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When it comes to getting a new driver’s license, sometimes it makes sense to back up, look around, and figure the perfect approach.

That’s not my approach. My approach is to bitch, complain, bone up on the vehicle code, and try to memorize all the silly minutia the state deems important. And that’s what I was doing when my wife Carmela, who is also known as the “work-around queen,” stepped in and did her magic.

She found out that seniors can take a special “e-learning knowledge test” online to get their licenses renewed.

Now, you have to be careful here, because there is the “online” test and then there’s the “e-learning” test that you take online. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME!

The online test has tricked many of our friends and others we have heard about. They have done all the usual things. They’ve read the little prep book, they’ve taken practice tests, they’ve paid their $41, and they’ve taken the test. Then they were told they flunked it. By the time they flunk it for the third time, our older friends and acquaintances are flustered, frustrated and in a panic that they’re not going to get their licenses renewed at all.

Armed with a half-dozen such horror stories, Carmela went searching for a strategy for how to take the test and pass it. She ran into something called the “e-learning” test.

The e-learning test is divided into several parts – speed limits, rules of the road, road signs, etc. After each subject, the applicant takes a multiple-choice test to prove he understands what was just presented. If the test-taker is unsure of an answer, he can go back to repeat the lesson before taking the test on that segment. The whole thing takes about 45-minutes for seven sections – that’s a smidge more than six minutes a section. How hard could it be? So, I took the e-learning test, and I passed with flying colors.

The only problem was the hoops I had to jump through before I could take the test and after I took the test.

The DMV wanted me to submit proof of who I was and pay a fee. We gathered all the appropriate paperwork ahead of time, uploaded it all, and had it ready to submit. Then we spent two full hours (not counting the 45 minutes taking the e-learning test itself) going through several layers of DMV Hell to get the information submitted to the DMV’s satisfaction. Still better than the alternative.

But then I was told I had to bring the same information I’d just submitted online to the DMV. I’m still trying to figure out that one – especially since some of the documentation they wanted was actually issued by the DMV – that is my driver’s license and my auto registration, which were both being used as proof of my residence.

While at the DMV, I was supposed to take an eye exam and pose for a photo. Then I would be issued a temporary 60-day license while they supposedly reviewed my information once more and decided whether I could have a permanent “real” license.

Going to the nearest DMV to be shunted around like a helpless bovine at the slaughterhouse is less than ideal, but that was my plan.

It turns out however that our nephew, Anthony Doolan, had a better idea. Anthony grew up in Bishop, California. It’s a rural town along the way to the ski and outdoor recreation area on the eastern slope of the Sierra Mountains.

Since we were planning to go on a two-week road trip to Nevada, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, and one of the places we planned to pass through was Bishop, it made sense to go there. The DMV in Bishop is small, relaxed, and customer friendly, Anthony told us. In and out in less than an hour, he promised.

So, I made an appointment in Bishop. We drove there one day, got up early the next morning, and went to the DMV to keep our appointment. So far, so good.

One of the things I wanted to have stipulated on my license is my status as a veteran. I am proud of my service to my country, but having the veteran status on my driver’s license also qualifies me for discounts at various establishments across the country, from coffee houses, to hardware stores. So, I came prepared with my DD-214 – the official United States of America honorable discharge form, which has been in use since 1950. But what I found out at the Biship DMV is that the DD-214 is no longer good enough for the State of California. Turns out the whiz kids in Sacramento have decided that the DD-214 is too easy to forge by people who are not veterans, and in some cases, not even citizens.

Now, in the state of California, you have to provide a VSD.001 – a special state form to show you are not only a veteran, but also a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of California.

At that point, I was ready to give up trying to get my veteran status on my license, but Carmela is made of sterner stuff than me. How can we get this VSD.001, she asked in her still friendly, yet quite firm voice.


We could contact Sacramento online and wait about two weeks for the form we were told. “Really?” Carmela asked – again in THE voice. “The official form of the United States of America military isn’t good enough?”

“Well, you could go see Gordon,” the Bishop DMV lady told us. It turns out Gordon  handles veteran affairs at the state building on the other side of town. Gordon is a good guy, the DMV folks told us. Just go to the state office building and ask for Gordon. You will know the building when you see it – it looks like a giant prison.

So we thanked them, told them we would be back, and hot-footed it over to the state building. It was fairly easy to find. Like the good folks at the DMV said, it looked like a giant prison. When we went inside, it felt like a giant prison as well.

There was a small reception area with folks sitting behind bullet-proof glass asking visitors to state their business before deciding whether or not they would be allowed beyond the locked doors. I suppose in this day and age I understand it, but I grew up in an era when a public building was public. People went in, they went to the appropriate office whether it was to get a building permit or pay their water bill, and they left.

But that was back in happier times before the world went insane.

Anyway, we were able to contact Gordon, who said he could see us that afternoon. We agreed to come back at the appointed time.

When we returned, Gordon actually came down to the lobby to greet us and get us badges to provide access to the inner sanctum. Gordon was a buff and hardy former Navy corpsman, who now works in Veteran Affairs for the State of California.

Gordon took my information from my DD-214 and other forms of ID I provided and filled out the state form to officially make me a veteran in the state of California. But then he had one more question.

“Who are you,” he asked.

It seemed a strange question since he had been calling me George all the time we had been sitting with him filling out forms.

“I’m George Cunningham,” I said, a little perplexed. He looked at me with a half-smile as though I didn’t get the question. “George Lee Cunningham,” I repeated, a little louder.

By this time, Gordon is laughing. No, he said. Are you swan or a unicorn or what? I have to know how you identify.

“I am a man,” I said firmly. “And my wife is a woman. I have always been a man, and I always will be a man.”

It was kind of funny, but what the hell is wrong with the idiots in Sacramento?

Gordon finished filling out the information for my VSD.001 state veterans’ form and we drove back to the DMV where I took an eye test, was photographed, and issued a temporary license. By the time we returned home, less than two weeks later, my official license was waiting for me in the mail.

I am now a certified California driver and a certified man through November 2028 at which time I will be 88 years old, God willing.

Thank you Gordon, thank you kind and lovely people at the Bishop DMV, thank you Nephew Anthony for steering me in the right direction, but most of all thank you Carmela for clearing my path through the bureaucratic nightmare that is the state of California.

In the meantime, I happily plan to hit the road as often and as long as I am able. Driving my own car whenever and wherever I want to go.