A Cautionary Tale

Rue Barbet de Jouy

Remember this post, in which I made light of the fact that my license had expired all the way back in December, and how adorably insistent I was that it wasn’t a big deal? A refresher: I can’t tell you the last time I operated a motor vehicle. Years, at least two. And when my license expired I found it a nuisance to deal with; the DMV is notoriously the last place anyone ever wants to spend any time, and the $30 renewal fee felt excessive for something I never used. I had my upcoming sojourn to Paris taking up most of my attention (and finances) at the time, so I suppose I can be forgiven for not making my license a priority. My passport, on the other hand, I renewed a full seven months before it expired. I figured I’d take care of renewing my right to drive like a grandma when I got back.

And then I came back in July, and it was full-on wedding crunch time. And then there was the wedding, and then the honeymoon, and I’d become so used to using my passport as ID at bars that the need to renew my license developed even less of a sense of urgency. Until about two weeks ago, when Jamal asked me, “Won’t you have to retake the driving test at some point?”

“No,” I scoffed. “They only make the elderly retake it.”

“Are you sure? It’s been about 10 months now.”

Ten months? Oh my god, it had been! If you ever need proof that time doesn’t so much pass as disappears, try putting off renewing your license. Then I had a brief mental review of the previous ten months, which, had this been a movie, would have involved lots of dreamy music and slow motion scenes in Paris and Greece, punctuated with the occasional anxiety of my expired license.

Still, I thought. I’ll be fine.

But then I googled. And you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson now about googling answers to things you really don’t want to know the answers to (“My dog just ate a box of matches, will he die?”), but no. And it turns out that in the state of Pennsylvania, if you let your license lapse for more than six months, you need to retake the driving exam.

I’m not wonderful at math, but even I realized that 10 months was a whole four months longer than six months. Six months would have been June, and this being November, I realized I was, as the saying goes, up shit’s creek without a paddle. Not that I could’ve paddled anyway, because my canoe license is expired, too!

What exactly does the license exam entail? Well, first, I’d need a signed physical from a doctor, certifying I’m in good enough health to drive a car. The I’d need to take a road knowledge test at the DMV in order to obtain a learner’s permit. Then I’d need to schedule (and pay for!) a road test. I did all of this when I was newly 20 and for some reason decided learning to drive was a worthy pursuit. Spoiler: it’s no fun, and I wasn’t about to voluntarily put myself through it again.

Panic. Sweating. Stifled laughter from my friend Herbie, who swore he wasn’t laughing at me just at my predicament. There was no way in hell I was applying for a learner’s permit again at almost-28. If it truly came down to it, I thought, I’d say eff it and just get a state ID card and never drive again. It wouldn’t be that much of a difference from my current life, only I wouldn’t have to carry around my passport as a valid form of ID.

Just to be sure/beg for mercy, I called the state DMV office, and a kindly lady confirmed that yes, in the state of PA, you can choose to not drive with a valid license for at least two years, but if you let that license lapse for six months and one day, you need to re-do the entire driving test process from the beginning. Merde.

“But wait,” she said. I heard clicking and typing in the background. “Hmm. That’s interesting! It looks like the system isn’t prompting a retake in your particular case.” WHAT? “Normally, it wouldn’t let you renew your license, but I’m not getting that error on yours.” Finally, the prevailing incompetence of the DMV actually worked in my favor!

You could call it divine intervention or luck, but my sweet friends, I was spared the embarrassment of getting a whole new license at this age. I was able to renew online without issue, and I have to go to the DMV this afternoon and have a new photo taken. No doctor’s physical or horrible road test required. The downside is that, because I updated my address less than 30 days before an election, I still had to go back to my mom’s neighborhood to vote last week. A small price to pay to avoid the inevitable failure that would have met my attempt at passing a road test under the strict DMV requirements.

Did I learn my lesson? Enh. Ask me in another three years.

27 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale

  1. oh my goodness. what luck! the more you explained, the more sick even I felt! who wants to deal with that let alone has the time for all of that?! i’m so glad it worked out in your favor. and i supposed the smallest hurdle was going to your moms neighborhood to vote, right? i’d take that over having to do a road test any day!

    1. Ha, imagine how nauseated and sweaty I was! I couldn’t even be mad at the DMV, it was my own dumb fault for letting it lapse. But yes, the biggest hardship was that I couldn’t vote in my neighborhood, but it was only a quick bus ride up to my mom’s (I used her address as my permanent one for my license because I moved every year from 2004-2010) after work. Still! The panic alone taught me my lesson. xo

  2. i am pretty sure i have let my license expire every time since i got it at 16. in my defense ours do not need to be renewed for like 8 or 12 years so it’s really easy to forget when that time comes (and they always send the paperwork like 6 months in advance. plenty of time to completely forget about it). one time i forgot to do it i was in an accident the very next day after it had expired. and to avoid a ticket i had to go down to dmv with my severe whiplash and get my license renewed (that was a good picture – though i never forgot what day i got in my accident). and last time was uneventful, thankfully.

