Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Journey to Renew One's Driver's License Begins with a Single Trip to Town

On Thursday, I took a personal day at work. That's like a sick day, except you know ahead of time that you're going to be off, and you feel just fine. In the beginning.

I knew I had to renew my driver's license by Monday. Not that I received a notice from the MO DOR. I just knew. Because last time, it was a six-year renewal. And the new expiration date is one's birthday. So...I knew I had to get in there and do the deed. Having worked for a state agency, and having waited in many a line at various license offices, I knew better than to try and run in Thursday or Friday after school. That would only give me an hour to complete my business. So I took advantage of a personal day, meant to be used for business that can't be completed outside of school hours.

The Pony still needed hauling to school. What's that? Why couldn't he simply ride in with his brother, Genius? Surely you jest. Have you not been paying attention all this time? One is more likely to receive an invitation to the wedding of Oil and Water than to see my two boys enjoy each other's company on a trip to school. I arose like any other workday, herded The Pony into the Tahoe, and sped over hill and dale to deliver him to school. He thanked me.

Since the license office didn't open until 9:00, I had ninety minutes to burn. I sped back home and TurboTaxed my federal and state returns. At the stroke of 10:00, my mom called to remind me not to forget to renew my license. She filled me in on all the minutia about the office. Preparing me. It's been six years, you see. The license office is no longer in the mini mall behind the church. Nor is it beside the old bowling alley, in the storefront that used to house the video store. Nope. It is now behind the dead-mouse-smelling post office, between the daycare and the house with a big sign for the Space Museum in its yard. I pass it all the time. But Mom wanted to make sure I knew where to park, and that I must first stop at the window on the left to get a number unless the girl wasn't busy, and if I got a number, to sit in the waiting room on the right. And to be prepared for a vision test. She looks out for me, my mom.

By 10:15 I was on the road again. The weather was cloudy but calm, temps in the forties. I was having a good hair day. All signs pointed to a quick license renewal, and the rest of the day stretched ahead for the pushing of the SEND button on taxes, and getting Genius's college board IDOC stuff ready to mail off. Val plans. State employees laugh.

I parked without incident. Only one other customer was inside. Standing right in front of the door. I could barely get in. But that did not bother me. After all, I had my old license ready, and a head of good hair ready for a picture. The dude was on his cell phone. He abruptly stepped back to let me in, and tell the girl behind the wall-hole that he would be right back, just as soon as he ran across town to get it. I'm assumed he was talking about a document, not a quickie.

I stepped up to the window, and the License Warden, all of 23 years old, asked my business. "I'm just here to renew my driver's license." She reached out her hand. I passed her my old license. She looked at me. Had the nerve to ask for my birth certificate. Dear me! Do I not look born? Do I look younger than 16? I think not. "You're kidding. I have to go all the way back home and look for my birth certificate?" She nodded. AND handed me a two-sided paper of necessary documents.

"Here is what you need."

"It would have been nice to know that before I came in. I never got a notice. How silly of me not to remember that from six years ago when I last renewed."

"Oh, this is a new process. Didn't you see it on the news? We need your social security number--"

"I have the card. But I don't know about my birth certificate."

"It has to be an official birth certificate with an embossed seal. And you'll need proof of residence. Here. Here's what you'll need." She circled various items on that two-sided handout and pushed it at me, with my old license. I sped out of the parking lot to seek evidence of my existence. Almost daring the police to stop me and ask for my license. I called Mom to complain.

"It would have been nice if you'd warned me I'd need my birth certificate."

"Oh. I didn't need mine. I might have yours here. Do you want me to look for it?"

"I guess you can. I'll look at home. Those things are harder to keep track of than scissors and pencil sharpeners at our house." I rushed home. Let the record show that Val does not live just down the street from the license office. That she can't hop on the subway, the EL, the T, a cable car, a crosstown bus, a double-decker bus, take a Yellow Cab, a Hansom Cab, or a rickshaw. She lives off the grid of back roads, up a gravel road. That she had already traveled twice before 11:00 a.m.

The elusive birth certificate lay on my office file cabinet, just under the birth certificate of Genius, fresh from his licensing in December. Silly me. I thought he needed it because he was getting his license after having a permit. I read and re-read the list of documentation. I needed...

+ my old license-check

+ my social security number-check

+ proof of residence dated within the last 60 days-an electric bill stub should do

+ notarized marriage license OR social security card showing current name-card will do it

+ place of all this, INS papers will do

Being a thinking kind of woman, I anticipated License Warden giving me a hard time with that electric bill. It was in Hick's name, of course. The way most married couples have their bills sent. So I grabbed my last check stub showing MY name with the address. Off I went back to town for the third time before noon.

