To Live and Drive in L.A.: My Daunting Trip to the DMV

(Editor’s Note: This 2017 column was a finalist for the California Newspaper Publishers Award. Vickrey was so happy with the accomplishment, Circling the News didn’t want to wreck his mood and tell him will have to go back to the DMV by April 2020 to obtain his Real ID driver’s license.)


I knew the day would eventually arrive that would require a dreaded in-person visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles—a premise that Stephen King should have considered as a theme for one of his chilling thrillers.

I found out recently after reaching a certain age (you’ll find out soon enough what that age is), the DMV will no longer automatically issue your license renewal by mail. It had been 20 years since I had been required to actually visit a branch—apparently because I had not been involved in an accident, nor been cited for any moving violations, and apparently had not robbed any major banking institutions since the last renewal period.

My friends who have been through the process recently told me about how nervous they had become before arriving to retake the written and vision tests.

I will admit that I was unprepared for some of the newer questions on the written test such as: “Which way do you turn your front wheels when parallel parking downhill on alternate Sundays with two or more children in the backseat?” (BTW, I chose the correct answer, which is to honk three times, turn the wheels toward the curb, and then deliver the kids to your ex-wife’s front door.)

During my last trip to the local DMV branch, I remember being greeted by the permanently agitated employees behind the counter, so this time I briefly considered bringing a bouquet of red roses in a groveling attempt to appeal to their good graces.

I studied the California Driving Manual for two weeks before the big test and have determined that this may have been the single most tedious and mind-numbing prose written since Gutenberg invented the printing press—(and who is not to be confused with popular actor Steve Guttenberg—who, by the way, would have written a far more entertaining handbook).

I practiced taking the sample written tests available online, which offered much better help than the stupefying handbook. I was even nervous when taking these sample 18-question tests after I discovered you are only allowed three wrong answers.

These people were obviously not aware of my dubious academic history in which teachers were gracious enough to grade me on the “curve” system. Perhaps they had an alternative test that would allow me to display my terrific spelling skills.

The other hurdle I faced was passing my vision test. Since my last visit to the DMV in the previous century, the sight in my left eye has diminished considerably and might possibly hinder my chances of renewal.

When I mentioned my vision problem to a friend, he asked if I had his cell phone number handy. When I appeared puzzled by his question, he asked, “Would you mind just giving me a call each time you pull out of your driveway?”

On the big day, I arrived at the DMV office a bit groggy after a fitful night of sleep in which I remember waking several times during the night muttering gibberish like: “Passing another vehicle is allowed only if there is a broken yellow line in your lane.”

As I pulled into the parking lot, I was greeted by the sight of long lines of people outside the front door that wrapped completely around the building. Surely, I was in the wrong lot and this crowd was buying advance tickets to the latest “Star Wars” movie?

However, I was indeed in the DMV lot. A smiling woman at the front door noticed the pained expression on my face and quickly escorted me to a desk which was designated “Appointments Only.” I managed to restrain myself from hugging her, and now wished I had bought those red roses.

The gracious and friendly receptionist welcomed me and pointed toward a seat where my number would be called shortly. I was completely disoriented by all this unnerving cordial behavior and friendliness from the DMV employees, but it didn’t sway me from the challenge at hand.

I aced my vision and written tests, and even managed to pass the always-difficult thumb print exam. The all-important license photo was a nail-biter given that we’re forced to live with these awkward pictures for the next five years. I smiled like a complete fool since most license photos appear to be mug shots from a police lineup.

The beautiful young actress standing behind me in the photo line complained that there was no make-up artist on site who might possibly enhance the results of her “photo session.” I agreed completely. Come on people! This is L.A.

 Bob Vickrey is a longtime Palisadian whose columns appear regularly in the Houston Chronicle and is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald. You can read more of his columns at his website:



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2 Responses to To Live and Drive in L.A.: My Daunting Trip to the DMV

  1. Howard yonet says:

    very amusing and on the edge of reality. Keep his columns going.

  2. Paula H Deats says:

    Thanks, Sue. Good – never mind FUNNY – writing is ageless, and a re-printed article of Vickrey’s is always good for the (bitter and battered, L.A.) soul! (Misery loves good company?)

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