Breaking Things is Hard to Do

You’re probably wondering how it is I came to spend part of my birthday at the Department of Motor Vehicles. In the desert. Several hours from home. (If you, too, spent your birthday at the DMV, I don’t want to hear about it. I’m cranky enough.)

As in most of my life, it wasn’t what I had planned. I thought a nice quiet week at Two Bunch Palms in Desert Hot Springs was exactly what I needed. Peace, quiet, a little hot mud bath (if it wasn’t too windy). I could have taken the Explorer, but the car phone needed adjusting. And since I would only be on the road for a few hours, why bother to bring the phone? So I decided to take the Jaguar, and off I went.

The first thing you do at Two Bunch is put the phone on “Do Not Disturb”. It was a little cold and windy there, but I didn’t care. I went from bed to Jacuzzi to bed. One day I got a facial, then discovered my friend JoAnn had arranged to pay for it as a birthday surprise (thanks, JoAnn!).

I was relaxed. Not a care in the world. Or so I thought.

The night before my birthday, I had a lovely dinner in the resort’s restaurant. I was driving back down the dirt road (lined with cute little six-inch boulders) to my room. Suddenly a rabbit ran right in front of the car. Now I don’t care what religion you are, killing a bunny two days before Easter has just got to be a bad idea. So of course I swerved. And ran the Jaguar right up on that line of boulders.
The wheels spun in the sand. It was going nowhere. Frank from Security showed up. We tried moving sand around. We tried rocking it. Finally we got out the jack, hoisted it up, and moved the boulders out from under it. It drove fine, but made a clicking sound, like the fan might be hitting something. I went back to the room and went to bed.

Up bright and early the next morning (happy birthday to me…), I started making calls. The tow truck arrived to take the car to whoever fixes Jaguars in Palm Springs. Now, Jaguars are very low to the ground, so we really couldn’t see underneath it to assess the damage. (Which is how I got into this mess–the Explorer would have merrily skipped across the boulders and been on its way.) Tom from Security showed up with a few small pieces that had dropped off in the road. All three of us tried to see how bad it was, but we didn’t see much damage. There was no transmission fluid leaking. We concluded maybe the fan was hitting the housing or something. Certainly couldn’t be anything major, right?

The folks from Enterprise were right on time with a van to pick me up. I called the front desk and told them I’d be back in an hour or so to check out. We were off to Palm Springs. I was feeling okay. These things happen. I’d just pick up the rental car, drive home, then come back and pick up my car in a few days after they fixed that fan. Somewhere a little bunny was alive and well, so what if I were a little inconvenienced?

At the rental place everyone was very nice. We were joking about my predicament. Then Albert looked at my license and said, “It’s your birthday.” I told him not to worry, I’d be fine. He said, “No, it’s your birthday, which means your license has expired. You can’t rent a car.”

A word or two about the DMV. They very efficiently sent me a renewal notice several months ago. Pleased I could do it by mail, I sent it right back. They sent it back because I hadn’t checked one of the boxes (true). I checked the box and sent it back. They returned it, claiming I had forgotten to send proof of insurance (not true). I sent it back with another proof of insurance. As far as I knew, the renewal could be waiting for me at home. But I had no way to get home without it.

The DMV in Palm Springs is as nice as any other DMV. However, the people who are forced to go there have a sort of desperate urgency, a fall-of-Saigon feeling about them. There’s a nice, short line for people with appointments. Those folks look okay. Those of us in the no-appointment line are a little different.

The line didn’t move very fast. Okay, it didn’t move at all for a long time. You would think my fellow citizens would not feel it necessary to comment on this. You would be wrong. “This line sure is slow.” “Is there only one person serving this line?” “Why aren’t we moving?” “This line sure is slow.” I tuned them out, vowing to keep my happy birthday mood. The thought occurred to me that, if I had brought the Explorer, I wouldn’t be in this line. If I had even brought the cell phone, I could have called my assistant, had her look for the renewal, and fax it to Enterprise. I was not about to give up my place in line and look for a pay phone. My fellow citizens did not sound like the type that could be trusted to save one’s place in line.

I was doing all right until the two ladies behind me started discussing the eye chart. “Is that a B or an R?” “Where?” “In the middle.” “What middle?” Mind you, the line we were in was directly approaching the eye chart, so they would soon be able to see it clearly. This did not deter them. “I don’t think there are any R’s on the whole chart.” “There’s one next to the C.” “What C?” “In the middle.” “This line sure is slow.”

Fortunately I was able to keep calm and avoid some sort of birthday-DMV-homicide situation. Sure enough, the computer showed my renewal had been paid, and they gave me a temporary one. I called Enterprise and told them to send a driver to get me. I went out front to wait.

Apparently it was Dysfunctional Driver Day at the DMV. One couple had a spectacular fight, including hair-pulling, over who had forgotten to bring the paperwork. Another couple came up to me and started asking questions in Spanish. They continued for quite a while, though I thought I was making it very plain that I do not speak Spanish. A mother carefully put her baby into a car seat, then into the trunk of the car. She left the trunk open, and stood there in the hot sun staring at her baby. An old man went the wrong way around the parking lot, causing other cars to careen out of his path, then sat gaping vacantly for a while before parking in the no-parking zone. This is exactly the sort of road menace who NEEDS a driving test, I thought.

A few minutes later the old guy came out of the DMV and asked if I were waiting for Enterprise. I said yes, did they call or something? No, he announced proudly, he was my driver. Now, mind you, I was the only person standing outside the entrance when he went in. You would think he might have asked me. But I didn’t care, because I was busy worrying about whether I would survive the ten-minute drive to Enterprise.

Rented the car. Drove home. Where the fax was waiting for me from the people who had my Jaguar. I was impressed that they had managed to take a look at it and prepare an estimate so quickly on the holiday weekend. Until I looked at the total. $7,000. The car’s probably worth $15,000 at the most. Apparently I had totaled my car driving over a rock.
Those people won’t be fixing my car (they were very surprised to hear this). We towed it back to LA. It won’t cost $7,000. The rental car went back. And now I can turn my attention to the living room situation.

During the recent big rains, I had a flood in the living room. We fixed the problem, but the big area rug got stained. (Actually, the rug’s had a hard time lately, it needed to be cleaned even without the flood stain.) So we called the carpet guys, who have taken this rug out once before. We reminded them that it’s a very big rug. We reminded them I have lots of big, heavy furniture that is difficult to move. So we were more than a little surprised when they sent two guys and a small van. They came back another day with more guys and a bigger truck.

I’m not upset that they didn’t get the stain out. Okay, so I have to buy a new rug, what the heck, it was worth a try, I’m sure they did the best they could. I have to say, however, that I’m a little upset about the table. This is the fourth time they’ve moved this table. We know the stone top is heavy. We know we have to be very careful setting it in place. Why one of them decided to drop it a foot, I do not know. Now I get to buy a new table. Two if they can’t match the other one.

I did have a happy birthday, more or less. It was just a little more expensive than I expected. Well, a lot more expensive. When your birthday comes around, I hope you have a happy one and it doesn’t cost you too much. Hint: don’t take the Jaguar.

Copyright 1998 by Jzine. Not to be reproduced or distributed without permission