Small Towns

by bj max

My CDL (Commercial Drivers Licenses) came up for renewal not long ago, an aggravation that crops up every five years or so. In the not so distant past when your driver’s license came due, you simply mailed in the form along with a check and within a few days you had your new ones. But with the advent of the photo ID and the threat of terrorism, that’s a thing of the past. Now we are forced to waste the better part of a day standing in line with a couple hundred other wretched citizens at the local drivers license bureau, renewing our privilege to navigate the nation’s highways. And heaven help you if you should let your CDL expire. The red tape involved after 9-1-1 is endless.

The drivers license testing station was just a couple of miles from my home and after putting off the inevitable for as long as I could, I finally got myself on down there to get the miserable detail over with. My long and complicated association with the DMV has taught me that the lines are shorter right after lunch but when I rounded the corner at the testing station I learned that nothing in this world is certain. The parking lot was packed and there musta’ been a hundred people milling about, some already formed up in line waiting for the afternoon session to begin.

Procrastination is my forte and as I sat in my pickup pondering the situation, it didn’t take me long to dream up a way to put this depressing detail off for a little while longer. My Dad’s ninety-one year old heart recently developed problems that prevent him from working in the yard any more and this task has now fallen to me. So I decided that I would drive up to his place, take care of this weekly chore, then, with hopes that the crowd has thinned, I would stop by the testing station on the way home and give it another shot.

Dad lives in the little rural community of Garland that lies about halfway between the county seat of Covington and the Mississippi River. Covington, Population 5,203, is your typical small southern town with tree lined streets, low crime rates and a town square complete with a bronze casting of a confederate soldier guarding the entrance to the courthouse. I have a picture here somewhere of my great uncle and twenty-three other Civil War Veterans posing in front of that old memorial on dedication day, 1903. Proud and defiant men, frozen in time by the photographer’s shutter.

Just off the square and within sight of the old statue is a little three room office building that houses the Tennessee State Troopers and also serves as the drivers license testing station for Tipton County. This has been the home of the local Highway Patrol since I was a kid. In fact, this was the very building where I got my motorcycle license way back when. As I passed through town on my way to Garland, I noticed the station was open and the two patrol cars in back indicated that it was still the home of the State Troopers. Suddenly I had me a thought. Why not apply for my license here? No crowds, no long lines, no fuss. Just a quiet and peaceful few minutes and the deed would be done. And this just happens to be Tuesday, the one day of the week that this county offers these services.

From my Dad’s home a little later I called and asked if I could in fact re-new my CDL here in Covington even though I lived in Memphis. I was told that I could re-new my license anywhere in the state as long as I was a permanent resident which I am. So, after mowing and edging my Father’s lawn, trimming the hedges and visiting a while, I took off for the station.

There was a line when I arrived. Sort of… There were four whole people ahead of me and one directly in front of me was my cousin that I hadn’t seen in twenty-five years. We had a mini reunion while waiting and caught up on family news. Later, after she had finished, we said our good-byes and, even though we wouldn’t, we promised to keep in touch.

As I waited my turn I realized that this was the very same room that I got my drivers licenses when I turned sixteen. I passed the first time around but just barely. Come to think of it, this is also the same room where I became a licensed motorcyclist. That was back in, let me seeee, 1965 I guess. Yeah. That’s when it was. I remember I had just bought a 1960 Harley-Davidson Duo Glide that had recently retired from the Memphis Police Department. Had a tank shift, red flashing police lights, a huge buddy seat and a siren on the front fender. I used the siren to let the neighbors know I had arrived home safely on Saturday nights, a service they really didn’t seem to appreciate.

My thoughts drifted back to that day so long ago. I remember asking my buddies if one of them would ride my motorcycle to the station for me so I would have a bike to take my skills test with. But amazingly, not a single one of ’em had a license. They just never bothered to get one and a couple of these guys had been riding all their life. So, at the risk of losing my motorcycle license before I even got ’em, I rode the bike to the testing station myself.

The written test consisted of the same twenty questions I had struggled with on my sixteenth birthday but this time I aced it. After completing the written I was sent with my paperwork to an office across the hall to take the riding test. The way they did it was to send you off on a pre-planned route consisting of stop signs, stop lights, corners and hills while a Trooper followed and evaluated your skill from a squad car. I handed my paperwork to the desk sergeant and after looking it over he asked if I had a bike with me. Before I could answer, a trooper standing nearby interrupted, “Yeah, he’s got one. And he can ride it too. I saw him ride it up”. The Sergeant nodded his approval, whomped my licenses with a “Motorcycle Also” stamp, handed them to me and told me to ride safe.

And that was that. I had my motorcycle license and I’ve had ’em ever since… Ain’t small towns wonderful?


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