Adventures at the DMV


When I graduated from college, my mom bought me a 1974 Super Beetle and that meant I had to get a driver’s license. So I borrowed a friend’s car and took the road test, in Iowa. I don’t know how things are now, but it was pretty easy. I passes the first time, although the officer did say, “When you want to change lanes, you should look over the same shoulder as the lane you want to change to.” I guess she could tell I meant well even if I wasn’t a very experienced driver. I drive that car very happily until I left the States and ended up in Japan.

Back in the day, it was easy to switch as US license for a Japanese one. There was just an application and the eye test. I switched since you can’t renew your US license by mail and I didn’t want to be without any license at all. Eventually, I got a gold license, a privilege reserved for those with no tickets or accidents. That was easy for me since the only time I ever drove in Japan was on a very straight road in the middle of Hokkaido during our honeymoon. I remember the landscape was flat, fields on both sides, a couple of milk cows and a coke machine standing forlornly by the road. Even that was harrowing.

After I arrived in Hawaii, I used my gold Japanese license to rent a car, then buy a car and insurance for that car, but I figured we live here now and ought to have US licenses so we don’t have to carry around our passports for ID. Plus my Japanese license says I was born in Showa 38, which is 1963 and not to be confused with 1938, and it expires in Heisei 33, which by most reckoning is 2021, not 2033 by which time I will be very old and wrinkled indeed and might not care much about driving anymore.

So we went to the DMV, light in heart and mind, thinking that for once an exchange with officialdom would be pleasant.

Ah, the naive heart and its rose tinted sunglasses.

They shut Rochi down flat–until he gets a social security number, he can’t get anything but a one year international permit, and those are only issued in Honolulu.

And me? I have to start from scratch. Step one: apply for a learner’s permit.

I honestly thought the officer was joking. No such luck. She went on to say that before I could even apply for the permit, I had to take the written test, just like I had when I was 16. I really had to bite my tongue not to say the things I was thinking. It’s not her fault, she’s just doing her job, blah blah blah, but still, the Monkey of the Absurd was doing somersaults in my belly and I was having trouble controlling him.

You only have to get 26 of 30 questions right so I figured I had a pretty good chance. I got three wrong, but they were concerned with speeding, passing school buses and drunk driving, none of which I do. Most of the questions were common sense anyway, which reminds me of the written test I took in high school and my favorite test question of all time:

An ambulance approaches from behind you with its lights flashing and siren wailing. Do you
a) pull over and stop
b) turn around and go the other way
c) follow it and see where it’s going

I laughed out loud and was sternly scolded by the uniformed officer overseeing the test, so today when I felt the urge, I held the Monkey tight and slipped him a couple of bananas to keep him quiet.

I booked the first road test appointment available, which is December 3, so I will be driving illegally for at least two months. And here’s the kicker–when I show up for the test, I have to be accompanied by a licensed driver over 21 years of age. Rochi doesn’t qualify since, technically, he doesn’t have a license either. I was scratching my head about that one when I remembered that Ma will be visiting then. Both officers behind the counter smiled and said that would be fine, but just then the Monkey slipped out of my grasp. He made me turn to the people waiting in line and say in my best good-girl voice:

My mommy is coming to the DMV with me! Isn’t that great?

I paid my $12, was photographed and fingerprinted (!) and given my learner’s permit, which is nestled inside my wallet next to the driver’s license I’ve had for 30 years, which I used to buy and insure the car which, technically, neither of us is allowed to drive. And then I got into that same car and drove it to home, soberly and within the speed limit, and didn’t pass a single school bus on the way.

How do you like them apples?

eda car