How a Visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles Is (and isn’t) Like a Day at Disneyland


Barbara Morris

Barbara Morris

California drivers over age 70 are required to take a written and vision test every four years at a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office.

A DMV office used to be close to my home. No more. In the name of efficiency, and to save money, the closest office is 15 miles away. But that’s okay. I know times are tough and the government is trying to save money. (Please stop laughing. I can hear you.) Unfortunately, the austerity measure has resulted in stressed, over-worked DMV employees who must deal with hoards of impatient and frustrated customers who feel resentment about crowding, long lines and having to travel so far. Disneyland it isn’t.

My license expires soon so I made an appointment a month in advance to take the required written test. Because I know the test is loaded with “gotcha” questions, I studied daily and aced several practice tests. As a result, I probably know more about California driving rules and regulations that any police officer. Nevertheless, I got two of those “gotcha” questions wrong. Am I annoyed? You betacha.

But I’m lucky. I aced the vision test – sort of.

Passing the vision test has always been a struggle. I usually have to get a note from my eye doctor certifying my ability to see with glasses well enough to drive. This time I was loaded for bear. I have had Lasik and my ability to see up close is now off the charts crazy good. My distance vision is not perfect, but it’s perfectly good enough to drive. (Isn’t science wonderful? I no longer wear glasses which I had to do since age six.) But I digress.

The woman who performed the vision test greeted me coldly with a foreboding scowl and instructed me to read the letters on the chart half way across the huge room. When I couldn’t read the letters, she said in a here-we-go-again tone of voice, “We will have to use the machine.”

Use “the machine”? The way she said it made it sound like it might be a medieval torture device called a rack. How scary is that?

I was in trouble immediately. The woman was now frowning. She ordered me to place my forehead against “the machine” and read the first line which I could not do, so without hesitation I read the second line hoping that would work but it didn’t. “Read the first line. The first line!” she instructed. Then, with just a touch of exasperation in her voice, she said, “Okay, let’s try this again. Read the first line.” I tried again, couldn’t read it and whack! — she slapped one hand on the desk and the other smack against her forehead and in a tone of poorly disguised irritation she uttered, “You moved!”

Okay, so I moved. What did I do wrong? I just assumed that after I could not read the first line it was okay to take my head off “the machine,” but alas, I assumed too much. I didn’t understand that I had to keep my head attached to “the machine” until I was told it was okay to move away.

Long story short, she finally told me to have a nice day. I had passed! I was euphoric! I thanked her for her patience and with a hint of a smile she sent me to the camera line, which was about half a block long. The euphoria soon dissipated. I couldn’t understand why the line was so long. How long does it take to take a picture? Then I remembered. I’m not at Disneyland, I’m at the DMV. At Disneyland you can have your photo taken with Mickey Mouse, get a Mickey Mouse hat, Mickey Mouse ears, a hug from Mickey, and Mickey’s autograph all in three seconds flat.

But look, God is good, all is right with the world, and I can continue to drive. I have nothing to complain about, so join me in celebrating with a glass of wine or whatever you have handy. But please don’t drink and drive. It takes just one drink to impair your judgment. You cannot consume more than one drink per hour and drive safely.

While you and I are enjoying our virtual libation together, you might also like to know that a DUI conviction will get your license suspended for 6 months, and you are required to complete a DUI program.

To further impress you with the depth of my knowledge of the rules and regulations, here is other important information you might like to know: If you allow someone who doesn’t have a license drive your car your vehicle will be impounded for 30 days. And if you don’t turn on your right turn signal and drive to the right side of the road and stop when a police car is flashing red lights at you, it’s a misdemeanor and you can spend not more than one year in the county pokey. And you must have $30,000 worth of liability insurance if you kill two people but only $15,000 if you kill just one. (Are you impressed yet?)

Questions relating to the above information were not on the test but that’s okay. I got my license and that’s what matters. I can continue to drive my jalopy for another four years. Would I have preferred to spend the day at Disneyland? Nah – it’s crowded there, too. 


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