Writer | Speaker | Activist



I hadn’t owned a car in four years, so having a valid driver’s license wasn’t even on my radar until I decided it was time to buy a new car.

My license had expired almost a year prior, so the morning before I went to the dealership, I thought it would be a good idea to renew it, in case I wanted to, you know, test drive a car. 

I Uber’ed over to the DMV office so I was there right as they opened. Unlike the last time I had gotten my driver’s license renewed (which was also a big to-do), there was no line wrapped around the building waiting for the doors to be unlocked. I stepped up and grabbed my number.

Four! Yessssss! (This is the equivalent of hitting the lottery jackpot, isn’t it?) I may or may not have done a little dance in the foyer before taking my seat on the bench that I’m sure was a repurposed church pew.

Number two was called and I took a quick glance at the checklist of items needed to renew your license. I was missing proof of residence and I had moved (several times) since the last one was issued.


I jumped up and called another Uber to pick me up, take me home and bring me back. It took all of ten minutes round trip. I leapt out of the car, ran into the DMV and grabbed my new number. 

Eighty-six. What the fuck?! Did I hit a time warp while I was gone?

I slumped down in the church pew and waited my turn, which miraculously took less time than I was expecting with that garbage number. Perhaps more people forgot required paperwork at home too. I stepped up to the window and handed the woman my documents while casually joking about how lame I was for not making it in to renew it for almost a year.

She glanced at my old, useless license and said, “Wow, you barely made it under the wire! Four more days and you would have had to re-take the driver’s test!” She laughed, I laughed.


Click. Click. Click. “Oh.” 


“Looks like your driver’s license is suspended.”


“You’re going to have to take that driver’s test after all. But first, you’re going to have to pay off this outstanding ticket.”

“What ticket? I haven’t had a car in four years, and the little bit I drove, I certainly never got a ticket.”

Clickety click. “Looks like from June 15, 2012.”

Four days before the accident that totaled my last car. It’s all becoming clear. I got pulled over for texting and driving (well, updating my Facebook status about a stellar Habitat for Humanity Selection Committee meeting, yep, that definitely could have waited). It was a $72 ticket that I had shoved into the glove box, hoping to pay it within a couple of weeks when I got a new job. It was probably still in there when I had the car hauled off a few days later, and I never went to pick up my personal effects from inside because, you know, I didn’t have a car.

“It’s going to be $350. But you can’t pay it here, you have to go to this website to pay it and you won’t be able to renew your license until it’s paid. You’re going to have to take both the written and the road test as well.” 

Oh my god, are you fucking kidding me? I’ve been driving for 23 years and I never even took the road test. I just took driver’s ed and brought my little yellow card down to the DMV and they gave me a license that didn’t expire until I turned 60. Why did I ever leave Arizona? Wait–don’t answer that. 

She continued while I was lost in my reverie. “You can pay it today, but it generally takes a couple of days for it to catch up to our system, so you won’t be able to renew your license until Tuesday at the earliest.” 

Shit. I’m supposed to be buying a car this afternoon. 

Since my boyfriend at the time had been kind enough to arrange a personal meeting with the GM of the dealership, I really didn’t want to cancel. I paid my ticket and headed to the dealership for my appointment and proceeded to look at a selection of cars that were curated for me by the GM before turning me over to one of his salespeople.

“Which one do you like?” the salesman asked. “Do you want to take one out for a drive?”

“Well, about that…my license isn’t valid and I can’t get it renewed until Tuesday at the earliest, so I can’t test drive anything today.” 

“Oh. Well today is Friday. There is no guarantee that these cars will still be here on Tuesday.” Typical car salesman. “If you put an offer on one, I can hold it until then.”

Interesting. I thought about it for a minute and ended up putting an offer on a cute black Lexus sedan and got approved the following day. I now owned a car. That I couldn’t legally bring home. Doing things backward is the story of my life.

I headed down to the testing office of the DMV first thing on Tuesday morning and was surprised at my dumb luck that once again, there was barely a line. I couldn’t believe my luck.

I stepped up to the counter, smiled at the grumpy looking man and explained that I needed to renew my suspended license.

“Well, first you’re going to have to pay a reinstatement fee of $85. Then, you’ll have to take the written test. That will cost $11. It’s 25 questions and you’re allowed to miss 5. If you fail, you can take it again today, but it will cost you another $11. If you pass, you’ll be issued your driver’s permit, which will cost you $16 and then you take the road test before you’re issued a new license.”

“I only have to get 80% to pass? That’s a B minus! No wonder no one can drive these days. You don’t even have to get an A on the driving test to pass!” I laughed hysterically. Grumpy DMV Guy was not amused.  He pointed me to the computer terminals where I would be taking the written test.

I swept through the first several questions with ease, but as I got into the thick of it, I missed a question about cell phone usage. 

Cell phones were barely a thing when I got my driver’s license. I was still begging my parents for a pager. I did know that the ticket for texting and driving cost $72, or $350 if you waited four years to pay it, but that wasn’t on the test.

I got through a few more and got another couple of questions wrong.

Marijuana was also not legal when I got my driver’s license. How am I supposed to know that the rules are different than using alcohol? Isn’t the general rule of thumb that pot and driving don’t mix?

I looked down and I was on question 25 out of 25 and I had maxed out my number of allowable incorrect answers. My heart started beating a little faster, my palms started sweating and my breath got really short. 

Gotta get this one right. I’m already a loser who got a B minus on her written test after making fun of all the losers that got a B minus on their written tests. I cannot bear to go back to Grumpy DMV Guy with a failing test.

I don’t even remember what the question was, just that I wasn’t sure and I totally guessed at the answer, clicked submit and held my breath. Pass.


I stepped back up to the counter, feeling accomplished and Grumpy DMV Guy flatly congratulated me, then informed me that there was a three week waiting list to take the road test. 


I am never getting my driver’s license renewed. 

I didn’t think that the car dealership was going to hold my car for three weeks. 

I headed in to work and as I was retelling the saga of getting my license, a coworker overheard and said, “you know there’s a private place right next door to the DMV that will take you out for $75.” 

Of course Grumpy DMV Guy didn’t tell me that. At this point, renewing my driver’s license has cost me a total of $462, what’s another $75?

The next morning, I went into the testing center and paid my $75, but they didn’t have an appointment available until the following afternoon. 

I am never getting my driver’s license renewed. 

When I returned the next day, the girl at the desk did not get the memo that I needed to use one of their cars for the test, and she had the last one out with another student for driver’s ed and told me that they would be gone for four hours.

I am seriously never getting my driver’s license renewed. 

I must have looked like I was about to cry because after explaining how I bought a car that I can’t bring home until I have a valid license, because mine was unknowingly suspended for an old unpaid ticket, she offered to let me use her personal car. While I admired the offer, I told her I couldn’t let her risk her job for that, and I would just have to come back the next day. I was frustrated and tired as I went to leave, another instructor pulled up with a car and I was able to complete my road test that afternoon.

I passed. I didn’t even care at that point if it was legit or out of sympathy. I walked into the DMV, slapped another $25 on the counter and was told I was not allowed to smile for the camera.

It’s fine. At that point, I didn’t want to smile anyway. 

2 thoughts on “renewal.”

    1. I have never once taken a bad DL photo – not even the driver’s permit taken 2 days before – until this one. It looks like a mug shot, for sure.

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