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My three-year journey to get a driver's license back

"When you hit rock bottom, there's only one place to go: the DMV."

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Licensed driver, Alex Gordon
  • Licensed driver, Alex Gordon

Of all the surprising things about my life at 31 years old – having a cat, being in a healthy relationship, the unexpected pleasure of growing man boobs – taking my driver’s test again was the least expected.   

My New York driver’s license expired on my 28th birthday and with it went the last remaining ties to my hometown and the delight of showing off my mean mug in the picture and hearing people say, "You look just like Eminem in 8 Mile!" 

Due to a lack of urgency and an Olympic-tier knack for procrastination, I didn't go to renew it for almost a year. When I finally made the trek to the DMV, they informed me that I needed to pass a vision test. I leaned into the machine and was told to read line four. 

"Trick question," I laughed. "There is no line four."

There was. 

I had never worn glasses and assumed my eyesight would age like wine, but it did not. I guessed a few letters, “F. K. M. E.” — and the woman behind the desk interrupted, "Oh, sweetie ...," and recommended I see an optometrist.  

Six months later, I had a fresh pair of specs that led a cousin to start calling me "professor." But in my next DMV visit, I was informed that too much time had passed, and I would have to start from scratch with a permit. I believe I called the man a "wiener." 

At this point, my story had become a favorite topic of friends and family. Getting carded at the bar, I'd whip out my passport and, instead of telling me I looked like Eminem in 8 Mile, my friends would laugh and say, "You still didn't deal with that?" 

JuJu Smith-Schuster after passing his test - CP PHOTO BY ALEX GORDON
  • CP photo by Alex Gordon
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster after passing his test

My parents were less amused. On the surface, it was just logistical. No license made it harder to visit them and more expensive when I did. But there were also more subtle implications in the ordeal: I was lazy; I was immature; I was approaching man-child territory, which is not nearly as funny in real life as it is in the movies (and it's not particularly funny in movies). With no license, what adult responsibilities would be next to go? Paying my bills? Bathing? 

Rock bottom came when my passport expired, and I was without any form of ID, just a collection of invalid documents and pictures of a slim, grimacing 18-year-old New Yorker with a bright future and excellent cheekbones. And now who was I? Some guy with shapely cheeks and a weird beard who wore glasses and smiled in pictures but couldn't drive. It was a dark time. 

But when you hit rock bottom, there's only one place to go: the DMV. 

The first step was getting a Pennsylvania ID. There's not much to it except a great deal of waiting, and I passed the time by being angry and thinking about how angry I was. At one point, the security guard asked the crowd, "Does anybody have number B461?" A lady raised her hand and said, "I'm C122." Everyone turned around and stared daggers at Her Highness C122. 

Next came the driver's permit, for which I studied a great deal. Most of the answers were common sense, but still, I feared failing the permit test would do irreparable damage to my ego. I arrived at the DMV and was told that I needed a note from my doctor, so I rode over to MedExpress, where a young nurse asked me questions assessing my physical ability to drive, one of which was, "Do you have both of your legs?"

I returned the next day and answered all 15 questions correctly. You have to get 15 out of 18 correct, so after I answered the 15th correctly, the test was over and to be honest, I was kinda bummed. It's wicked fun taking tests as an adult, which I'm pretty sure is why people go to graduate school.  

Finally, I had reached the driver's test. The driving portion was fairly simple, but afterward, the tester said I drove “too much like a driver, not like someone taking a test,” which prompted me to scream internally, "That's because I am a driver; did you not see those sick turn signals?" She said I went a little too fast and that I didn't brake hard enough at stop signs. 

“But I'm going to pass you," she said. 

I've been bragging a lot in the week since the test. I've texted friends I hadn't spoken to in years and toasted insistently at dinner like I'd won an award, as if this wasn’t something that teenagers routinely achieve on a first try. I don't care, though. 

Tomorrow, I'll leave for a road trip with my girlfriend, and in a few days, I'll pull into my parents’ driveway, put the car in park, pull the hand brake and emerge, confident and sophisticated, bespectacled and licensed. 

“Who is that?” they'll say.

It’s me. Your adult son.

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