Last month, I was back in Southern California for my semi-annual medical appointments. My first task was to rummage through the stack of mail that my daughter had set aside during my absence. It is always a crapshoot as to whether I find pleasant or unpleasant surprises. This time, I rolled “snake eyes.” There was a letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) notifying me that my driver’s license was about to expire.
This sneaks up on me every five years. I used to be able to just send in a check and they would mail me back my renewed license. They didn’t even bother requiring an updated picture. So for decades, my license had the photo of what I looked like 20 years ago. It was my own personal fountain of youth.
Unfortunately, the DMV does not rely on my photograph to determine my age. They know my birthday. And it turns out, I’m now so old that they will no longer renew my license unless I come to their office to take the vision test and the written exam.
The last time I took the written exam was when I moved to California in 1987. Back then, gas was less than a dollar a gallon. And the application question about my sex had only two possible answers. Who knows how many it has now? This is California, after all.
I rushed over the local DMV office to get a copy of the California Driver’s Handbook so I could bone up on all the latest information. They have the booklets printed in ten different languages. There were plenty of copies of the Armenian and Punjabi versions available, but the clerk had trouble finding me a copy in English. She said most people read it on line. I didn’t want to admit I’m a Neanderthal when it comes to computers. She might decide that disqualifies me from renewing my license. Fortunately, she was able to scrape up a dog-eared copy for me. Over the years, the booklet has grown to 92 pages.
I wanted to get my license renewed before my scheduled eye surgery the following week. I didn’t want my photo I.D. for the next five years to look like an ad for Pirates of the Caribbean. Fortunately, I was able to schedule an appointment for the next day so I wouldn’t have to stand in line out in the hot sun and triple-digit temperatures. But, I only had one night to memorize all the road signs, blood alcohol levels, stopping distances and other minutia that might be on the exam. My only salvation was that if you had trouble with one of the questions, you could click a button marked “Skip to Next Question.” You were allowed to skip three questions without being penalized.
The next day, I showed up on time for my appointment and whisked through all the application forms. By the way, there were still only two choices on sex. I even managed to pass the vision test with flying colors. Well actually, there was no testing regarding colors. Thank heavens, because I have difficulty telling red from green. How important could that be when driving a car?
So now it was time for the written test. Actually there was no writing involved. The whole test is conducted on touch-screen computers. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough of them for all the applicants, so we had to wait in line. But they didn’t want us milling around the exam room and possibly seeing some of the questions and answers. So they sent us to wait, you guessed it, outside in the hot sun and triple-digit temperatures. Worse yet, there was a car alarm blaring away in the parking lot the whole time I was waiting outside. And just to show you how effective car alarms are, during the entire half hour this was going on outside a government building crawling with police officers, not one of them came out to investigate.
To add insult to injury, a middle-aged woman who was sitting on the only bench in the waiting area got up and offered me her seat. What the hell, lady? Do I look that old and decrepit? I thanked her, and declined. I haven’t reached the point where I need sympathy from some Brownie troop den mother bucking for a merit badge.
Finally my name was called and I took my place in front of one of the computer screens. I glanced at the guy next to me to see if I could sneak a peek at his screen if I were in a pinch. But alas, he was taking the test in Chinese. Or was it Vietnamese. Or Korean. It’s all Greek to me. In fact the California test is offered in 32 languages, including a couple I’d never heard of. In what country do they speak Amheric? (Skip to Next Question.)
I finally finished the test and managed to squeak by with only a few mistakes. Oddly enough, there were no questions about identifying various traffic signs. I had wasted half the night memorizing them for nothing. Instead there were questions like “What is the penalty for dumping or abandoning an animal on a California highway?” Hell, I didn’t even know the penalty for dumping a human. (Skip to Next Question.)
Now, all I had to do was get my photo taken and I’d be done. On the first try, I had blinked. On the second, I definitely kept my eyes open, but looked like a deer in the headlights. The final try was OK at best, but clearly my fountain of youth had gone dry.
As I was leaving the building, a woman who was just entering asked me if they had allowed people to download a favorite photo from their cell phone rather than putting a typical mug shot on their license. “Sorry, ma’am, all I know is they put the picture of some gray-haired old man on mine.”
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