Amblin' Alameda: Rite of passage

Amblin' Alameda: Rite of passage

Morton Chalfy

This was the year I had to prove to the State of California that I was still capable of driving a car. Despite the fact that automobile use is a requirement of California living due to the dearth of public transportation, it is still treated as a privilege rather than the right it so clearly is. Caveats aside, I drove to the DMV in Oakland for my appointment.

It's always interesting to go to the DMV. Everyone has to drive so everyone has to come to the DMV at one time or another, which results in bringing a most interesting cross-section of the inhabitants of Oakland and the surrounding area to this meeting place. Young, old, hale or ill, black, white, brown, yellow or red, we all show up near our deadlines to interact with this agency.

Some subtle changes have been made to their process, changes I can't put my finger on (perhaps more workers in the hive), but which moved the lines quickly and completed tasks even more quickly. For my part I was well prepared. I had taken an eye test a month before just in case, and had ordered distance glasses to deal with the case. I was told I should be able to pass the vision test without glasses and thankfully I did. I had read the booklet the day before the test and so I passed easily. To be fair, it is a multiple choice test and should be passable by anyone with a little thought as only one of the answers is even remotely correct.

Aside from my weird enjoyment of sitting and waiting while watching the passing parade (there is no zoo like the human zoo), I experienced a sensation I hadn't expected. While I waited, the thought of the consequences of not passing this test slapped me around a little and woke up my fears. I knew I was well prepared, and, in fact, am a good and safe driver, but what about the next time I need to be tested? Assuming I'll still be alive, I'll be older, more frail and perhaps even a little gaga. Not good.

One doesn't expect to encounter a rite of passage a week before one's seventy-sixth birthday but here it was: Pass or fail. Drive or walk. Stark, powerful outcomes that affect one's life at the most basic level.

Fortunately I passed easily and am off the hook for another half decade, but now my wishes for the holiday season include this one: Hurry up with the driverless car, Google. The need is great and growing, and my need grows more acute with each passing day.

A bullet train between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost billions upon billions and take decades to build. A fleet of driverless cars could be packed nose to tail like a train and cruise at 80 or 90 m.p.h. while its passengers relaxed in comfort, and all at no cost to the state and no boondoggle creation.

So ... circumcision, adolescence, marriage, children, cancer and now DMV tests after seventy-five. The rites of passage keep looming ahead and stretching behind. I'm not sure I'm looking forward to the next ones.