Monday, August 03, 2009

License to drive

When I first came to the United States I had no need of a driver's license. Instead I got what was called a "liquor ID card" after I discovered that my UK passport was not considered adequate proof of my age when I wanted to get in to a local bar!

A couple of years later I finally did get a driver's license. I didn't have to take a test of any kind - not a road test or even a written test. I seem to remember showing them my UK license, perhaps along with my (by then expired) international driving permit and my liquor ID as well as my passport. (Multiple forms of photo ID seem to be required - a couple of years after I got my liquor ID I helped a Russian friend get hers and it was not an easy task.)

A whole bunch of years down the road, having renewed my license a couple of times in between, I was royally annoyed after waiting over an hour to renew my license to be told they would not renew it until I turned in my liquor ID, which I hadn't used or even seen in years. I finally found it, and had to turn it in along with the old license. I really wanted to keep the older license as it had rather a good picture of me on it. (i.e. it didn't look remotely like me, but in a very good way - I looked young, slim and pretty!)

At the next license renewal they had switched over to digital pictures. I was fairly happy with the photo they took, so at the subsequent renewal when I was asked if I wanted a new picture I decided to decline.

My license expired today so although I should clearly have set about renewing it some time ago, I headed off to the local Registry of Motor Vehicles after lunch. There is an option to renew online, but you can only do that so often and then you have to go in and have your photo retaken. My last experience there was a good one - no line, in and out in under 10 minutes. What were the chances of such luck this afternoon? Slim to none! Apparently this registry was off the beaten path in the past - relatively new and in an out of the way location. Since then, the busier registry office has closed due to a dispute with the landlord. My heart sank as I saw the number of people waiting - and me with a 6 year-old in tow and, foolishly, nothing to occupy him! There were big signs warning not to take a number until AFTER filling out the application form. I took a number anyway, while I was waiting to get close enough to the counter where the forms and pens were. Yes, of course it would have been helpful if I'd brought my own pen with me, but that would have required a degree of organization I don't appear to possess. I had a choice of a plastic spoon, a lipstick or a Sharpie marker so I chose to stand in line and wait for a pen!

So I took a number, got a form and filled it out/in. One question asked if I have a license to drive in any other US state or any other country. I don't remember seeing that question before, but now I can truthfully answer "No" seeing as I've lost the UK one and can't get it replaced! (See previous post.) I had palpitations though when I saw that it said that for certain transactions further forms of ID like a Social Security card might be required. I'm pretty sure my Social Security card is in the safety deposit box at the bank, and I knew I didn't have enough time to go get it, get back in line, and still make it to the pick-up point for DD's bus bringing her back from Girl Scout camp. And if it wasn't in the bank, I certainly didn't have time to figure out where it was and still get my license renewed today! That would be a Very Bad Thing given that (remember?) my license expired today and tomorrow involves a fair amount of ferrying children around to different activities! The ticket with my number on it said B236 and my anticipated wait time was 24 minutes. I'd only been waiting a couple of minutes when I thought I heard my number called. It was a good thing they also had an electronic board where the numbers were displayed because they had in fact called C236. How you make a C sound like a B is beyond me, but they did - repeatedly over the next half hour. Every number that started with a C sounded like it began with B! DS even argued with me about it, he was so sure he was hearing B.

In the end it was only about half an hour until my number was called and DS was extremely well behaved and patient. I did not have to produce anything other than my old license, the completed application form and $50 - whew - no crazy search for my Social Security card needed after all! The lady asked if I wanted my photo retaken (when I thought I'd have no choice given that my current photo was taken 8 years ago.) She then took my picture twice and let me choose which one I preferred! She even wished me Happy Birthday as I was leaving! Not a bad experience at all in the end! Oh, and this time I was allowed to keep the old license "as a souvenir"!


tqe / Adam said...

I can't believe the horror stories I'm hearing about drivers licenses in the USA--I think, amazingly enough, it might be easier to get a license in Germany than in the States.

Somewhere after 9/11 people in the US forgot that drivers licenses are not citizenship documents and are now confusing the two...

(And your story about needing a liquor ID because a passport wasn't good enough is almost enough to make my head explode!)

Michelloui said...

hahaha! I was laughing over my breakfast reading this! I havent had a similar situation with driving licenses but I have been in the situation confronted with unexpected queues and potentially complicated paperwork and young child with no entertainment and a welling up of anxieties--and not always have my situations turned out so well, but sometimes they have and when they do it is an even more lovely experience because it is so much more appreciated!

oh and happy birthday!

Mel and Angus said...

