Learning Curve III: The Road Less Traveled

In this, the last installment of the series chronicling the experiences of having a teen driver, I leave you with one take-away.

I survived.

Barely.

The new graduated driving program is pure genius. They not only weed out kids who aren’t ready to drive, they are shucking parents by the wayside as well.

The hardiest of souls are rewarded with a new photo ID and freedom. We parents should get a medal or a t-shirt or something.

But I deserve more. Really.

Because our journey to licensure had twists, turns, tears, torture and trauma unlike anyone in the history of ever. Trust me when I say we almost broke the system entirely.

It all started with the mail. Two days after receiving Mac’s learner’s permit, a card came in the mail with a new ID number. The accompanying letter gave no explanation. It simply told us to keep that card with us at all times.

I was super-psyched because I am always searching for more things to keep track of …

NOT.

So we put it in the glove compartment and forgot about it. That is, until I tried to schedule Mac’s driving test.

For the AARP generation like me, the automation of the DMV is a thing of wonder. They practically etched my license in stone like the Ten Commandments.

So the fact that I could schedule the test months in advance online was magical. Until it wasn’t. Central Scheduling wanted nothing to do with me. Every time I went in the system, I got an error message.

Being generally tech-challenged, I always assume a computer glitch is all on me. So I kept trying and failing over and over again for weeks.

I finally bit the bullet and called the 800 number on the Rookie Driver website. The hold message touted the benefits of online Central Scheduling, which made me want to punch someone through the phone.

Every rep said the same thing. I was doing something incorrectly. Blah Blah. It was too soon for me to schedule something, and they had no time for me. More blah blah.

Each time I called, I limped away, licking my wounds, still waiting for an appointment and still wanting to punch someone.

After two months of banging my head and some serious self-esteem issues, my mama bear kicked in. My cub was getting his license even if I had to roar and kick up some dust.

Finally, a nice, patient DMV employee stuck with me, found Mac and scheduled us in Cumberland, Maryland, for our test. I snatched up that appointment despite the distance. What is a 2-hour drive when you have already invested 3,000 man hours in obtaining said appointment?

Throughout the 60 or so days devoted to this, I spoke with countless people in various departments. Apparently someone along the way sent an internal email to Customer Service about our situation.

Take a minute and read that last sentence again. Let it really sink in.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

The MVA—best known for their abundance of crappy customer relations over the years—has a Customer Service division. Who knew?

I know. And I know because they called me and desperately wanted to assist me. Are you still standing? Do you feel faint? This is a lot to take in. Heady stuff.

They left a message with a number. And a name. This development was like discovering the secret recipe to Coca-Cola. The telephone numbers of the local DMV offices are unlisted. Everything is centralized so you can’t go postal on the employees unless you are willing to drive there, circle for a parking space, take a number and then do it.

See, this is precisely the kind of information frustrated employees divulge when you are singlehandedly bringing an organization to its knees.

I went from zero to hero in record time. This lovely customer service rep had never seen anything like this snafu. Even with my appointment confirmation number, she still could not find us in the system.

But, like a dog with a bone, she was not letting go. After a stream of sighs and endless tapping of her keyboard wafting through the phone, we were penciled in for an 8:30 a.m. appointment in Gaithersburg (5 minutes from home) a day earlier than the original appointment.

I didn’t want to punch anyone!

I asked if there was a survey or some way I could convey my satisfaction with her work. But of course, the one time you want a survey, there is nothing. I guess in most cases, a survey for the DMV is like a grenade.—explosive and damaging.

We arrived nervous and giddy the day of the test. We watched the woman in front of us McGyver her brake light through the trunk in order to get her daughter on the test course.

When you get that far, when you are in that queue, you are not going to let some stupid mechanical malfunction stop you. You would climb in that trunk, risk suffocation and hold that brake light wire for the duration of your kid’s test, just to never have to return to the DMV again.

We checked and rechecked our paperwork, assessed the demeanor of the testers and waited in the black metal chairs for an eternity. There may have been some rosary beads I will never cop to.

The car passed inspection without me having to perform any CPR or heroic lifesaving measures, so I was feeling optimistic.

Mistake. BIG MISTAKE.

The tester asked to speak with me. He plopped his little computer on the trunk of the car and told me to look at the screen. There was the face of my sweet, angelic son circa 2007. The only picture of him that was in the system. Next to it, his vitals were all correct including current height and weight.

From what I could understand, the problem originated with an ID card the DMV had issued to Mac as proof of age for football when he was 9. They used that ID number instead of generating a new one with his Learners.

It was like those freakish apps where you can blend the features of two people and see what their kids will look like. Mac was an MVA mash-up. His Learners Permit pic was nowhere to be found.

Thus, the amended card in the mail. Thus, the confusion of the employees who pulled up Mac’s ID and saw my 9 year-old and told me it was too early to call. Thus, the loss of my sanity.

The tester predicted this was going to make issuing him a license very difficult indeed. With Mac nervously staring at me through the rearview mirror, I had to keep a smile plastered on my face to ward off his total panic as my heart raced.

I am sure I didn’t breathe the entire time he was tested. His face told me he passed before I could even ask him.

Phew.

In the cubicle, Mac got his photo taken. And then we waited. Supervisors shuffled in and out, conferences ensued, we watched all the other teens get their licenses and leave, and Mac signed his name on the little line in the little box no less than six times.

After a full hour of computer manipulation, the printer spat out a shiny, laminated license with the correct picture and vitals. We immediately RAN for the exit.

We had been in the trenches, fought the war and lived to tell the tale. But as Mac confidently maneuvered the car toward breakfast, the reality of his newfound freedom hit me. Hard.

Judging by the smile on his face, one of us clearly thought we were on easy street.

Ugh-oh …

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