Tuesday, May 22, 2012

They Can't Take That Away From me

Today I had to take a driver's test - written and vision - to renew my license before my birthday in late June. Of the seven states in which I have been licensed to drive, California has the toughest test so I was nervous. (Vermont's had only three questions, as I recall.) When we moved here 14 years ago Flip, a native Californian, was able to get his license reinstated but I had to take the exam. Since I had been driving since age 16, I didn't bother to read the driver's manual and failed. There are a lot of rules which are specific to California. So I read the entire book which includes such gems as "Do not shoot firearms on a highway or at traffic signs," returned the next day and passed, despite a lack of experience with firearms.

Today's test was required because of an accident I had in 2009. I was especially anxious because Flip is now in a nursing home across San Francisco Bay and I drive to see him every day. Public transportation from here to there is extremely inconvenient, but at some point everyone should stop driving and I hope I will be aware and responsible enough to recognize when that time comes, before anyone gets hurt. Thankfully, I won't have to deal with that particular disaster just yet.

Traffic within the vast DMV building was directed by a large, pleasant Philippine gentleman with dyed orange hair who missed his calling as a circus ringmaster. I began to think things might go well when I was first directed to window 6, my favorite number and birth month, and then to window 24, my birthday. The woman who took my picture was so slow I was sure I had actually broken the camera, but unfortunately it was her printer that jammed. She directed me and the people behind me to another window at the other end of the building and did not show me the picture until it was too late to object. If I am ever stopped for anything, they will be sure I did it and also that I am a particularly muttly extraterrestrial. Cameras do that to me. I was finger printed at each counter. They weren't taking any chances.

 I was glad I had read the handbook again last night. The two people ahead of me failed, and the woman at the checking station didn't bother to tell me I had passed (100%.) Apparently she was unaware that I was holding my breath, fervently wishing I were a rosary bead kind of person. Finally, she handed me the temporary paperwork and said my license would be mailed in 4-6 weeks, about when my present one expires. I would have liked a formal statement and maybe a 21-gun salute since they probably have all those confiscated firearms around, but still, it was a day well spent. And the piece of celebratory chocolate cake was, well, the icing on the cake. Priceless.


Cro Magnon said...

When my late father was still quite young he crashed his fast Jaguar, and was told he'd have to re-sit his test. He couldn't be bothered, so my mother drove everywhere.

Paula said...

Congratulations! In your situation, especially, I know you were worried. I have to renew my license next month, too, (no test). It's only one day out of every four years, but one of my least favorite. I am nervous about the eye test. I wear reading glasses and absolutely do not need glasses to see traffic signs or navigate my way around the world. They would actually distort my vision. But I have a fear of not being able to see clearly with my face right on that screen you put your head on. Sure, I could pull my reading glasses out of my purse and pass, but then my license would be marked as requiring glasses, which distort my vision for everything but reading, which is the only time I need them.

My husband is starting to have days when he doesn't feel competent to drive--too slow getting the signal to move from the brain to the feet!--, so I am having to drive a lot.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Cro Magnon,

I believe the proper term is "cawn't be arsed." My favorite Britishism. My father had Jaguars and I lusted to drive them, but was never allowed. In retrospect, I think perhaps it had something to do with my totaling his Packard at 17.


I am also far-sighted and use glasses only for reading. I was worried about the exact same things you are, that I would have to use my glasses to pass the vision test and have a conditional license. I thought if that happened I would keep a pair of clear lens glasses in the car in case I was ever stopped. The SF DMV doesn't use those screens, though - they have eye charts set up some distance away and I managed to pass.

Paula said...

Susan, the thing we fear actually happened to my mother recently. she only passed by using the glasses in her purse, and now has "must wear glasses" on her license. She's 82 and doesn't drive much, but still, it's one more thing to worry her.

PeterAtLarge said...

100%! I'm impressed! Congratulations! I just managed to squeak by, last time around. Hate those trick questions... And you make a good point, about knowing when to stop. I dread having to make that decision, one of these days.

Secret Agent Woman said...

Good for you. But it seems silly to me that they made you take a test. If they were worried, why not require it immediately, rather than after you've been driving for three years since the accident without incident?

I get my license renewed this year (we have a "drive for five" thing, where you get your license on ages ending in 0 and 5) and I worry about the reading glasses issue, too. The last time my grandmother got hers before she dies, she had very bad vision, but she listened to the person in front of her and memorized the correct answers to the vision test. Crafty, but totally unsafe!

mischief said...

Congratulations on being a legal driver. Wow, I had no idea driving laws were so different, nor licensing laws, in different places. Here, I just "renew" my license every five years, which only means showing up for a new picture that reflects my mug a bit more accurately. No test, no nothing. I kind of like the idea of being driven everywhere, though, if only it weren't such a hassle. I really don't like driving particularly. It's one of those careful-what-you-wish-for things though, isn't it? I am grateful I have the option.

nick said...

That's a bit of a bummer having to retake the test when you move to another state. Also a bummer having to renew every 5 years. In the UK renewal is every 10 years until you're 70 and then it's more frequent.

You must have been relieved to have passed, given as you say you need to drive in order to visit Flip.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Good luck with your mother's driving. Some people are relatively youthful with good reflexes at 82. I hope to be one of them.


Not driving would change everything and I dread the day it is necessary.


They can't require a driver's test until the present one expires, which mine does on my birthday in one month. I gave myself extra time in case I didn't pass so I could do over before the deadline.


I have always liked to drive. I like cars, like the feeling of driving except in traffic jams, of course. And many other people's driving makes me nervous - I must be a control freak.


CA is the only state of all I've lived in that required a test even though I had a valid license from another one. I once had valid licenses from NY, MA, and VT at the same time.


Paula said...

I have seen another blogger reporting having trouble accessing her own blog.

Anonymous said...

Your opener made me think of THE MAN WITH TWO BRAINS, a pretty bad Steve Martin movie, but I recalled the scene where he gets pulled over by a cop and is given a sobriety test. Walking a straight line snowballs to juggling and handstands. At some point, he says, "Man, your drunk tests are hard."

This is a happy story, one with a glorious ending (even without a 21 gun salute) for I was worried - you and the DMV had trouble written all over it. Yeah, for Susan.

Maria said...

Wow. Luckily, I'm accident free, so all I had to do was update info on the computer and voila! I was good for 7 more years.

nick said...

The new Blogger interface is a pain to start with, it's totally different from the old one. And I find it only works properly with Google Chrome, which doesn't have the same visual sharpness.

I find I can move the pic to a different position with the click and drag technique. Haven't had any problems with paragraph breaks though. In fact they're less prone to glitches than the old interface.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Blogger seems to have switched me to the newer format which I rejected when it was first introduced. I am really struggling, just when I've decided to start posting more often again. Sigh.


That sounds like a very funny movie, which I've never seen. I was once stopped and forced to take a sobriety test which was bizarre as I don't drink at all. I was leaving a job at 2:30 am and so exhausted from working over 14 hours that I was wobbly on the road. The officer couldn't understand why his tests didn't show any liquor consumption.


Yeah, let that be a lesson to me. I had actually forgotten the accident until I asked at the DMV why I had to take a test and was told I must have had one. I thought it was age-discrimination.


I've never heard of Google Chrome. I was simply unable to post a picture to my blog although it apparently downloaded. The whole process of adding images is different and I truly hate it.