I have reverse anxiety. I am dreading getting my U.K. license. Soooo much more difficult than a U.S. license. At least as I see it. I have been hearing horror stories from other expats that have been having to take the test 3 or 4 times before passing. I am afraid that I will find myself not that much smarter! Eeek!

Stella Jones said...

I am dreading driving in Tennessee and apparently I need to do a written and practical driving test in order to obtain a TN driving license 9even though I've had a UK license for the last 31 years!).The last time I was there, I took with me an International Driving License, which is good for a year. I don't think my UK license would work on its own. It does seem like there are different rules for every State and it is important to find out before you start driving over there. I'm glad you got yours ok. I found that I needed to keep my Soc Sec Card on me at all times because everybody seemed to want it. Also everybody wanted ID with a photo on it, like a driving license and of course I don't have that. I discovered that you can't get a driving license over there until after you get a Soc Sec Card, so it really is the last thing on the list to obtain. Driving is very different in the US compared to the UK.
Blessings, Star

Almost American said...

Adam - I might actually have made it into the bar with my British passport but the two friends right in front of me had Norwegian and Japanese passports and I think the bouncer was worried that he had no idea whether there were genuine or not. He wouldn't even look at mine - just told us all to go away. In the long run (as Star has discovered) I needed a locally recognised photo ID because even to write a check at the supermarket I needed one. The "Liquor ID" was the easiest (and cheapest) option.

Michelle - glad I made you laugh!

Mel & Angus - Yes, I've heard that getting UK licence is harder than getting a US one. DH can't believe they never even made me take a test over here. (It was 20+ years ago though, and I'm sure things have changed!)

tqe / Adam said...

@Almost American - Actually the social security card worries me. I have no idea where my original card is--so when and if I ever return to the states, I will need to acquire a replacement card before I can get a drivers license.

What a pain in the ass!

I always thought drivers licenses were about making sure people knew hoe to drive and how to drive safely, not about a witch hunt for illegals. I don't actually think that most DMV employees are actually trained to understand the varying visas, passports, and other pieces of paperwork that they are confronted with.

I don't even think that the people manning ID checkpoints for the TSA have a clue (and I'm not clear how checking that the name on a boarding pass and on an ID match makes my flight more secure.)

Stella Jones said...

I agree with Adam. I am always made to feel like a criminal whatever I try to do over there in TN. I had a perfectly good driving license in the UK and I think that should be enough to drive anywhere. If someone can drive in the UK, then they can drive anywhere. My problem with the bureaucracy over there is that you need this to get that and that to get something else. Wherever I went, I was always asked for photo ID but it was a while before I had any. The first thing I got with my picture on it was an Authorisation to Work card, which we had to go all the way to Nashville for. I don't see why I couldn't have got it in Knoxville and saved all the gas and time! I still don't have a driving license. I think I'll have to take some lessons to get that because otherwise, out of sheer nerves, I'm going to fail the test. Adam, you must try and find that Social Security card, otherwise you're going to have to get another one.

If I Could Escape . . . said...

Imagine my delight when I found out that I could do mine online! Yeah! I hate going to the DMV here!

LOL about the liquor ID! Hehe! Good name for it!

Stella Jones said...

What exactly is the liquor ID? I have no idea what that is?
Regarding the driving license, I had to go back to the UK to get my English license renewed. The DVLA wouldn't do it while I was in the U.S. My license had my previous married name on it and now remarried to an American - I was worried that when I returned to the U.K. to see my family, that if I got involved in an accident, my insurance would be voided because I had the wrong name on the license. I tried to change the name from America, but they said that, as I was no longer resident in the U.K., I could not do it that way. Given that it is illegal to have the wrong name on the license, I was in a cleft stick, as usual. I couldn't do wrong for doing right! Luckily I still had an address in the U.K. so I was able to return, renew the license with my new name on it, get an Internatinal driving license, and then return to the U.S. However, I felt like I was doing something wrong, but why should I? All I wanted to do was drive legally wherever I was.
Blessings Star

Unknown said...

Thats a good rule & good job...
Payday loans Today

Maddy said...

Ooo my! Mine expired on the 2nd [my birthday] I'm not looking forward to renewing when it's already expired but when I went on Friday they were closed!

Now I'll probably have to get someone to drive me on Monday so that I'm not illegal. I was quite looking forward to going on my own and spending some real quiet time with a book!

I'll see how it turns out!

Almost American said...

Star - a liquor ID is an official photo ID issued by the Registry of Motor Vehicles. It looks very much like a driving license - except it's for people who don't have a driver's license but who need photo ID.

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