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Thursday, October 27, 2011

I drive me crazy

Classic 80's Graphics was SO cheesy!

I’ve been hearing about America’s love affair with the automobile for years and I must admit, there are moments when I see a car that makes me want one of them. But honestly, automobiles have been one of three things in my life: The shortest distance between two points, something else that I don’t understand how it operates, and a place to listen loudly to music that I’m the only one in my nuclear cluster likes.  I’m not sure that’s what the American automobile industry wants me to take away from their efforts, but it is what it is.

Thank you Johnny, my Speed Racer!

I learned to drive after most people my age.  I was always a late bloomer and it wasn’t until I graduated college that I actually got around to getting my license and learning how to drive.  I have to thank my younger brother for this. My first car was a slightly used little red Toyota Celica with a stick shift. I had no idea how to use the stick but my then 14-year-old brother apparently did and he became my driver’s ed teacher. We drove around for hours until I mastered the technique. I still remember being in the middle of an intersection somewhere in Livingston and being unable to get the car into gear. My brother was in the passenger seat screaming at me and I was laughing so hard, I was crying. I could not for the life of me, get it into gear. Once I mastered the technique though, I loved driving a stick and the control I had. 

Later on in life I bought a white on white Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible, also a stick. I loved it. It was the perfect beach car for those years I lived in Clearwater Beach. I still owned in when I moved back to New York City in 1989 and would put the top down and blast the heat in the middle of the winter driving down 5th Avenue with the top down and the music up. Wheee!

The Hoff and K.I.T.T. -- still cheesy! 
What I recall most about the horror of car ownership, and it continues to this day, is the headache of registration, licensing and license renewal at the Motor Vehicle offices. When my husband and I left Manhattan to come to the burbs about 14 years ago, we had to get New Jersey licenses. That meant taking the written test again. 

DeLorean made it cheesy, not Doc Brown.

Now that my son has reached the age of permit, another series of visits was required to get all the forms and tests completed. On a recently Saturday morning I was back at Wayne, our closest MV office, to pick up the red tags that we needed to affix to our license plates to indicate there was a “student driver” at the wheel.  The fact that an in-person visit is required to do this, rather than an online order process ($4 per car) just shows how backwards and user unfriendly this system is. The offices open at 8 a.m. so I was in their parking lot by 7:20, anticipating only a small crowd.  I’ve seen that line wrapped twice around the building and it’s not a pretty sight.  As the hour drew near a jovial face appeared at the door with a pencil tucked behind her ear. With an efficiency that would be envied by any branch of the military, she had this motley collection of now about 50 coffee-starved souls, sorted and assigned to various positions flanking the front door. Then she announced, “ I’m sorry, we have no pens in the building. If you have one with you, fine. Otherwise I would recommend that you go to your cars now and retrieve one.” 

Who you gonna call? 

Standing behind me (I was placed in the first position by the door since my request required no paperwork! Oh, happy day!) , was a well-groomed young man who turned to me and said in thick Germanic accent, “I thought this vas a first world nation!” 

“No,” I replied with shame. “You’re in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country and our Governor has apparently reduced the pen budget.”

“Aha!” he replied. “I have a driver’s license for Hong Kong, for Europe and even one for parts of Africa but I have never seen anything like this.”

“Welcome to the new poorer America my friend. It will drive you crazy.” 

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