SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT TAKE THE FOLLOWING SERIOUSLY. IT’S MEANT TO BE HUMOROUS EVEN WHILE POINTING OUT MY MENTAL DEFECIENCIES.
Just when you think it’s safe to go in the water, life throws you a curveball. (I love mixing my metaphors, BTW.) At the beginning of November, I was congratulating myself on a year of accomplishment (my entire check list was clear—I’d finally gone to the Getty, even gotten the colonoscopy and the closets cleaned out) when the mail came.
I wasn’t alarmed when I saw the DMV letter. I knew my license was expiring and since I’d moved, I figured this was a form explaining how to change the address. WRONG! The letter stated I had to appear at the DMV to have my picture taken, update my information, give a thumb print, pass the eye test and. …TAKE THE WRITTEN EXAM.
I swear to you that in the silence of my house, I cried out in anguish, “Why me?” Looking back, I realize I was quite tired and in overwhelm before I opened the letter, which could excuse my pitiful over-reaction. At least, I’d like to think that.
“I have to take the DMV WRITTEN EXAM,” I told my husband.
“Somebody’s got to do it,” he said, barely looking up from his book.
“I have to take the DMV WRITTEN EXAM,” I told my daughter.
“Oh no,” she said. “You have the same tone of voice you had when you were prepping for your colonoscopy. I don’t know if I have the energy to keep you propped up again.”
“I have to take the DMV WRITTEN EXAM,” I told my daughter-in-law.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve been driving for years—you know everything. Besides, you can miss six questions,” she said.
Yeah. It’s easy and you can go online to take sample tests,” my sixteen-year-old grandson added.
“But I never know which way my wheels should turn if I’m parking uphill,” I wailed.
“Up, up and away,” my eighteen-year-old grandson put in.
With all this encouragement, I felt calmer and made an appointment to take the test. But when I went on-line to take a sample test, things went south. I took the first test and missed four out of the eighteen questions. How should I know that you must park seven and a half feet from a railroad crossing? Or that the lines on a one-way street are solid white? Or that BAC stands for Blood Alcohol Concentration and it’s not safe to drive with even a 0.01 level? Who cares if a sign is regulatory or warning?
“YOU FAILED!!!!!” flashed on the screen in gigantic neon letters (or so it seemed). It turns out if you are taking a renewal test you can only miss three questions. When you think about it, most people taking a renewal are probably inching towards the 70-year-old mark. Is there ageism being subtly practiced here?
I immediately went into Catastrophe Mode. I drove to the DMV to pick up a booklet (and also to find out where it was) and began to study like I did when I was in college. I got out a yellow marker and underlined the whole book. I wrote out flash cards. I became addicted to the online tests, unable to stop myself taking them from early morning to late at night. (None of this part is an exaggeration, BTW.) I studied even at a doctor’s appointment.
Some time during this siege, I decided I wanted my hair to look really good for the photo so I began experimenting with different styles. I also went to the eye doctor who said I needed glasses, which got me worrying if I’d pass the eye test. Because I was studying so much, I didn’t have time for much of anything else. I didn’t realize that my whole family was avoiding me—none of them could handle my angst they told me later.
One day, my husband and I drove to Santa Barbara to visit friends. Actually my husband drove, which gave me the opportunity to study “driving rules” in real time. Not only did I get to see the road signs and solid white lines on the road, but every time my husband did something wrong, it cemented what you’re supposed to do more firmly in my mind.
“What’s your biggest fear?” my neighbor asked me the day before the test.
“That I’ll fail,” I replied with no hesitation.
“But why would you fail? You’ve studied so much.”
“But, sometimes they phrase the questions in a tricky way,” I said. “Or they ask the question in a way that you don’t understand. Or they ask you how many yards you can drive in a left turn lane.”
“That’s true,” she said, which didn’t alleviate any of my anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety, the only good thing about being so anxious about the test was that I forgot all my other worries for awhile. Even my back straightened out!
The day of the test finally arrived. I washed my hair early and chose my outfit carefully. I played an anxiety reduction audio, which helped me to relax. I got dressed and put on jewelry. I decided to go early—I could be nervous there instead of nervous at home.
When I arrived and took my seat, I looked around. Seventy-five per cent of the people there looked to be 16. The rest of us looked to be 65ish or older. Definitely, ageism, I thought.
Within fifteen minutes, my number was called. The man behind the desk seemed kindly enough. “Let’s start with the eye test,” he said. He gestured to the tiny chart in the low light behind him.
Somehow I read enough F’s and P’s to pass, and I moved across the room to the guy who takes the pictures. He was sweet, offering me a chance to see if I liked the shot or not. He then directed me to a group of booths behind us. “Use your bar code to sign in,” he directed.
“Okay,” I said like I knew what he was talking about.
I went to a booth and found a large monitor with a prompt “start here” on the touch screen.
“First, scan your code,” flashed on the screen. That took a couple of minutes to figure out but I was finally in. By the time the actual question hit the screen, I was exhausted. But I persevered, reading each question carefully to make sure I understood it. Even then, I did miss one. But long story short: I passed!!!
When I was finished, I had one more line to stand in. The two women in front of me were my age—one passed and one didn’t. We started chatting until the woman behind the desk called out, “NO TALKING IN LINE!”
When it was my turn, I handed her my information.
“You passed,” she said, seeming disappointed.
I smiled at her, a wide and happy smile. “Yes I did!”
In the parking lot, I did a little victory dance by my car. On the way home, I looked out at the iridescent autumn leaves instead of the lines in the road. I was free at last!
It’s been ten days and I just received my new license in the mail. I think my hair looks pretty good.