I’d been dreading going for my first over-55 license renewal, since the notice said that an eye test was required. For though my optometrist had assured me that my contact lens-assisted vision was better than DMV requires, more and more I’ve been using the “go past it and turn around” approach to finding unfamiliar streets.
“We’re supposed to turn right on Cranberry Street,” Laurel will say. “OK,” I reply, straining to read the letters of signs that used to be much larger twenty years ago. I can only assume that budget cuts have forced cities to put up smaller street signs, and also make the lettering less sharp. So I look more for the appropriate length of the name: “Cranberry, Cranberry; nine letters; that street name is too short, can’t be it.”
This approach works at low speeds, but over 45 miles per hour or so the sign generally whizzes by too fast for either Laurel or I to make a positive ID with our aging eyes. “That was Cranberry!” we say in unison, as I search for a place to turn around.
I need to emphasize, in case anyone thinks that I’m a Mr. Magoo, that in the end I had no trouble passing the DMV eye test. I was a bit nervous, though, waiting for my apt Take A Number of #48 to come up (I was born on October 7, 1948, so this is a reminder that just six days remain for lavish gifts to be bought and delivered for my birthday celebration).
Walking into the DMV office made me feel like I’m sixteen rather than almost fifty-six. Watching the actual sixteen year olds fidgeting as they waited for their driving test stimulated some sort of post-traumatic stress reaction in me. Also, flashbacks. I fantasized about being singled out for special DMV attention.
“#48, over here; you’ve been selected to take a driving test in this 1957 Volkswagen Beetle with a slippery clutch, just like the car you failed your first test in back in 1964; let’s see if you can pass a special Driving in San Francisco scenario: you are stopped at a red light in the middle of a steep hill; a taxi with a large American flag decal on its windshield driven by a tough looking cabbie pulls up two inches behind your 'End the War Now' sticker festooned rear bumper; you have to put the car in gear, take your foot off the brake, and get through the intersection without hearing, ‘Hey, hippie asshole! You owe me a new bumper!’ To make the test more realistic we’ll get you stoned first, and fill the backseat of the VW with five hysterically laughing potheads.”
When my number was called, reality was a relief. I was even happy to stand in front of the blue backdrop for my photo. I had planned ahead, after all. I had washed and blow-dried my hair. I had trimmed my beard. I had put on a favorite dark blue batik shirt. I knew that I’d be looking at that photo for eight years, so I put on my best lips-closed smile, affecting a philosophical look that said, “This man may be almost fifty-six, but he is young at heart and wise in spirit.”
Well, that was supposed to be what the look said. When I was handed my new license a quick glance offered up a different message: “This is a wino loser Willy Nelson look-alike (minus the ponytail), fallen on hard times, picked up for questioning after being found unconscious behind the Food For Less dumpster.”
The good news, I guess, is that every time I look at my driver’s license I’ll see a person who looks older than I’ll actually be when it has to be renewed again in 2012. So if all goes well at the DMV eight years from now, I’ll walk out of the door feeling younger.
Uh, oh, I’ll be 64 then. You know what that means: Another flashback.