Ever since we moved, I’ve had certain tasks I need to do in order to feel like I’ve really moved. Like it’s not enough to have heaved everything across the ocean – there are musts on my to-do list that loom…and loom, and grow in importance until they seem so huge, they’re impossible.
One has been getting a New York state driver’s license. The whole time overseas, I never felt the need to replace my Ohio license. Apparently there are a few states that have worked things out with the French government to make their licenses easily transferable to a French one: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, New Hampshire, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia (I think France just took a poll of the people least likely to come to France and made those the allowable ones), so I could have dumped Ohio for a more continental-sounding permis de conduire but that wouldn’t have been so handy for evading speeding fines. The fines are more and more frequent due to the number of discreet speed cameras they’ve been installing.
No, I stayed Ohio-proud as a cost-cutting measure in Europe, but back here in the US, I was eager to trade Ohio for New York. I wanted to turn model citizen and be who I say I am, as well as not have to withstand the looks of pity or hear tales of woe about the time someone had to live in Toledo for three years. And I worried about things like the NY state trooper who pulled us over on the highway for the van being “too loud” (the problem has since been fixed, honest Officer!) and how he could have cited me for the out of state license when I told him we’d been living in New York for two months.
Anyone who’s lived in New York City has likely been scarred and traumatized by a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles, where the line of applicants stretches around the block, and the sadism of the clerks is legendary.
But mostly I was worried about the eye test. Maybe it’s the stress but my eyesight has gotten worse lately. I kept thinking I’d better get a new eyeglass prescription before I went in to exchange licenses. What if they decided I’m too vision-impaired to drive, even with glasses, and said “we’ll hold on to this” with my current license? I remembered the rigorous eye test at the Ohio Dept. of Motor Vehicles, where you look in this dark box and lights flash left and right…if the girl at the counter hadn’t prompted me a little bit, I honestly don’t know if I’d have passed – and that was a while back.
But to get some new glasses I’ve got make some money and I’ve got to drive to make some money so…
I got some sleep and cleaned my glasses and went first thing last Monday. The main street of our town is charming and old-fashioned, with an old movie theatre marquee and cute shop fronts. That particular morning, I saw a policeman leading a prisoner in an orange jumpsuit and leg irons from the jail down to the courthouse which was a little jarring, but I guess it kept things from looking too quaint.
There was a total of one person in front of me in the DMV. He was wearing shorts and a t-shirt, and telling the clerk how he wished he had his birth certificate but it was with his ex-wife and she didn’t allow him in the house anymore.
While I was filling out my form another guy came in, somewhere in his seventies, with a lumberjack shirt and boots, very thick glasses. They call everyone by their first names in this DMV, which is kind of sweet: “Now, Richard – it says here you have a hearing aid?”
“What’s that?” Richard the old lumberjack said. The clerk showed him where he’d ticked the box on the form. “Oh, no, guess I got that wrong,” he said, squinting. “My hearing’s fine!” he shouted. “It’s my eyesight that’s not so good.”
“But what’s that in your ear?” the clerk asked, pleasantly.
“Oh, that’s just some cotton I keep in there,” Richard said.
“Okay, well, let’s get you in front of the eye chart here,” said the clerk. They pivoted Richard around and he recited the letters, left to right. I was sitting a good six feet behind him and I could read them too, so I knew I was going to be alright.