    PA has some serious driving laws! glad you got out of all that hassle. xo

    1. Wow, that long?? That’s crazy! I’d definitely forget if it was long here. It’s every 4 years here, which apparently I can’t handle. ;) I’m happy to hear you were okay from your accident!! I can’t imagine the fine they would’ve slapped on your for driving without a license. Or maybe it’s not a lot, I don’t know. As you can tell I am woefully uneducated about all things driving-related. xo

  3. well that was a freebie! you had me LOLing at your remark, “the prevailing incompetence of the DMV actually worked in my favor!” it’s like the sweetest poetic justice ever. side note: how great is it that you live in a place where walking and/or [reliable] public transportation is an option.

    1. A freebie! I like that, Lucinda. It was a serious stroke of luck, for sure. And I will never take for granted that Philly has semi-decent public transit. I walk most places but definitely rely on the bus routes, and have my entire life. City mouse through and through :) xo

  4. Uhhh, that’s flipping awesome. And I hope you didn’t have to wait for THREE HOURS to get your photo retaken because that’s how long I had to wait. Yep… no wonder everyone’s photo comes out wonky looking. Because they’ve been waiting in line at the DMV for a year…

    1. Girl, I was in and out in under six minutes. I didn’t even know that was possible!! I was the only person in there, magically. I barely had time to primp before they called my number! The DMV is really one of the most miserable places in the world. No wonder we have road rage, we’re innately wired to hate the entire enterprise! xo

  5. This is more proof that heaven watches over babies, fools and drunks. This was so your father. We were vacationing at Cape May Point and driving into Cape May every day. Your father didn’t need gas…..nope, he had plenty….until we were all in the car at the Point, 5 miles from a gas station, and the car wouldn’t start. Didn’t the person in the next parking space offer to drive him into town, get a can of gas, and drive him back!!!???? I sat in the car with you in your car seat thinking—babies, fools, and drunks!

    1. People who have strokes of luck like that (like your lazy daughter with the DMV!), who are bailed out of sticky situations last minute, never really learn their lesson. Sorry to say! I am way too cocky now about how well this worked out. What is wrong with me?? Babies, fools, and drunks. And procrastinators. xo

    1. It NEVER EXPIRES?? Don’t you have to get a new photo taken every so often? Do they even have photos on French licenses? So many questions! :) xo

    1. Seriously! I barely passed the first time. I think you can get up to 16 points wrong out of a possible 30 before they stop you, and within the first five minutes the state trooper docked me FIFTEEN for letting the steering wheel spin back through my hands after turning, rather than doing a hand-over-hand turn. I don’t know how I made it through the rest of the exam! I couldn’t do it again. Literally couldn’t. xo

  6. Omg what luck!! I haven’t driven in a really long time either, and there is NO way I could parallel park on command at this point in my life

    1. Haha, believe it or not, parallel parking is the only thing I’m good at! I can’t merge, can’t drive over 35mph, and can’t unglue my hands from the 10 and 2 positions. But parallel parking? I’ve never met a space too small. So weird! xo

  7. C’est incroyable ton histoire ! Tu as vraiment la chance. Effet, j’ai le permis mais je ne conduit jamais. Quand j’habite Madrid, je préféré me déplacé à bus ou à pied (j’aime beaucoup marché) et quand je suis arrivé en France j’ai n’est pas vu le besoin non plus. J’aime mon vélo, ça me suffit !
    Tu devrais sortir ton permis en France, ici c’est illimité (enfin je crois) xo

    1. J’aime beaucoup marcher aussi, et le bus. J’ai conduit quelques fois, mais je ne l’aime pas. Je prefere mes jambes ;) Je pense que J’échouerais le test de conduite en France! xo

  8. I get kind of freaked out about expiration dates, so I’m always ahead of the curve, but, truth be told, in Florida it really doesn’t matter since it’s practically God’s waiting room and they let things slide like nobody’s business. It’s funny how incompetence (which the DMV has in spades) works out in our favor sometimes.

    1. I renewed my passport with more than seven months to spare, so it was really unlike me to let this lapse! I’m thanking my lucky stars and the DMV for this one. xo

  9. ahhhh, lucky you :) I don’t have a license by the way. never driven a car in my life [which at 21 isn’t a big deal, I know, ha… ] and you know what, it’s not that big a deal.

    ps: Paris misses you :)

    1. It really isn’t that big of a deal if you live in major urban cities and the need to drive is non-existent! I’m so much happier not having to pay for a car payment or insurance or parking or gas or anything. I don’t even take cabs all that often! Just rely on my two legs and the bus.

      I MISS PARIS! xo

  10. Oh my goodness Erin, I fee like you just narrowly escaped something awful. I always think, if I ever had to retake that driver’s test, I’d surely fail.

    1. I just barely squeaked by on this one, I know. There is no way I’d pass the test again now! :) xo

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