Tue 28 Sep 2010
Back in the days of the Vietnam War, we young men would warily watch our mailboxes for letters from the President. Too many friends had already received letters that began, “Greeting: You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States.”
Today I received an official letter almost as chilling. In celebration of my upcoming 67th birthday, wrote California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, I must renew my driver’s license “on or before [its] expiration date…. [of] 11/23/2010.”
“Your last two renewals have been by mail,” the governor wrote on behalf of the Department of Motor Vehicles. “The law requires you to now renew at a DMV office. If your physical description or address on this notice is incorrect, please make the necessary changes.”
Clearly incorrect was the address the governor used to reach me, that of The Point Reyes Light. I’ll have to change it.
As for my height, alas I’ve shrunk a bit from my 6-foot, 4-inch days. I now have to stand really straight just to hit 6-3, and as for 185 pounds, I’ve lost more than 15 of them in the last five years. (To paraphrase General MacArthur, old newsmen never die. Their layouts just get tighter.)
Nor did it seem entirely fair that the DMV required me to renew my car’s registration just weeks before before determining whether I am eligible to drive it. What if I fail my vision test? Or forget when the speed limit is 70 mph?
All my life I have found driver’s license tests unnerving — perhaps because I flunked the first one I took back in high school. The man giving me the test directed me to drive through a construction zone, and when we came to an intersection, I stopped at the crosswalk rather than at a stopsign sticking haphazardly out of a pile of dirt. Wrong decision.
Luckily, when I taught college for two years in Iowa and then reported for Council Bluff’s daily newspaper, The Nonpareil, the State of Iowa simply issued me a driver’s license based on my having one from California. I guess the Iowa Division of Motor Vehicles figured that anyone who could survive the freeways of Los Angeles could handle the farm roads of the Hawkeye State.
However, when I returned to California and began reporting for Sonora’s daily newspaper, The Union Democrat, this state required me to take a behind-the-wheel driving test to get a new license.
I showed up for the test nervous as a cat. With a woman from the DMV directing me where to go, we drove all over Sonora. If we turned a corner, I used arm signals as well as blinkers. In fact, I used arm signals when I merely slowed down.
This time there were no problems, and we returned to the DMV office where I was told to sign more papers and have my photo taken. Next to a stripe painted on the floor of the photo area, a sign said it was important that my feet were exactly on it.
Still nervous, I bent over and carefully positioned my toes exactly on the stripe. However, just as I was straightening up, I heard a perplexed DMV photographer say, “I’m sorry, sir, but you’ll have to turn around and face the camera.” For the next several years, my driver’s license photo showed me with bright red ears.