Thursday, July 24, 2008


I’m going to the DMV to get a New York drivers license this week, so if anyone has any salient advice in that regard, other than Bring a Book or Just Kill Yourself Right Now, please pass it on.

I’ve lived in the city for going on twelve years now, but I’ve managed to hold on to my Virginia drivers license this whole time, just because it seemed easier. A few months ago, the Virginia DMV sent me a letter telling me I was about to expire (or rather they sent it to my parents, who sent it to me), but I tossed it aside in the “To be taken are of later, perhaps in the next century” pile. I could blame this on being VERY BUSY AND OVERWHELMED from being postpartum-y and having a young infant in the house, but I’m not even going to bother, because we all know that I would have done the exact same thing even if I were single, childless, and jobless. By the time it finally occurred to me to take care of the renewal, it was too late to simply renew by mail or online; I would have had to go home to Virginia and show up at the DMV with some proof of residence, which, not being a resident, I don’t really have, unless you count the sample packets of formula that Similac sent to me at my parents’ address soon after I found out that I was pregnant. How do those marketers know these things anyway? ESP?

In any case, rather than go through that brouhaha, I decided it would be best to just go ahead and get the New York license. So I went online and figured out that I would need to bring my Social Security card and my passport. I knew the Social Security card would present no problem, because up to this point in my life, my father has been in charge of that. So all I had to do was ask him to send it to me and then not lose it. (The first part was easy, and, against all odds, I’m still doing OK on the second part.) When I read “passport,” though, I got a distinctly bad prickle in the back of my mind. I slunk off to find it, and, sure enough, it had been expired for a few months. I called the DMV, and after a 15-minute phone tree adventure, I got someone on the phone and asked her if an expired passport counted as a passport. She gave me an outraged NO, as though she could not believe that there was anyone in the world dumb enough to ask such a question.

Really, though, I don’t think it’s a particularly stupid question. I have never properly understood the concept of an expired piece of identification. Just because your ID is expired does not mean that you are not you anymore. I mean, it still identifies you, doesn’t it? I had to debate this point at some length once a few years ago when I was back in Virginia for a few weeks and went to meet my college friend L. in “downtown” Bethesda, Maryland for dinner and a drink. We sat down at the restaurant bar, and I ordered a glass of wine, got carded, and handed over my license. The bartender looked at it and started shaking his head. “Nope,” he said, “sorry. It’s expired.”

I looked at my license disbelievingly and found that, sure enough, it had been expired for several weeks. Now, that was a time when my husband and I were going out a lot, to lots of shows at lots of bars and venues and holes in the wall, many of which required ID at the door. And in all those weeks, no one, not a single big bouncer or scrawny hand-stamper or canny promoter, had noticed that my license had expired – or if they did notice, they didn’t care enough to even mention it to me. But once I stepped into the great metropolis of Bethesda, Maryland, I was busted. This fact alone infuriated me, but what infuriated me even more was that the bartender categorically refused to serve me, as did the bartenders at a few other places that we tried to go to after we had our (wineless) dinner. “Nope,” they all said, “sorry. Your license is expired.” They wouldn’t even let me inside. This drove me INSANE. Because you do not all of a sudden change birthdates on the day your license expires. And I had a wallet full of other things – bank card, personal phone card (remember those?), credit cards, undergrad picture ID, grad school picture ID – that all showed that I was me and not some maniacally clever but un-detail-oriented delinquent who buys expired IDs from DMV employees who need a little extra cash on the side and retrofits them with different pictures WITHOUT BOTHERING TO CHANGE THE EXPIRATION DATE.

Plus, I really hate that “I’m just doing my job, ma’am” attitude that people sometimes give you when they are doing really ridiculous things. (Like ALL the stoic customer service people at Ikea who DID NOT want to mail me the high chair safety belt that was missing from the high chair I bought, and who all acted like it was perfectly reasonable to force me to make a two-hour round trip back to Ikea or pay $80 to get a whole new high chair delivered when IT WASN’T MY FAULT THAT THE DAMN THING WAS MISSING IN THE FIRST PLACE. They were totally like, “That’s just company policy, ma’am.” Ma’am, my ass. I badgered them until they got tired of me, and I got the thing in the mail yesterday. Ha.) I mean, I guess I have some sympathy. One of the bartenders explained to me that, were I an undercover cop, or were a cop to come into the bar and check everyone’s IDs, he – not the bar – would get fined. But GOOD GOD. Does the Bethesda police force really have nothing better to do than to go around enforcing fines on bartenders for serving people who are VERY CLEARLY over 21? And if that is the case, shouldn’t they just save money by downsizing the police department? I mean, in New York, even at the height of Giuliani Time, you would never…And so on and so forth. I really worked myself into a lather that evening, but I made no headway and went home dry, feeling like a teenager who couldn’t get into Twilo.

So I knew that, when the DMV lady made the completely absurd claim that an expired passport is not a passport, resistance was futile. I sent the Department of Homeland Security $135, gah, and got a new, unexpired passport with horrendously tacky jingoistic drawings (An American spacecraft and the moon! Brokeback cowboys on the range! Lots and lots of eagles and grain and eagles and grain!) all over it. The drawings are all tinted in red, white, and blue, with some strategic touches of yellow for the grain and the eagles’ beaks. In addition, there are some tepid quotes by famously articulate Americans like…Dwight D. Eisenhower? There are also some nicer quotes that are painfully, heart-wrenchingly ironic, like a Mohawk thing about hoping that the animals will always be here or a Martin Luther King, Jr. thing about hoping that one day America lives up to its promise or a George Washington thing about America setting the standard for the rest of the world. There are also bits of the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address and the Star-Spangled Banner for good measure. The real pièce de résistance, though, is the scary little gold icon on the front cover. It has a distinctly Big Brother look to it, as though it might be a robotic eye or ear, and indeed, the back page of the passport reads, “This document contains sensitive electronics.” I showed it to my friend M, who still has the old, sane passport, and she held it by the corners gingerly and spoke nervously into the icon. “I like George Bush," she said. "Eagles are great. The turkey was bad idea.” My husband, less fanciful, just said, “This thing is garbage.”

Weeks ago, when I told my friend Ms. N the Latin teacher that both my passport and my license had expired, she clapped her hands in delight. “Who are you?” She exclaimed. “You’re nobody! A woman of mystery!” Mysteries, however, can only be solved. So, having received my new garbage passport, I am now properly identified by the federal government and am qualified to proceed forthwith to the state government to become properly identified by them. And then, thankfully, I will be me again. Some times more than others, I feel as though my life is proceeding in circles, but I cannot help but to keep going around.

1 comment:

pretty face said...

hey - this was a great piece of writing. i miss your posts!