I moved to Ohio from Michigan two and a half years ago but could never bring myself to visit the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and switch my driver’s license. I’d compare the effort to trying to make coffee before you’ve had coffee – not that hard in theory but overwhelming at the time.
But with my Michigan license about to expire last week, I had no choice. One afternoon at work I clicked around the Ohio BMV website and found the documents I needed to bring, reset forgotten passwords so I could log in and print bank statements and W-2’s, and looked up the office closest to my apartment. My work was almost done, I thought foolishly.
On Friday morning, I pulled into the quickly filling BMV parking lot at a few minutes past eight. I waited in a short line to get one of those numbered tickets they have at grocery store meat counters and told the clerk why I was there when I reached the front. “Okay, do you have all of these four documents?” she asked, handing me a half-sheet of paper. I did not, because the website hadn’t said I needed proof of citizenship.
“I don’t have my birth certificate or passport. The website didn’t say I had to bring either of those,” I said.
“It shouldn’t. We’re not responsible for that content; the Ohio BMV publishes all the information to the website.”
The clerk met my blank stare with an equally deadpan expression, and after a few seconds I accepted the apparent irrelevancy of the fact that I was standing in an office of the Ohio BMV. I left, drove home and grabbed my passport, and drove back to find twice as many people sitting in the waiting area with similar murderous looks.
I presented my passport and other documents, got a number, and was pointed vaguely over to another area to take a vision test. After waiting in the wrong line for about five minutes, I figured out where I needed to go and a chubby police officer-looking guy set up the test, which I passed. I literally had no idea why he asked me to identify the color of all those little yellow, red, and green circles, but just now realized they represented traffic lights.
Next, the police officer guy told me to look into a camera while he asked me some yes-or-no questions. On about the third one, he told me he’d already taken my picture. I thought he had to record my answers for some reason. So I had just stared into the camera and made no eye contact whatsoever while this guy asked me things like whether I had any mental impairments that would prevent me from driving.
Police Office Guy started entering all the information from my old license into his computer and abruptly stopped. “Uh oh,” he said. “I have bad news. Looks like this license is expired. That means I can’t do this transfer today.”
I had noticed when I first arrived (which seemed like hours ago) that the half-sheet of paper I’d been shown specified that my license had to be valid, but online I’d read that my license had to have expired less than six months ago (which was the case), so I’d just gone with it.
“You’ll have to take a written exam and a road test. If we can’t get you on the road today, I’ll be able to give you a learner’s permit.” He clicked his mouse and tapped at his keyboard for a minute. “You can take the exam right there on computer number 16.”
“But I’ve been driving for, like, five years.” (Does anyone else still calculate years assuming it’s 2010? I actually started driving in 2006).
“This says you were born in 1990.”
“Oh. Yeah. Okay, more than five years.”
He looked pointedly at the computer and turned away to help another customer. With a sheepish grin, I plopped down in the plastic chair at the computer and read the instructions on the screen. I had to answer 30 out of 40 multiple choice questions correctly to pass. At least if I fail I can go home, I thought as I touched the screen to bring up the first question. Thankfully, most of them only required common sense – What is the safest way to drive at night? A) Reduce speed and proceed with caution, B) Maintain the posted speed limit at all times, C) Leave your brights on throughout your trip, D) Honk to let cars know you are approaching. However, I soon answered a whole string about the meaning of road signs wrong. What does this sign mean? A) The road curves to the right, then the left, then back to the right, B) The road curves to the right, then it is straight, C) There are sharp curves in the road ahead, D) The road curves to the left, then the right, then back to the left. With five questions to go, I couldn’t answer any more incorrectly or I’d fail.
But dumb luck came through. I passed the test with the minimum score needed. I triumphantly returned to the desk, where Police Officer Guy sent me back to the check-in line up front, where I was sent back to wait in the rows of plastic seats until my number was called. After all that, I had still somehow managed not to miss it. I sat back and read a few pages of the book I’d brought, shooting up like a rocket when a voice called, “363?”
I approached the desk and said “I guess I’m here to get a learner’s permit? Apparently I can’t get a license because mine was expired.”
The woman behind the desk raised her eyebrows and said “That makes no sense. How long has your license been expired?”
“Thank you! Only two days,” I exclaimed. Maybe she’d set me up with an actual license and I’d finally be on my way.
“Oh…maybe it’s because you have an out of state license. I bet that’s it,” she shrugged. “Sorry about that. We’ll get you your permit today and schedule your road test. We have a cancellation next Saturday at 10:15 if that works for you.”
I don’t know what anyone thought I was going to do with a permit, and half-expected someone to follow me out into the unusually mild air and arrest me when I left to drive home without a 21+-year-old in my passenger seat. That didn’t happen, but due to my laziness over the past two and a half years and subsequent failure to read a website correctly, I really can’t afford to get pulled over before next Saturday. Wish me luck on my road test, because I haven’t tried to back into a parking spot since the one I took nine years ago.
Not sure how I’ll ever replicate that signature, considering I didn’t form any actual letters