My great aunt Margaret didn't learn to drive until she was in her fifties, after her husband died. It took her several attempts to pass the test. Her first stab at the driving portion was stopped abruptly when the examiner told her to pull over immediately, "pull over or else I'll be forced to give you a ticket". It took three tries, several coaches, numerous dents to the fender, but eventually she passed and was awarded by the state of Missouri a license to drive a car. The good people of Missouri are still recovering.
I bested Margaret by one shot when I took the initial driving test, having only to suffer through that most harrowing of exams twice. At 46 I have not been asked to drive for a grade since, thank God. But this year, thanks it seems to a speeding ticket received down state several years ago, the state of Illinois thought it best to have me pass the written test just one more time. I didn't read the letter, taking for granted that this was to be an easy, pay the fee and go, process. After a 30 minute wait at the express renewal facility I was handed a study guide and sent to the full service processing office four blocks away. I went home.
This morning I appeared, well rested and having read the Illinois Rules of the Road, not at all confident that I could pass the test. I waited in one line, then another. I was called to the counter and sent to wait in another line, and then one more. In these four line experiences I heard my all time favorite question asked three times by three different people: "are you in line?".
To be clear, this is not a gem reserved only for license inspection offices. I've been asked this countless times in airports and grocery stores, and about once per week at the neighborhood Starbucks. Generally I nod and say, "why yes, yes I am waiting in this line behind this other person who is also waiting in line". What I really want to say is "No. No, I decided this very morning to go out into the world and find a group of people queuing up and just stand there with them with no purpose or intention, other than being close to another human being". Because for some reason, my person standing there is not clue enough, the real crime being mine when I leave any appropriate amount of space between me and the person waiting in front of me. That certainly creates confusion as to my intent, space being so ambiguous in this context.
And so, here in this place where we are all lined up, hoping to pass the test and be sent into the world with the full confidence of the state of Illinois in our ability to operate a car or truck or motorcycle, I think one should be intelligent enough to simply navigate the system. My concern is this: if you can't decide for yourself who is and who isn't waiting in line, can you really be trusted to know the difference between a red light and a green light?
With a picture that accurately reflects the 8 year time span since I last was licensed to drive, I was handed a shiny new drivers license. After six different lines, in which I showed my ability to queue up correctly, I passed the test. Aunt Margaret would be so proud.