a study of humanity and I can’t seem to turn away.
Until they finally call my number and I’m seated in front of the senior-level, official looking DMV officer who starts furiously typing and interrogating me with questions. His name is Officer Carr and as he is inputting my information, he breaks the news that in addition to taking the driving exam I have to take the road test.
I nearly choke on my Diet Coke. “Um, excuse me, Officer Carr. Could you repeat that? I thought I heard you say that I would have to take the road test.”
“That’s right, Mrs. Muller,” Officer Carr replied, looking over his glasses with a look so bored and so done with me he might as well have said “I am so over you spoiled little Junior League moms thinking they can float on over to Albemarle Road when the mood hits and float right out of here with a shiny new license.” He didn’t say it, of course, but he might as well have.
What he did say was this. “All persons with a license expired more than one year are required to take the road test. And it appears your license has been expired for over two years. Is that right, Mrs. Muller?”
“Um, yes, that’s right. But Officer Carr, I don’t think I’ve taken a road test since, well,” (I was doing some quick math in my head, not a strong suit) “since 1983. Do they still have the cars with brakes on the passenger’s side?” I was trying to offer some levity and to reinforce the fact that I was FORTY FREAKIN’ TWO YEARS OLD !
“Mrs. Muller, I don’t know where you took your driving road test. But these days, you are required to take the driving test in your own vehicle. You do have a licensed and insured vehicle on property?”
That set off a whole other set of worries – do I even have any gas? How many soda cans and Chik-Fil-A wrappers will come banging out when he opens the door to climb in my filthy SUV? Does my car still smell like fermented chocolate milk? Am I going to have to parallel park? If I fail, will someone have to come get me? I mean, you can’t really LEAVE the DMV without a valid license and get in a car and just drive away, can you? Don’t they have spotters or something?
So Officer Carr types away, asking questions, confirming facts. I answer promptly, with lots of yes sirs and no sirs. I work to appear to contrite. Which at the point, is easy. I can’t believe I let this happen. I am 42 years old, far too old to be sitting here, hat in hand, with an expired license, at the mercy of the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles.
“Mrs. Muller, I’m going to ask you to step over to the exam area the written test. You will be taking the test in English, correct?”
“What are my options?” I ask, working at a bit of levity. I don’t know why I’m bent on getting Officer Carr to like me…even just a little bit. But the man can’t be broken.
“English or Spanish. Are you bi-lingual, Mrs. Muller? Would you prefer to take the test in Spanish?”
“No sir, I reply, I’m not. English is just fine.” I look down at a chewed thumbnail.
“There are 25 questions on the test. To pass, you must score an 80 or better on the test. Do you know how many questions you must get correct, Mrs. Muller?”
I’m working hard now.
“I need to get 20 questions correct to pass, Officer Carr,” I respond.
“Very good, Mrs. Muller.” He acted genuinely impressed. “Are you a school teacher?” He asked, looking over his glasses at me.
“No sir. I just had some good ones along the way. But an 80? That seems kinda high. What happened to the 70 as a standard passing grade?”
“Twenty out of 25 questions, Mrs. Muller. I hope you studied. If you fail, you can take the test once more. But you should know, there are five tests that rotate randomly in the computers. You can’t study to the test as you’ll never know which test you’ll get. It’s better to have studied all the material.”
Okay, folks, it’s not going to give away the ending when I tell you that I didn’t study ANY OF THE MATERIAL. And we don’t need to get into all the reasons why, the least of which is that I was dumb enough to assume that since I’ve been driving for TWENTY SIX YEARS – what don’t I know about U-turns, merge lanes and parallel parking?
And besides, that woman in the burqua was taking her test and I was dying to know if she passed. And that’s when I was seized with a burst of confidence. There are some pretty thick people driving cars, trucks and Harleys in the state of North Carolina and they managed to pass the test. How hard can it be? If some lactating new mom could pass this test, with raging hormones and no sleep, surely I could pass it.
I needed to be focused, logical and calm. And I needed to borrow heavily from my daughter’s test taking strategy – take your time, read all the questions thoroughly, rule out the obvious, answer the questions you know and then come back to the ones you don’t.
So I sat down, put on my earphones and started cranking through the test. Here is the weird thing. You know RIGHT THEN if you answered the question correctly. This saves everyone time. So if you miss the first six questions, there’s really no need to answer the last 19 – you’ve already flunked and they send you away to hitch a ride home with your mom. Likewise, if you don’t miss one question, you only end up answering 20 questions instead of 25 — you’ve passed with the requisite 20 correct answers so why worry about a higher score? Apparently, the DMV settles for chronic mediocrity – everyone makes an 80 – OR NOT. That says a lot, don’t you think?
I score my 80 with one question remaining. Whew. I would like to know that All the questions I miss have to do with drinking and driving – how much time I would serve if convicted of drunk driving, how much time I would serve if I bought alcohol for an underage driver, how much would I pay in court costs/fines if I was pulled for drunk driving, etc. It seems silly, do you think people AREN’T going to do these things because they studied for and learned about the horrible legal ramifications of drunk driving on their DMV test? BTW, any questions that had to do with, say, actual driving? I aced those…I am a very good driver, you know.
I am relieved. This whole saga is taking more energy than I imagined. I head back to Officer’s Carr desk, ready for my next assignment. I feel like I’m in college interviews – the essay, the standardized tests, meeting with admissions.
Officer Carr looks at me. “Congratulations, Mrs. Muller, you passed with written portion of the test.”
“Thank you, Office Carr. It was touch and go there for a while.”
I thought I saw a little, ever so slight pull at the corner of his mouth.
“Mrs Muller, it is within a DMV officer’s consideration to waive the need for a road test if he or she thinks it appropriate.
I look closely at Officer Carr. He can’t be serious! “Officer Carr, I am hoping that today might be my lucky day and that you might consider it appropriate to waive my road test.”
“Indeed it is, Mrs. Muller, your lucky day, courtesy of the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles. It seems you have an outstanding driving record, despite your lapsed license.” he said, finally cracking a slight, just barely perceptible smile.
“Office Carr, I cannot thank you enough,” I say. And with that, I gather up my reams of paperwork, write my $35 check and bounce over to the “picture” station where I cheese out to the camera.
I just LOVE the DMV.