Renewal (Sort Of)

Somehow, I find myself on the cusp of a birthday, yet another trip around ol’ Sol nearly complete. Perhaps that calls for contemplation beyond “Where does the time go?” but this year it instead (or maybe alongside) made me think, “Shoot. I need to renew my driver’s license.”

We have a driver’s license office here in town, but it’s hardly the same as when I first got my learner’s permit, carefully counting 90 days before my 16th birthday, making Terri check my math so much she got sick of it. Back then I, like everyone else, went down unscheduled and unannounced to the Kelley Building, down a windowless hall into a windowless suite where Mr. Muirhead toiled on a daily basis.

Since he retired, the examiner’s office has been less predictable. For awhile it was in a reliable and convenient location right next to the county clerk’s office, but our county, which has never met a building it doesn’t covet for yet more office space, decided it had no reason to continue subsidizing the state at such a low rate and ran the Department of Motor Vehicles off — and nearly out of town permanently.

Belatedly realizing a mistake when they saw one, officials did put some effort into helping the DMV find a new location, just across the street from Pat’s in the back of a building without any signage that caused any number of people to come through our doors with looks of bewilderment after their GPS directed them to our general vicinity and no farther.

Now the office has moved around to the front of the same building. Signage is still iffy, but there is enough on the front door to tell you what it is, along with the three days it is staffed, barring inclement weather that would keep the staffer(s) from coming from somewhere outside the valley.

The last time I needed to renew my license, I went online and made an appointment, one of two available for that day. Realizing, a few days ago, that five years have somehow passed and I was due for renewal once again (as are most of us, I’d think), I headed online to reserve an appointment — and got led down the primrose path of online renewal.

I would always be “at the front of the line,” the state promised, and I could do this from the comfort of my own home. I met the requirements for eligibility for this process, although I remain confused by the “cannot” in this criterium: “You are a U.S. citizen, Permanent Resident or an applicant who cannot demonstrate Lawful Presence in the U.S.”

I was told I would need a receipt from an eye exam I have had in the last three — ! — years, so the other day I dug through a pile of unfiled papers (one of many) and found my receipt from January, which I just now realize was only for my reading glasses, because the exam took place in December. I worried about submitting a receipt that mentioned glasses, because it doesn’t say “for reading,” and if I have to start wearing the glasses while driving, I’m going to crash since everything beyond 15 inches is blurry.

Last night I decided to proceed with the online process, and if it got to someplace where it would be impossible to explain about the glasses, I’d give up and ask about it at the local office, since it’s just across the street from me.

What I did not realize when I set out to do this simple thing from the comfort of my own home was how much of my home I was going to need to bring to the table.

First they needed my driver’s license number, so I fetched my license, only to discover the number is so tiny it is invisible to the human eye. I fetched my lighted magnifying glasses.

Somewhere early in the process it wanted to know if I wanted to list emergency contact information, which seems like a sensible idea. I know this isn’t way back then, but when one of our family friends was in a car accident in college, it took 48 hours for law enforcement to track down and notify her parents. I don’t have my sister’s phone number memorized, so I had to get my phone (and the glasses) to put that in.

Then we got to the personal information portion, where I identify myself. Curiously, my race/ethnicity was voluntary — since this is a piece of identification it seems that such information might be central to that. My eye color was mandatory, and they gave me a list of colors to choose from, including pink.

Pink? I am familiar with pink eye, more familiar than anyone wants to be, but outside of contact lenses and perhaps rats I have never seen anyone with pink irises. I opted for “blue.”

Then we got to hair color, and here I was stymied. Lynn, my wife, my partner in life, my helpmate, said, “You need to go with gray.” Well, ouch.

It was my fault for asking her in the first place, I suppose, but there were so many choices that I could see with my non-pink eyes that might apply to me: bald, gray, white, blonde, sandy. I didn’t actually know “sandy” was a color, although it’s often used as a descriptive, and I was tempted to go with it to mirror the shifting sands of my palette: the receding hairline, the white in my beard and sideburns, the latent hint of red that has always underlain, the overall rather nondescript color that maybe isn’t still blond but doesn’t quite seem gray . . . I went with gray. Life is hard sometimes.

At last we got to the glasses portion of the process (and by now it was feeling like quite the process). I had my incorrect receipt at the ready, plus the phone if I needed to take a picture of it, and this is what I was asked to do: attest.

By clicking a button I attested to the fact that I had been examined in the past three years by an optometrist or ophthalmologist. I did not have to list the outcome of that exam. What if the result had been, “You should never get behind the wheel of a car ever again”?

So I attested, my glasses invoice uselessly cluttering the table. I believe they told me to use that, along with my receipt, as my temporary license until the new one arrives in the mail, but why? I have attested, so there’s no need for proof.

Then I went to pay for my license, having been badgered into donating to an organ donor fund (financially, although I do always sign up to be an organ donor), and the state’s system said: “System busy. Try again later.”

All that work! All that effort, fetching half of my house one implement at a time. All that agonizing over my hair color and wondering just how supportive I can expect my spouse to be through the aging process. I was ready to cry.

Instead, I pushed the button again, which technically was “later,” and this time it went through. I paid more to use my credit card than I would have had I used an electronic check, and either method was more expensive than had I gone into the office, handed them my old license, looked into the little eye machine and been sent on my way with the promise of a shiny new license.

No matter: I am renewed. For another five years. I feel so much better about this, don’t you?

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