1. The Dragon
Whenever you want to do anything worth doing there is a dragon at the door, or a Sphinx. demanding that you satisfy some arbitrary condition. In this case, I wanted to unload my 22-year-old car, Melissa, on my young friend D. J. (that is part of his professional name, if not his legal one). And the Division of Motor Vehicles in the State of Virginia required that he take his road test in a car with a passenger-side mirror, which my old car did not have. Nor did any other car he could borrow.
I actually considered letting him test in my new car, but the morning I was prepared to make it available, he woke up with one eye swollen shut from local allergies. Oh, and the roof blew off of the local Division of Motor Vehicles office. I know the gods talking when I hear them.
I drove Melissa by the Old Wreck Hospital where I have had her maintained these past several years, and Kirk the manager said he could get a passenger-side mirror from the scrap yard, cheap. I left the car and told him to expect my co-conspirator the Cute Engineer to come by the next day with D. J. and pick her up.
Kirk is the funeral director of car mechanics: “Ya got a pencil and paper? Lemme see, where do I start with this car, where do I start…” So when he says something is going to be cheap and quick he means it. She was spiff and ready for the Cute Engineer, who signed off on the bill as his contribution to the scheme.
“How do you know that red-haired lady?” asked Kirk.
I shouldn’t feel self-conscious about my hugely plain face. If your hair is red no one sees your face. Or anything else.
2. First Ordeal
The kid passed his road test.
Since he has been driving his friends’ sedans, pickups and other monstrosities for the past three years, this shouldn’t have surprised us.
They had to go south of the Capital Beltway to do it, but the Cute Engineer was piloting that day, so it was not my problem.
3. The Labyrinth
After getting the license D. J. had to nail down an insurance policy, so the next day it was my turn to find the nearest DMV with a functioning roof. There had to be someplace closer than Lorton, I thought. Google Maps and a lot of swearing were involved.
There was an epic road work project right about the place where Google told us to make a “slight right,” so that we ended up overshooting the mark by about two miles, then doubling back so as to repeat the maneuver. At the end of the ramp a tantalizing sign with an arrow beckoned us: “DMV.” This led us into a hideous office park full of boxlike buildings, whose slab signs bore only unfamilar acronyms or disquieting corporate names like “Chemical Research Enterprises.”
We finally found another sign taunting us with the DMV logo, and another. A long pipestem driveway seemed to be the right route. “This is the asshole of creation,” I remember saying. “No one is going to be in there.”
The receptionist asked what state my title had been issued in. She had never seen a Virginia title so old.
The counter clerk asked the same question. She was about to send us back to fill out a form waiving the $35 minimum transfer tax: “You’re his mother, right?” she asked. I really couldn’t lie in my teeth, even to save D.J. thirty-five bucks, but for some reason what popped out was “No, I’m his godmother.”
I just didn’t want her to think I went around randomly collecting juvenile gigolos and giving them cars.
4. Hero’s Journey
We were able to get everything done, even the personal plate that D. J. wanted to reflect his startup audio-video business, until it came to actually removing Melissa’s plates. After eleven years the bolts were frozen past the capacity of hex wrenches and 3-in-1 oil. D. J. has a friend who does car work and said he would swap them out and drop them off later.
After my ceremonial and somewhat manic presentation of the keys at the clerk’s station it was natural that he open the driver’s side and fall in. He is about six-two and would be six-four if not for the curvature inflicted by computer addiction so it was a long fall, sort of a gradual cascade really. We pulled out into the Concrete Maze Of Hell and he decided that the outbound interstate ramp ought to get us going on the return route.
The next thing I knew we were going over the Wilson Bridge into Maryland. What the Bay Bridge is to San Francisco or the Severn Bridges to Wales, the Wilson Bridge is to D. C. It’s like Bifrost, only with a weird pontoon in the middle.
I must have been so endorphin saturated by this time that nothing mattered. D. J. kept going at a nice pace and without obvious signs of stress until, a couple of miles and two or three cloverleaves past the bridge, we found a parking lot. It had something to do with the National Harbor project. D. J. unholstered his cell phone, kicked up the GPS and entered his home address.
“Turn right and go 2.3 miles to the ramp for I-295,” said a tinny female voice. We did that.
I cradled the phone in my left hand so that he could glance at the GPS map, which led us past four exits in the state of Maryland and to a return route through the Nation’s Capital, complete with scenic views from several elevated roadways. D. J. was impressively laid back. “I’ve had to drive downtown a few times,” he said. “I do feel sorry for that little Nissan Altima that was next to me the first time I tried to park Nate’s double-axle pickup. I mean I didn’t hit it but I have no idea how he ever got out of there.”
“You don’t say.”
There were a few breath-suckers, like the car that pulled into our lane, ran its blinker post facto and then slowed down, but D.J. braked before we hit it, though a second or two after I saw my life pass before my eyes. He can actually drive pretty damn well. It wasn’t nearly as bad as what I’d expected when I saw the Wilson drawbridge looming up ahead of us.
5. Victory Lap
We got back on familiar ground and I showed off my favorite shortcuts through Arlington. D.J. tootled off to find his gearhead friend, full of plans involving Bondo, airbrushing and the local high school’s practicum auto body shop. I think he realizes he is going to beome well acquainted with Kirk the mechanic, but he’s already got second-job plans. About two hours later he reappeared, sporting the temporary tags and handing off the ones I needed to turn in. The car was full of impossibly young-looking people grinning from ear to ear. He didn’t mention my having suddenly become his godmother. I can’t decide if my implicit context is Cinderella or the Mafia.
Two hours after that as I was rolling the trash to the curb Melissa swung by again. Honks and waves.
I wonder when he went to bed.