Now the wind was whipping up. I called Mom to tell her I found a birth certificate obtained from the county health department at a cost of $15 in 2007. "I found your birth certificate in my safe. I think it's from the hospital. It says 'Certificate of Live Birth' at the top."

"Mom. That's not good enough. I'm not running for political office. I'M TRYING TO RENEW A MISSOURI DRIVER'S LICENSE! Does it have an embossed seal from the state? No? It won't work. I''m starting to think I might have to move out of the country, then get papers from the INS, THEN come back and renew my license."

Business at the license office was picking up like the wind that swirled my good hair to bad. License Warden was not at her desk. She was interrogating a dude at the eye test/picture desk. Another clerk called my number. 25. A lady on my heels had grabbed 26. An old man in overalls came in and plopped down in the chair closest to the eye test/picture desk. Another lady snatched #27. The clerk asked for my paperwork. Pawed through it. Gave it back without doing anything. Said, "She'll call you next."

License Warden took Dude's photo. Sent him on his way. Called, "NEXT." I got up. I was next, you know. With the #25. Even the other clerk had said so. As I rose from my seat by the door, Old Man rose from his seat near the desk. Uh uh. That wasn't happenin'. I rushed over and sat down before he had made it three steps. No number, no service, geezer. He was lucky I didn't throw a forearm and make him snap a spindly hip. I don't care how many times HE had to go back home, I was taking my rightful turn. Of course License Warden looked over my documents and said, "This electric bill is no good. I have to see something with YOUR name and the address. VOILA! I whipped out that check stub. She looked perturbed. "I have to scan this. Do you want this check part left on it?"

"Well, since it's done through direct deposit, and that 'check' shows zero dollars, I think it will be okay." I swear she lifted the corner of her lip in an inadvertent snarl. She told me to put my head on the white square cushion of the eye test box. Which meant I had to stand up, reach across the counter, grab that contraption and drag it to the edge, then sit back down and look into it. Wouldn't want her to move a centimeter to do her job. Then she told me to sit in the other chair for my picture. Yeah. They do it sitting down now. She said to look at the blue dot. I did. I looked. Focused my gaze. Waited. Took a breath. Blinked. Stared until my eyes almost lost focus. Bli--. SHE SNAPPED THE PICTURE.

Oh, what a picture it was! She gave me the copy of my new license on piece of paper. Said the plastic one would come in the mail in seven to ten days. I looked at the picture. "This does not look like me. Can you take another one?"

"No. Not with this new face recognition software. We can only re-take if your eyes are closed." WENCH! My eyes were half-closed. I know she waited until just that moment when my expression was most unflattering. I called my mom again on the way home. She seemed to think I was exaggerating.

Until she saw the picture on Friday.


  1. I can so relate to this! When I had my passport picture taken, the kid at Walgreens said, "You have to have your ears exposed." You have to be kidding! I have chimpanzee-like ears. He claimed that women changed their hair color and styles so much, the officials would use ears as identifiers. I think he was a freak, much like your wench!

  2. When I got my master's degree many years ago, my husband (unbeknownst to me) paid for a picture that was taken as I was handed my diploma.

    When we got it, I had my eyes closed and my tongue was sticking out of my mouth (I was laughing). I looked like I had ridden in on the short bus to get that piece of paper.

    One good thing: when you become a famous author, no one will connect the picture on the back of the books with your photo id, so you won't constantly be swamped with frothing-at-the-mouth fans.

  3. I wonder how many subersive wannabe's have been stopped at the counter and then escorted away by the police after the secret button was pushed. This is insane.

  4. Good thing you did as you were told. I hear that if you don't, They'll exclaim, "NO DRIVER'S LICENSE FOR YOU!" and ban you from the office.

  5. Linda,
    At least he didn't tell you to take off your shoes and socks. Or to put a string of pearls in your mouth, and, ever-so-slightly, suck on them.

    I hope you have that picture framed, and hanging in a prominent place. Maybe you can get bookmarks made to show it off. And key chains.

    Now I can finally stop this procrastinating and think up a hook and write my bestseller and hide in plain sight. Just think, I can go to Disneyland. Or Sturgess. Or both!

    Yikes! I never considered "The Button." I'm lucky she didn't spring the trapdoor and drop me into the World's Largest Man-Made Lake in the World's Largest Man-Made Cavern. Jacques Cousteau in not around to investigate anymore.

    She was getting a bit testy. Didn't even include bread with my license. I might take another day off and buy an armoire on the street that coincidentally holds her secret info for photo retakes.

    [Thanks for the award. I'll see what I can do with it.]