Monthly Archives: March 2014

Flunkers @ the DMV

CULTURE.FLUNKERS.one_way_sign_rightby Dell Franklin

I’m 70 years old and flunked the written DMV drivers test. I didn’t bother to study for it and felt I knew the answers and flunked it badly, a disgrace for a guy who’s never been in a wreck and hasn’t had a ticket in 25 years and drove a cab for three years. You’re allowed to miss three out of l8 to pass. I missed six. I was handed the DMV manual and told to study it and come back when I was prepared.

I put it off in a couple weeks. I was intimidated by the complicated, purposely deceiving questions and felt persecuted by the bureaucrats trying to trick me. I am easily deceived and confused these days. My mind is no longer acute. My confidence has waned. Still, I read good books and ran a literary journal and have been told I can maintain an intelligent conversation with educated people, especially in bars after a few drinks.

I browsed the manual the night before driving from Cayucos to San Luis Obispo, Calif., 20 miles away, on a day I also play basketball in a gym there at noon—a priority in my life. I arrived early at the DMV and instead of taking the test right away, sat and studied the manual for an hour, infuriated that those sadists accumulated l00 pages of bullshit to absorb and remember.

Feeling doomed, I accepted the test from the same woman who’d flunked me before. Almost immediately, on the second or third question, I was fulminating at multiple choices that were seemingly the same but worded again to trick a person with a perfect driving record who should’ve had his license mailed to him instead of experiencing this humiliation. I was muttering and cursing in the little enclosure, avoiding answering certain questions, answering the few easy ones, then returning to the ones confusing and deceiving me and pissing me off. I ended up trying to use my common sense and instincts and handed the test over to the same woman, who immediately began checking off wrong answers.

I again missed six. I was grinding my teeth.

“I could take this damn test ten times and flunk it,” I railed at her. “This test is designed to trick me. I’m a good driver. No wrecks, no tickets, perfect. What am I supposed to do now, for Christ’s sake?”

She was not one bit ruffled from my fusillade, whipped out information on a computer and handed me a sheet of paper—a date to take another test, along with a renewed temporary license.

“Some people  have problems with the written test,” she explained. “Just show up at 8:l5 and you’ll take it orally with another group of people who have the same trouble as you.”

She briefly scrutinized me. “You’ll do fine, sir.”

Well, I was so rattled I showed up a week later on the wrong day, waited in a line 30 minutes before discovering my idiocy. I went and played hoop, a person competing against men half my age, can sink a shot from 22 feet, out-smart my opponents, and flunk a simple drivers test a l5-year -old could pass in a breeze.

I showed up the following morning. Right off I recognized my fellow flunkers. A middle-aged native American with braided hair and a scowl sat beside an obese white woman. A white-haired lady frantically studied the DMV manual and fretted. An employee in the hive behind the long lines yelled out at her: “Mrs. Russo, did you report in?”

She peered up from her manual. “Uh…yes.”

“Okay, Mrs. Russo!”

A rotund woman around 40, perhaps Latina, also studied the manual. Her sweatshirt displayed a row of a dozen booze bottles followed with the words, l2 STEPS—THERAPY WORKS. A white-haired man with a neat goatee, dressed preppie in a red sweater vest, arrived, peered around, sat down, peered around, stood, gazed around. The woman in the hive yelled, “Mr. Webster, have you reported, sir?” Mr. Webster reported. So did I. I sat back down. A tall, stooped, white-haired man, at least 80, checked in, using a cane. He was morose. A young wild-eyed girl with hummingbird energy checked in. I sat clenching my teeth, knowing if I flunked this test I should probably turn myself into social services and question whatever I was doing day to day. A middle-aged woman led in another geezer, this one in worse shape than the white-haired man who stood against a wall grumbling.

The woman in the hive yelled very loudly at us: “ALL THOSE TAKING THE ORAL DRIVERS TEST, PLEASE FOLLOW ME!”

We all stood and followed her into a room with a long table and padded chairs, the kind of place you see in movies where corporate henchmen grill and terrify sycophants. Mrs. Russo was disoriented and struggling with her chair. I quickly pulled it forward and seated her. She thanked me, panic in her eyes. “I’m no good at taking tests,” she confessed. “I never have been.”

“Me neither,” I said, not telling her I once aced tests in college.

