Saturday, June 29, 2013

Legally licensed at last in California, name change and all


Travails and triumph at California's DMV;
Driver gives thanks for the U.S. system,
despite lines, crowds, waits and red tape


California freeways are not for the timid or shy.  But for the most part, we transit them safely and without incident.
Who knew that one must take the drive test when one wants a California driver's license?
And that one's complete name (i.e. birth certificate, passport) must match the is not merely the matter of "a Cookie by any other name"!  After nearly five years of driving California freeways, and living months at a time in San Diego, I wanted my California license. And I wanted one, uniform name!
"Oh, joy!" One of the applicants for license renewal
has his paperwork completed as he enters the DMV.
MY SAGA BEGAN a month ago when, thinking I'd simply take the vision test, provide my passport and old Arizona driver's license, I waltzed in to DMV and was greeted by a pleasant middle-aged woman with a lyrical Russian accent.
I said, in my halting Russian, "zdravstvuj" -- hello. She lit up and launched into a long Russian sentence, something to do with the weather and long lines.  I admitted to knowing only about 100 words of her lovely  native tongue, but that broke the ice. She clasped my hand and gave me a tiny piece of paper with a four-digit code.  In about 45 minutes or an hour, I'd be called to a window. Watch the video screens for my number to come up.  When the letter and three numbers were called, I'd be summoned to one of two dozen windows at the San Diego Department of Motor Vehicles.
And I'd find what awaited me.
AS MY NEW Russian friend had warned, there was a long line. Elderly, partly deaf people hollering (why do some hearing-impaired people scream?)  Teens on their cell phones.  A middle-aged couple arguing about who owed whom money on the mortgage. Another lady talking to a car repair shop, telling them they did a rotten job on her Corvette and added insult ti injury by misspelling her name on the bill.
A few puzzled looking, nicely dressed people were waiting patiently with me to be called forth. They would have been more comfortable on a country club patio sipping Perrier and G&Ts.
A busy Cairo street last autumn makes American drivers thankful.
Keller and the Yorkies were waiting outside in the car -- we had only one vehicle that day, speaking of car repairs -- so I alerted them of the delay and returned to watch for my number. I thought of crazy-drivers Cairo, and the traffic in Egypt, happy I wouldn't be driving there any time soon.
I had a notebook and some bills to pay. The signs warned against snacking or drinking on the premises.   There weren't enough chairs for the crowd, which stretched out the door into the lazy summer afternoon.
A pleasant man of Chinese descent called me to window 22. I took the vision test -- both eyes passed -- then he peered long and hard at my
The DMV is about to open, an early morning three weeks ago. By afternoon
lines would be snaking between the traffic cones.
documents: Arizona driver's license, issued to Christene Cosgriffe Meyers, good for another few months, Social Security number, birth certificate, credit card statements.  Fingers flying on his computer, he could find no match at SS for me.  "Your name does not verify.  Your date of birth is valid," he reported.
AHA, I THOUGHT. That's because I'm actually and officially Ellen, but have never used the name given me by my poetic mother, also Ellen.  I've been Chrissy and Chris, Christene, Cookie and Christena.  Some of my official documents are issued to  Ellen, my actual birth name. Mum thought "Ellen Christene" flowed more musically than Christene Ellen.  "But we knew no one would ever call you Ellen," she said blithely one time I asked. "There were already several Ellens in the family."
Said my new Chinese friend, "In the eyes of Social Security, you don't exist. You must go see them."
Many ways and modes to drive -- whether in New York's Central Park,
or on a street in New Orleans, southern Spain or Rome. Here, by

the Colosseum, a driver checks his e-mail during a lull. 
He returned my passport (Ellen Christene etc.) and my Arizona driver's license (Christene Cosgriffe etc.), as well as other documents including my birth certificate, which even includes "Cookie" with my maiden name, of course. A Baptist editor had changed my byline in 1969, so I had a married handle for decades.
"YOU NEED TO have a few less names," joked my DMV helper.  "One would be best. Simplify. You have too many handles."
We both laughed.  Mine was a hollow ha-ha-ha.
"Take this appointment slip and come back after you sort out the name," said. "I've given you a couple days."
The whole point of obtaining a California driver's license was to add the "Ellen" which would then match my travel documents.  Since Sept. 11, I've used Ellen on all my international air and cruise tickets, to correspond with my passport. TSA insists on the match and so do the cruise lines.  I wanted to stop lugging my passport around for eomestic flights.
Cairo drivers come in all vehicles, including horses and donkeys.
Leaving San Diego DMV for my work ahead,  I thought how orderly our system is. Imagine how one would sort this all out in the Middle East?  In Cairo, Arab friends told us, if a donkey cart and auto collide, whoever can leave does so.  The other guy simply abandons his car or cart. No police. No forms. No insurance and no repair. We may have lines, but we have laws and order, mostly obeyed.
It took me most of the rest of that last week in California before my Montana summer, to get the name sorted out. I sat in line at Social Security, again taking a number and waiting to be called.  I ordered a new card. SS added Ellen.  Now my name would "verify" at DMV, so I returned there, having gotten myself "Ellen-ized."
I MADE A  few more calls to credit cards and airlines I'd missed with the "Ellenization" and am now -- mostly Ellen Christene on my docs. If I've forgotten something, I'll find out.
Cookie emerges from a week of lines, forms, phone calls and
a driver test, and is now an official California driver.
And, oh, yes, expecting to have only my photo taken and be out the door at DMV, I learned I had to take the written test. I'd not done this since I got my first license 45-plus years ago. I took the test with Grandpa Gus in 1965 because he had accidentally let his expire. We both passed then went to the A&W for hamburgers and root beer floats.  I drove his old green Plymouth. Fun memory.
I must admit -- full disclosure -- that I missed two of the 40 questions.  One asked where one should not park (I couldn't decide: I wouldn't park on white diagonal lines, within 20 feet of a railroad, or in a bicycle lane, so I marked all three options. Diagonal lines was the answer the DMV wanted.)  I can't remember the other one I missed, but the questions were clumsily composed and confusing. Maybe in my next life, I'll author  driver's license tests and make them easier to understand.
My little DMV/SS week had bright spots.  Besides the FAXes, driving time, search for documents, lines and hanging out with the masses, I heard a delightful melange of Russian, Arabic, Italian,
"Driving" near the pyramids of Giza doesn't necessarily mean "car."
Mandarin, Thai, Korean, Cantonese, Vietnamese and many other languages. The driver's tests study manuals were printed in a dozen languages, which I perused  during my waits.
THIS WAS NOT a "straight A" day for me, and I would have gotten a spanking for bringing a less than perfect grade school test home to daddy, but, hey, I'm a legal California driver. I have beautiful freeways and mostly polite fellow drivers. We have cars, not donkeys and camels. We have policemen!
As I departed DMV, I waved and smiled a  "do svidania" to my pleasant Russian friend. She clapped her hands as I showed my interim driver license!
California, here she comes: the freeway to Los Angeles.
"Nice photo," said my partner, the other day on the phone. I'd asked him to open it and check it out, before bringing it to me soon in Montana. "Nice photo?" I barked. "It's horrible. Line 'em up, white background, head on. Ugh." I'm looking at the proof now. An extra chin and what the hell happened to my neck?
But I'm Ellen Christene Cosgriffe Meyers in the state of California, rotten photo or not.
Keller must be in love.

COMING UP:  We're horsing around for the Fourth of July, with beautiful photos and a special tribute to this noble beast: next Wednesday.  Then flower power, gliders, the excitement in Brazil and much more. Remember to explore, learn and live and check out our blogs every Wednesday and Saturday at:

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