Recently I paid a visit to my local DMV to renew my license. Back in 1986, when we first arrived in California from New York, I took a written test for the privilege of driving a car in the Golden State. Now I had to do it again. I guess every thirty-two years they want me to check in, so back I went. In 1986 when I was a slip of a thing, I didn’t bat an eyelash about taking a written test. The first time I took the test – and it seemed to have dozens of questions then – I passed without studying. This time I was very nervous. Age will do that to you. I actually read the booklet twice. There were only eighteen questions this time and you’re allowed to miss three. I only missed one. More on that later.
As a writer, I tend to observe my fellow-man, woman, and wombat. I’m not sure what a wombat is, but if one was hanging around, I would observe it. All fodder for the writing, doncha know. So that morning, as I hustled through the many plateaus of renewing my license, I observed like the dickens.
First off, probably over a thousand people pass through those doors daily. It is unbelievably well-ordered, organized chaos. But it works. Most of the people waiting didn’t have an appointment. Make note of that. If you go, have an appointment. Otherwise, you’re doomed to wait in line for hours. As I had an appointment, I can’t say I breezed through but very nearly. But appointment or not, everyone was treated well. The personnel was kind, patient and caring. Every last one of them.
And it surprised me because whether you had an appointment or not, something happens to homo sapiens when crossing that threshold. We become stupid. I’m not kidding. I felt my IQ drop to somewhere around my socks within fifteen minutes. I stammered. I stuttered. I waved any and all paperwork around like a white flag of surrender. Add to that, many people didn’t speak English well. I was quickly becoming one of them. But the multi-lingual staff handled us all with total aplomb and kindness. They smiled, they were sympathetic, but mostly they were helpful. They became our mommies and daddies and did a grand job of it.
Of course, I didn’t have something or other with me in order to get the new drivers license, which can be used on domestic flights after October 2018. It’s called a ‘real’ drivers license. I guess the previous ones I had were fake. There’s a lot of that going around these days.
So this lovely lady said I could go home, get what I needed, and come right back to her without waiting in line. So home I went. Once all the required docs were on hand, I went to the next level, and the next and the next. Finally, being gently coerced into the right spot, I took my written exam. And here’s the question I failed, which by my lights, is a trick question: “When can you leave a small child in a closed car?” The multiple answers were: 1) never; 2) with anyone over the age of 12; 3) for 20 minutes.
I checked ‘never’ and according to the DMV, I was wrong. You can leave a small child in an enclosed car with a 12-year-old. A 12-year-old? Really? Have you met most 12-year-olds? I have. I once was one. That’s why I say I wouldn’t leave anything that I counted on being alive when I got back to the car in the care of a 12-year-old. Autobiographical that.