The tall, white-haired geezer was told by the woman in charge to sit down, but he seemed too pissed to do so. I pulled a chair up for him and he nodded at me and sat down, and Mrs. Russo righteously declared, “There’s a gentleman in the house.”

I glanced at the Indian man beside me. His ball cap indicated his tribe. He was still scowling.

The lady in charge handed us a sheet of paper with l8 true/false questions and two extra sheets with street signs. The first question, which she delivered very loudly, was, “True or false? If you come to a flashing red light at an intersection, you slow down to see if it’s safe, then drive through.”

The white-haired geezer couldn’t hear her. She walked over to him and screamed out the question. “Christ,” he muttered, shaking his head. “False. Anybody knows that.”

“Please, sir, do not repeat the answer out loud!” She was not angry.

“Okay, sorry,” he muttered, grimacing.

The blanks for questions 5 and 6 were blacked out. When we came to these questions, she said, “The answer to question number five is on your sheets of road signs! The first question is, which sign is a ‘one-way street’? Place the number five beside that sign.”

I found an arrow pointing one way with the words “One Way” on it and placed a 5 beside it. The goateed guy on the other side of me was confused. So was the lady with booze bottles on her sweatshirt. The lady in charge patiently went over the question with them. Somehow this tolerant woman made it through all l8 questions. We made for the door, the Indian out first, me behind him. In line, the old white-haired geezer was behind me. He was very tall. While the gloomy Indian was being processed, the white-haired goat seemed to loom over me. His lip curled up to reveal a false teeth sneer.

“This whole goddam thing, the goddam test, it’s a goddam crock of shit,” he told me.

“You got that right,” I agreed.

“I’d like t’ find the assholes made up these tests and wring their goddam necks,” he added.

“You’re not alone,” I told him.

“Hell,” he growled. “I was a goddam cop for forty years. Never had a wreck!”

“LAPD?” I asked.

“Naw. St. Louis. My hometown.”

“Hell,” I said. “I’m real familiar with St. Louis. I used to work on the riverboat, the Delta Queen, on the Mississippi. We docked down by the arch.”

“That was my territory. For twelve years!” he exclaimed. “That was a rough area. We cleaned it up.”

“St. Louis is in the World Series,” I said.

Before he could answer, a man in another line down the row, said, “I was just in St. Louis and saw a playoff game. The Cardinals won. I’m from St. Louis, too!”

The old goat said, “I was a motorcycle cop.” He pulled out his wallet and withdrew his old police ID card and showed it to me. It was from the l950s. Patrick Riley. 25 years old. 6-foot-4, l80 pounds. A handsome young officer with those uniforms with a strap over a shoulder. “I came out here fifteen years ago. I’m 87 years old. I got quick-bowel syndrome. You think it’s fun driving from Paso Robles and back, taking these stupid tests when I might crap my pants, for Christ’s sake!”

“I hope that doesn’t happen to me,” I said. “I’m 70, still playing basketball…”

He squinted at me. “Why, you don’t look a day over 50.”

“Thanks, sir. I was beginning to think I’d lost my looks as well as my mind.”

He grinned. “Me, too.”

I was up next. I handed my test to the same woman who tested us. I watched her breeze through, never checking off any wrong answers. Perfect score.I lingered to see that the old ex-cop geezer with quick-bowel syndrome and a constant grimace passed. He did, but didn’t seem any more relieved than when he came in. Walking out, I saw Mrs. Russo, at the end of the line, biting her lips, clutching her test. I felt as if a massive cloud had been lifted from my being. For the time being….§

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, which he shares with his dog, Wilbur.  He’s a regular contributor and founding publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Crazy comes to Cayucos

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me.

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me. Photos by Stacey Warde

by Stacey Warde

We get our share of crazies passing through town. I met one not long ago at Kelley’s Coffee and Espresso Shop, not long before the place closed down. Right away he took a dislike to me—and to just about everyone who crossed his path.

The sheriff’s deputies had earlier informed window washers on the job across the street that they were looking for a scruffy fellow wearing a plaid jacket. Not an easy task in this town. There are a lot of scruffy guys wearing plaid jackets around here.

Apparently he had been spotted waving a stick in a threatening manner at the middle-school up the road, pretending he had a gun.

As one window washer, who had come in for his coffee, described the character, a man, a stranger fitting the description, passed by the window of the coffee shop. “That’s him!” the window washer exclaimed. “That’s him! Should I call the cops?”

“You bet!” I responded just as a squad car drove by the intersection. I rushed out the door and flagged down the squad car.

