While I’m generally one of those people who gets things done when they need to get done, I have certain fail-blog areas that have caused me considerable pain in the past. There’s just some psychological mis-wiring in my brain that keeps me from doing some things in a timely manner.
For instance, I cannot stand to renew my driver’s license. Especially back in the day, when you had to physically report to a run-down building on an obscure street in order to take care of this. There was just something about the whole experience that made my skin crawl. (Modern times are a little less traumatic, what with that online renewal business and all, but still.)
So, with that bit of necessary background detail out of the way, let’s travel back to yet another moment of angst and humiliation in my life. It’s the early 90’s, and I’ve just moved from Tulsa to Dallas for the third time. (Long story.) And, of course, such an interstate transition dictates that you must get a fresh driver’s license at some point. This horrifying eventuality had me crying at night, alone in my cold and basically empty apartment. (Those were much leaner times in my arc of life. I ate a lot of ramen noodles and drank generic beer. That kind of lean.)
Now, typically, there’s some type of grace period before you have to get a new license in a new state. I didn’t really care about that part. All I knew is that my Oklahoma license still had plenty of quality time left on it, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth. If, by chance, there happened to be an official inquiry into my law-violating tardiness, I had several standby falsehoods prepared, most of them involving feigned puppy rescues and/or my humanitarian efforts in a vague foreign country.
To be fair, I didn’t seriously intend to wait until the last possible minute. A few weeks before the impending Armageddon deadline, I actually called up and spoke with someone in the decrepit building concerning what I actually had to do. Because I was coming from another state, especially a questionable one like Oklahoma, whose statehood has always been considered a blasphemous act if you ask any Texan, I would have to take the vision test and the written test.
“No driving test?”
“As long as your Oklahoma license is still valid, no. If it expires, yes.”
I glanced down at my license, doing the math. I had 10 days. Surely, this was doable. “Um, do I need to study the book for the written? Do you know if the laws are that different?”
There’s a moment of silence on her end, as she bites down on what she would really like to say to me, then: “I would suggest that you read the book. I’m sure there are some differences.” Her tone indicates that these differences are most likely major. After all, this is Texas, where we do everything right. Who knows what the laws might be in Oklahoma, what with the hillbillies and the tractor-pulls and whatnot. Do they even have a driver’s manual?
“Okay, where can I get this book?”
She doesn’t even try to hide her impatience at this point. I’m boring, a bit simple, and she has other things to do. “You can drop by and pick one up.” (Oh GOD no.) “Or I can mail you one.” (Hurray!) “But it will take a few days.” Translation: I will actually have to take your address and shove something in an envelope, and that depresses me.
I don’t care. I already hate that building and I’ve never even been in it. “Please mail. Please. And your dress is really pretty today.”
She sighs, gets my information, then slams the phone down.
A week later, not just a few days, the booklet arrives. (Well, there’s something we do a littler faster and better in Oklahoma. I guess our postal workers aren’t distracted by all the tall buildings and restaurants with actual silverware they have down here.) I rip open the package and start reading.
Hmm. She lied. The rules are basically the same. Yes, there are a few differences, like how one is expected to behave when approaching exit ramps on highways. (And that mess is worth an entirely separate blog post.) Oh, and every photo in the book seems to include a cow for some reason. Not sure what that means. But in the end, I shouldn’t have a problem with this.
What I do have a problem with is actually getting my ass to the decrepit building. As the days until the deadline dwindle away, I keep coming up with excuses. (Clean the apartment! Wash my car! Bowling!) As expected, I wait until the very last day and then I have no choice.
Wiping tears from my eyes, I turn into the neglected parking lot that is overgrown with weeds and those suspicious people who stand around and don’t seem to have a purpose in life, other than to serve as the “before” photo in laundry detergent ads. (I’ve never understood why the D.O.T. offices have to be so trashy. Maybe they’re nice and clean in other places, but they suck around here. Is it a state rule of some kind?)
I park as far away as possible, because I don’t want repulsive people getting random body fluids on my car, and then I march to the door of the building. Throwing said door open, my senses are hit by a wave of unwashed beastliness billowing toward me. Yep, this must be the place. I step inside, while my eyes refocus after the bright, innocent sunshine outside.
There are at least 200 people in this room. Granted, some of them are sitting at little desks that dot the perimeter, but most of them are packed into several lines leading up to windows behind which government workers are doing things which apparently cause them to not smile. No one in line is smiling, either. This is a dark, dark place.
I sigh, calculate which line seems to have the best combination of fewer people and signs of intelligence, and take my place. Immediately, three babies start crying in my chosen queue. No one does anything about it. At all. For a long time.
Hours later, I get to the window, and I am non-greeted by a woman who will soon become the focus of every ounce of hatred I have in my body. I politely explain that I need to renew my license. Could she assist me with that?
She just looks at me, debating on whether or not she even has the strength to respond. Finally: “Where’s your form?”
“My form? I don’t have one. Shouldn’t I be getting that from you?”
She sighs with such force that the lady behind me falls off her wedgie sandals. “No. You’re supposed to get the form from that BOX over there and have it filled out before you ever get in line. Can’t you read?”
Wow. This little bucket of sunshine is bubbling over with attitude. I glance in the direction she is pointing with her bad-nail-job finger. Granted, there’s a tray on a table off to one side. And it appears that there are forms in it. But no indication what the tray or the forms are all about. I point this out to Haggatha.
“If you would just read the sign, you would know what to do.”
