By W.T. WIMPY HIROTO
“Es todo?” The question is asked prayerfully. “Yes, that’s it,” the senora answers with a smile, belying the notion that civil servants are emotionless robots. Five words that capsulizes the end of another exciting chapter in Crossroads to Somewhere’s checkered history.
Driving anywhere in Los Angeles at 8 o’clock in the morning is not a challenge one looks forward to. Even a breakfast of strawberries and bacon could not put a smiley face on what lay ahead: Another dreaded visit to the Department of Motor Vehicles in quest of a simple but elusive driver’s license. An earlier attempt, only 18 months ago, had taken a half-dozen visits (and months) to accomplish. A least the math was in my favor this time. This trek marked only my third trip.
The closer I got to the Lincoln Park office the greater the anxiety, the more the stomach churned. No need to worry, I remind myself, being as well prepared as one could possibly be; the folder at my side containing everything a person could need before confronting a DMV interrogation.
[Reader Note: I am a fairly ordinary soul. Subject to extraordinary experiences every now and again, but basically your very average Nisei: Aging as gracefully as nature will allow; marrying well and successfully raising a proud family. There is no desire for a big house, aggressive stock portfolio, Jaguar, YSL labeled wardrobe. Nor need for a trophy in sport or spouse. Actually all I need and want is a license to drive.]
Prompt to a fault, I reach destination at 8:10. There is already a line, a sea of Latinos and Asians. But only one smart Jappo armed with an 8:30 appointment. “Go to Window 20,” the receptionist directs. There is no need to be issued a waiting list number; they are for the hoi polloi.
Window 20 doesn’t have a window, it’s an open station. The seated lady doesn’t even look up as I wait to be acknowledged. “I didn’t call your number,” she coldly intones. Without a word I hand over the appointment notice. Now thoroughly exasperated, more than somewhat, Cold Lady demands rather than asks for: The ophthalmologist report (here it is); car registration (okay); proof of insurance (paid billing); smog clearance (test receipt). Ho, ho, ho. Want more? All in the folder, including a record of my first visit on the 6th of March. “All I need is the driving test,” I point out so courteously the words drip with syrup.
As if in punishment, I am directed to a corner stool where another clerk immediately directs me to peer into a visual test doohickey. I explain having already passed the eye routine and hand over the paperwork to verify. To no avail. “Read Line 1,” she orders, without saying “please.” I recite with aplomb, not to mention pleasure as the left orb, my only good one, is being tested. “Now read Line 6,” she continues, making the right eye respond.
Now it’s over. It can’t discern an “O” from a “G,” let alone be sure of the Big E. Surreptitiously pulling back to sneak an unauthorized look doesn’t help. “I can’t see nothing,” I finally confess. Without another word, she’s gone, disappearing into a maze of partitioned stalls. Dead man waiting.
She returns with an all-too-familiar computer printout: The dreaded three-month temporary license extension that means another visit will be necessary. “Sign here,” she gestures, as if I don’t know the drill. I sign my William T. and gird myself for what is to follow: Will I need another Dr. Freddie eye review, or alas and alack, a more rigorous evaluation by a supervisor? Heavens to Betsy, not another written exam. On top of driving unfamiliar roads.
When the lady notes my hangdog body language, it must have aroused a long dormant maternal instinct. Or maybe she once had a nice japones neighbor. In a suddenly soft and kind voice, she adds an unexpected caveat: “Your permanent license will be mailed to you.”
That’s when the opening “Es todo?” question was asked and the subsequent reply, “Yes, that’s it,” followed.
Dumbfounded, I sat there for a moment as it all sank in. The plastic chair was suddenly comfortable. I thought of asking about the forgotten driving test, but no, why press my luck? Instead I laughingly comment the photo shoot doesn’t have to be repeated, yeah? She nods yes and no.
“Mil gracias,” I offer along with my right hand. The counter prevents a hug. “Por nada,” she replies.
I stride out of the building feeling like Iron Man IV. Unimaginably sassy. Maybe no extra skip in the step, but a twirl of the cane a la Fred Astaire was in order.
Checking the car clock, only 32 minutes had passed! The morning adventure had taken only a half hour. Upon leaving the parking lot, a southbound SUV suddenly cuts in, causing me to swerve into the path of another alarmed driver. Miraculously, no collision. SUV driver waves an apology, I do same to car behind. The sun breaks through the overcast. Life is good.
W.T. Wimpy Hiroto can be reached via email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.