The deputy turned the car and came back. He rolled down his window. “That’s your guy right there isn’t it?” I nodded.

“Yeah,” the deputy said, offering a look of irritation. He rolled up his window and drove away.

And suddenly there I was left standing alone, the deputy off to who knows where, and the crazy guy raging pissed off at me.

In this climate of gun crazies blowing children to smithereens I figured that I was doing the right thing. “Here’s your man, the one who was waving his hand like he had a gun at the school yard.”

“You got something to say about me, you say it to my face,” the stranger said.

“OK,” I answered, “apparently the cops are looking for a guy whose description you fit to a T, a guy who was seen menacing the children, like he had a gun up at the school.”

“Say gun again and you’ll be sorry,” he threatened.

“The police said ‘gun,’ not me.”

He stared at me menacingly. “Stare into my eyes!”

I snorted a smirk, trying not to laugh.

COMMENT.CRAZY.IMG_4055“I thought so,” he said, as if he’d judged me an easy target, a weakling. Then he followed me to Kelley’s. We sat out front at one of the tables.

I didn’t want him to feel threatened or challenged or bothering the other customers. I kept watching for the deputies to pull up any moment.

“Where are you from?” I asked.

He stared me down again, said he was from Oklahoma, asked me if I’d ever seen the bloody Arkansas River.

“No,” I answered. “How did it get bloody?”

“From people I took care of.”

“Are you telling me you’re a killer?”

“Just keep pushing me,” he threatened.

Where are the damned deputies? I kept wondering.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

No answer.

“What’s your name?”

He got up and walked away, rattled. Clearly he was insane and maybe even a buffoon but I didn’t know that. From our brief encounter, I deemed him a threat to me and to the community. Even faking waving a gun at children warrants a response.  Apparently, the deputies thought otherwise, despite what they had told the window washers.

I went inside the coffee shop and moments later he came back and sat outside the window facing me, staring at me, giving me the Jedi mind control treatment, disturbing other customers.

I can take care of myself but I didn’t feel like getting into a scrape with him. I just wanted to finish drinking my coffee, reading the newspaper, unmolested by someone who belongs in an institution.

I felt annoyed and threatened. He caused concern among customers and staff. He reportedly made threatening gestures at the school. “He gives me the creeps,” an employee said.

Meanwhile, despite word from the deputies that he had threatened students at the school, he continued to roam free.

Finally, after nearly 30 minutes of staring me down through the window, he came in to borrow the shop phone, saying he had been robbed.

“Sorry, the phone is out of order,” a staffer said.

He went outside and got hold of a cellphone from one of the cyclists who stop in for coffee treats on their road trips up and down Highway 1, the same road that brings the crazies through town.

He called the sheriff’s office on the borrowed phone to report that someone had swiped a Rabobank pen, a freebie the bank gives its customers, from his jacket pocket. The deputies investigated, determined it was a false report and hauled him off to jail.

An arresting deputy said, “Mental health is the problem in this country, not guns. We’ll take him in, have him evaluated.”

The next day, the stranger was back, mad as ever and still raging and threatening.

He pretended again as if he had a gun, this time holding his hand behind his back, while confronting Kelley, owner of the coffee shop. She called the deputies and made a citizen’s arrest.

As the deputy pulled away, the nutter in the back seat threw his head in a jerking motion, lips pursed, as if he was spitting on me and Kelley through the shop window.

He’ll likely be back. Then what? And what about the deputy who left me standing there to confront someone who had been reported seen menacing the children?

I felt exposed and vulnerable, not protected by the deputy’s response to my willingness to help. Later when I mentioned it to another deputy, he seemed perturbed, didn’t want to discuss it.

“We’re too busy,” he said. “I wasn’t here yesterday. I’m here getting the story.”

“I’m part of the story,” I said. He gave me a look, irritated.

“Why is that guy back here?” I persisted. “I thought he was going to be evaluated.” The deputy was clearly more irritated than interested in my questions or my side of the story.

Law enforcement’s response to my willingness to help did little to assure me that they’ve got my back. I felt exposed, unsafe and unprotected by lending my hand to the deputy.

The next time law enforcement seeks my support, I’ll think twice, wondering if the deputy’s action will leave me exposed to threats and danger from those they seek. §

Stacey Warde is the publisher and editor of The Rogue Voice. This article first appeared at his blog, Rogue’s View.