I’m not letting her get away with trying to make me look stupid. “But I don’t see a sign to read. Where is this sign?”
Hag slams down her pen, reaches up to whip her little plastic-glass partition to the side, and leans out. (Where is all this aggression coming from? I hope she has a therapist.) She points again with more force, using all of her arm and most of her upper body. “THAT SIGN RIGHT-”
We both see what’s happened at the same time. There’s a piece of poster board lying face down in front of the tray table, covered in hundreds of scuffy footprints. I can’t help but smile. “Oh, that sign. The one that nobody can read?”
The snake-woman just glares at me as she recoils into her nest, slamming the window shut. “Yes, THAT sign. Get the form and fill it out. Next!”
As the woman who was behind me in line breaks into tears because it’s now her turn, I walk over to the table and snatch up one of the forms, then look around for one of the little desks that might be empty. Of course, they’re all full. Filled with people, I might add, who aren’t filling anything out. Just sitting there, waiting for their lives to end. Fine. I end up using the back wall as my desk.
Once I’ve scribbled in all the details, with penmanship that looks like I’m a psycho-killer because both my frustration and my anxiety have peaked in a duet of emotional tumult, I turn around and head back to Haggatha’s window.
She stops me before I can even open my mouth. “NO! Oh no you don’t. You get back in line just like everybody else.”
“But I’ve already been in line and-”
“Get BACK in line. Do you want the license or not?”
I stand there for a second. Is this real? Then a frazzled-looking man beside me whispers: “She made me do it, too. She don’t play. I’ve been here since 1972.”
I consider just getting in another line. Then I realize that the other lines are all much longer, probably because people have been fleeing Haggatha’s line in total fear, muttering prayers and clutching crucifixes. Fine, no problem. I can deal with her again. I walk to the end of the line and assume the position. (“Does the snapping of the latex glove have you a bit unsettled, my little pretty?” Yes, Evil Nazi Doctor, it does.)
Once again, nothing of any relevance happens for a very long time.
Eventually, I’m face-to-face with Medusa once more. She snatches my form away, studies it briefly, then barks: “Go through the door on the right for the tests.” I head toward what I hope is the correct door (still no signs, people, what’s up with the signage?). As I open it, I hear Haggatha saying “Letha, take the window. I got this.”
She’s got this? What the hell does that mean? Is she going to give me the tests, hoping that I fail so she can have the satisfaction of watching it happen? Damn, there, there’s some rotten French fries in her happy meal.
And yep, I round the corner and there she is, standing next to a primitive (by today’s standards) computer. “Sit here.” I do. Then she punches something on the keyboard, and we get a display reading “The Texas Department of Transportation Welcomes You!”, which is a total lie, considering the devil-spawn breathing on the side of my neck. “Get started, you have 30 minutes.”
And then she just stands there, glaring at me.
I take a deep breath and start punching in answers, hoping she’ll just go away. She doesn’t. There are 20 other people in the room, also taking the driver’s test, but she couldn’t care less about them. Cheat away. She’s only got stink eyes for me.
Despite the pressure, I only miss one question. (And yes, there were at least two pictures that included cows, if you’re keeping score.) This thrills me, and I try to think of the most enjoyable way to rub this in Haggatha’s face. But my victory is short-lived.
“Vision test. Follow me.” And she marches off.
We go to another part of the room, where we have more ancient equipment lined along a wall. These look like giant viewfinders from back in the day, those plastic things you held up to your eyes and then clicked your way through boring, tiny photos on a cardboard disc. I take a seat in front of one of them.
Haggatha flips a switch, and the machine comes to life, unhappily so, as if awakened after slumbering in the Egyptian desert for 2,000 years. “Look in there and read me the letters,” says Cleopatra, twirling an asp. I start to lean my head down. “Wait, hang on.” She starts fiddling with some dials on the side of the machine. “Now do it.”
I peek inside. It’s an eye chart. And instantly, I know something is not right. I’m looking at that first row with a single letter which is usually an “E”, perched atop a pyramid of descending lines that become increasingly diminutive. But that top line is already fuzzy. I’d never worn glasses in my life up to that point, perfect vision. I pull back and look at her. “It’s an ‘E’, but I don’t think this thing is set right.”
She just scoffs. “I know what I’m doing. Do YOU work here? No. Finish the test.”
I lean back in. The second row is more difficult, and I’m guessing on half of the letters. By the third row, I can’t tell what anything is, just blurry spots. I look at her again. “I’m telling you, this is not right. I can’t see anything.”
She smiles for the first time. “Then I guess you need glasses. And until you get them and can pass this vision test, you can’t have a license. And look here, your Oklahoma license expires at the end of the day. Which means you’ll also have to take the physical driving test if you want a Texas license. I guess you aren’t as special as you think you are.”
I am furious at this point, convinced that she’s jacked the test. “I want to talk to somebody in charge.”
She keeps smiling. “I’M in charge. This is my office. And I need you to leave now. You can go out that door over there. Or can you even see the door? It’s the big rectangle thing with a knob.”
Hoo boy. This game was ON.
Click here to read the sad resolution to this story…
Previously published in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” as “Run Around- Part I”, and then as part of the “Dispatches from the Wasteland” series here on Bonnywood. Modified mildly for this latest version. Story behind the photo: Close-up detail of an otherwise innocent patio chair at my friend Paula’s house. I like how the snap reads as somehow sinister (can you see menacing half-mask?), which perfectly fits this story…
Categories: My Life