Catching up at the DMV

I accompanied a young friend to the Department of Motor Vehicles office the other day, and was reminded how much I missed the place. The DMV is getting a lot of mention in the current media, primarily as an example of what could become of our healthcare system if it’s run by the government. I don’t see the cause of all the fuss; frankly, I’d love to wait in my doctor’s office for my number to be displayed on a scoreboard screen, surrounded by cute teenage girls and more clipboards that I could hope for in my wildest dreams.

The office in my part of South Carolina is located off a quiet country road, sitting on a small rise above a green field. You’re greeted by a reception person when you walk in, given a ticket based on your particular business (new plates, road test, just want to hang out) and shown to a brightly lit waiting room. There, you’re entertained by the frightening quirkiness of your fellow citizens, protected by a crew of burly highway patrolmen and many sharp pencils. For some reason, the pencils have plastic spoons adhered to the eraser end, in case you want to eat pudding while filling out your forms.

I think the ambience is quite pleasant. If they had wi-fi and a coffee bar, I’d be there much more often. But this was my first visit in a while, so I thought I’d be able to brush up on modern motoring techniques as I waited. It’s been almost 40 years now since I took my first driving test, and I figured there was much I could learn. For one example, they now have these things called “cars.”

I remember studying hard as a youth to memorize the road signs and sticking my arm out the window at various angles to indicate what action I was planning next (the only one I still recall is that pointing downward at a 45-degree angle indicated you were about to drop your transmission). I’d practiced parabolic parking, eight-point turns and jack-rabbit starts for weeks before I felt confident enough to meet the examiner. I passed the test in 1968, the same year Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. died, though I swear I wasn’t driving anywhere near them.

Much has changed since those days of Corvairs, Barracudas, Sting Rays and the ill-conceived Dodge Squid (suckers were not to the Sixties what tailfins were to the Fifties). I browsed through a copy of the S.C. Driver’s Manual while we awaited our turn, hopeful that I could learn more about recent developments on and near the road.

For example, what was the significance, I wondered, of those white outlined cartoon families you see on the back window of so many minivans and SUVs? I’d always assumed it was equivalent to the notches on the shotgun stock of an Old West desperado keeping count of his victims. But it seemed odd that the road kill almost always included a daddy, a mommy, a gaggle of kids and maybe a dog or cat. Perhaps there was something else I was supposed to learn from these stick-people decals – a warning that the driver’s toothpick arms made vehicle operation risky, and I needed to stay back.

And what’s the current thinking on the safety of driving while using your cell phone with a dog in your lap while you consult your GPS screen and apply your eyeliner? Couldn’t the dog take over some of the tasks? Does GPS really help locate your eyelids? If I don’t have any of these accessories myself, is it okay that I do crossword puzzles instead? Write long rambling letters to my congressperson? Lance that troublesome boil on my chest?

The proper use of turn signals is something else that seems to have changed over time. I know they’re no longer necessary when changing lanes or making a right into a parking lot, and have evolved largely into an ornamental function to be used mainly around the holidays. And when you put on your flashers, you’re allowed to do virtually anything, up to and including a hill climb up the steps of the Capitol. But what does it mean if your brakelights are out, you’re missing two hubcaps, and your passenger-side door is painted with primer?  Besides the fact that you’re probably living in your car.

I’m also not sure about some of the new laws pertaining to older motorists. I’ll be in my late 50s before much longer, and I need to figure out how to get lower into my driver’s seat than I am now. I can still see over the steering wheel, and it seems you’re not allowed to do that once you’ve reached a certain age. I also need to get a brimmed hat, and a better understanding of the mathematical formula that dictates how fast you’re allowed to go. I think you take a hundred miles per hour and subtract your age, and that becomes your maximum speed. If you’re over 100 years old, you have to drive everywhere in reverse. And you have to do it in the passing lane.

When you’re driving near trucks and motorcycles, I know that special care needs to be taken. The big tractor trailers have blind spots their drivers can’t see, and that seems to include anything beneath five feet above the ground. Smaller pickup trucks, such as those used by maintenance and other workers, also need extra room, though don’t get too far back or you’ll miss out on the free ladders and lawn equipment they often dispense. Motorcycles are allowed to swerve in and out of traffic, as long as the driver is wearing a rebel-flag head scarf instead of a helmet and his female passenger shows the world a thick layer of midriff fat. Bicycle riders have as much right to the road as do motor vehicle operators, but only in theory, and only when it’s you on the bike, not someone else.

I looked through the 176-page manual pretty thoroughly, and couldn’t find most of these issues adequately addressed. I even checked the index for “cow (waving)” to try to understand the significance of that scene outside the local Chick-fil-A. Nothing about the etiquette of getting out of your car while someone else wants the parking space you’re climbing into, nothing about dangling chains creating a distracting light show of sparks, nothing about the reason why drivers with NASCAR stickers always go ten miles an hour under the speed limit.

Well, at least the DMV visit wasn’t a complete waste of time. I did learn that everyone was required to have insurance, which made things run much more smoothly than they do at my local doctor’s office.

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3 Responses to “Catching up at the DMV”

  1. kcleaderwriting Says:

    All so true! Thanks for the entertaining post.

  2. tom1950 Says:

    So true, so true.

    T.O.M.

  3. planetross Says:

    I like those pens with the plastic spoon on the end of them!

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