Visiting the Department of Motor Vehicles is never a totally pleasurable experience. Usually the most you can hope for is an absence of pain. But waiting for a test here recently felt like torture.
I was having flashbacks to my 16th birthday, the day I failed my driver’s test. I was a teenage loser. Devastation does not begin to describe the way I felt that day.
The minutes ticked by.
At last, I heard a man call: “Abcarian?”
My father stood up.
“You got this, Dad,” I said. “Don’t forget, you’ve been driving for almost 80 years!”
A 16-year-old boy sitting next to me looked up quizzically. “He’s 89,” I explained.
A few months earlier, my father’s gerontologist had administered some standard cognitive tests. My dad had trouble remembering a sequence of words and counting backward from 100 in sevens.
“I’m going to have to let the DMV know,” the doctor told us. “I’m a mandated reporter.”
I felt a sense of dread, followed by relief: Whether my father would continue driving was out of the family’s hands. Professionals would decide.
Before his driving test, he had to pass the written exam. You get three tries. The second time he failed it, he asked the clerk if she knew what “defenestration” means.
“Because that’s what I’m going to do to myself if I don’t pass this test,” he said.
He passed. Now the driving test.
As my father walked out of the building with the man assigned to evaluate his driving skills, I let out a sigh and thought: Well, this is it. He either passes, and maintains his independence, or he doesn’t and we enter delicate and possibly unpleasant negotiations about how he fills his larder, sees his doctors and copes with a sense of betrayal by a universe that has generally been kind to him as he ages.
In less than two minutes, he was back.
Oh no. He must have flunked. My heart sank.
“They’re saying there is something wrong with the form my ophthalmologist filled out,” he said.
We drove directly to Kaiser. We found a nurse, who filled in the empty box for us in blue ink.
Two weeks later, we returned to the DMV for the driving test. This time, he was refused because the blue ink in the box did not match the black ink the ophthalmologist had originally used.
We drove back to Kaiser and had the doctor fill out a whole new form. Two weeks after that, we were back for the test. My anxiety had given way to a rippling sense of irritation. Which only grew when we were turned away a third time.
“I am really sorry,” the tester told us. “I can’t give you the test because you made this appointment for yourself the last time you were here.”
“Do you have any idea why your clerks would let us make an appointment we were not supposed to make?” I asked.
“No,” he replied. “But I plan to bring it up at our next staff meeting.”
When we arrived home, a letter from the DMV was waiting for my father. His license, it informed him, had been suspended. The reason: The DMV said he had failed to show up for his second scheduled driving test — the one they didn’t let him take because of the ink color discrepancy.
I had to talk him down over that one.
Last Thursday, my father and I drove for the fourth time to the DMV.
I prepared myself for the worst and opened the newspaper I’d brought with me so I didn’t have to think about the carnage that was probably being inflicted on the streets around the Culver City DMV.
Twenty minutes later, my dad’s tester approached me in the waiting room. He was alone. Maybe my dad had been defenestrated mid-drive.
“Oh,” he said, “your father is in the car. He drove just fine. No issues at all. Wait to hear from the DMV.”
Late Monday morning, the DMV called. My father should stay off the freeway, but otherwise, he’s good to go.
Good work, Dad. I hope we don’t have to do this again next year.