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Peterson: There is no DMV in Illinois, see the secretary

Published: Thursday, April 24, 2014 11:52 p.m. CDT

The letter came in the mail early enough from Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White informing me that my driver’s license was set to expire.

I had better hustle over to the Secretary of State’s Office. And note that it is not called the DMV – the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is what people want to call the office because people watch TV, and programs are filmed in California, where they have a Department of Motor Vehicles, or DMV, and it is referred to as such by its acronym. It’s wrong.

In Illinois it is the Secretary of State’s Office, which doesn’t make a lot of sense since the secretary of state in federal government oversees international diplomacy. Hillary Clinton was secretary of state. John Kerry is secretary of state. And they go globe hopping, putting out fires around the world. And they probably have run or will run for president. Of the United States.

And Jesse White is not running for president of the United States. He is not globe hopping. He is county hopping.

But the secretary of state overseeing driver’s licenses is a peculiarity in the Midwest. In all of our border states, the secretary of state has some involvement in elections. In all of our border states, something along the lines of a division or bureau of motor vehicles handles driver’s licenses.

My eldest son would talk about going to the DMV to get his driver’s license, to take the written and driving test, to finally earn his wheels. I would have to patiently explain to him that Illinois has a secretary of state who takes care of those things, that the DMV was a creation of TV and the whole spiel about Hollywood. And he would insist on calling it the DMV much to my exasperation.

He ended up moving to Nebraska, just about the closest state with a department of motor vehicles, or to my son, the DMV. At least he’s got it right now. 

But in this letter I got from Jesse White in late March, I was informed I had to go into the Secretary of State’s Office to renew my four-year driver’s license. It also cryptically mentioned something about taking a written test, although I wasn’t sure whether that was a certainty or a remote possibility.

I didn’t study for it. I’ve been driving for more than 40 years and more than 30 in Illinois. If I hadn’t picked up a few things along the way, I was in trouble. And why study for a test you aren’t positive you are going to take?

The Illinois 2013 Rules of the Road is dull reading but crammed with more information about driving than you could imagine. There could be a question for each of the 96 pages.

But I didn’t have to go to the Secretary of State’s Office four years ago to renew my license; I could do it by mail and attach a sticker to the back of it. But it had been eight years, and the Secretary of State’s Office missed me.

I knew I was going to get my picture taken, and it was shaving day, and I told myself that I had to be careful. No nicks and cuts. And I was fine until the second to last swipe of the razor over my face, and I nicked my chin, causing it to bleed. So not only would I have a bad driver’s license picture – which is nearly guaranteed – I would have dried blood on my chin. Excellent start.

And I did have to take the test, after I paid the $30 for the license, so they must have been pretty sure I would pass, which was a confidence-builder. I breezed through the test, and turned to the page with the outlines of road signs in color, and I had to guess what each sign meant.

I was pretty sure about all of them, although I initially went with my gut on two of them, then rethought my answers and changed them. I know, I know. Go with the gut. But this time my gut was wrong and my hesitation was correct for once.

But you don’t have to be perfect to pass the test, and I didn’t ask how many wrong you could get and still pass the test. I didn’t want the added pressure of knowing. Ignorance is bliss. I passed.

I could proceed to the photograph, my least favorite part of renewal. The look on my face was one of, “Wait, what’s happening now?” Complete with what appears to be a zit on my chin where I nicked myself. I’m stuck with it for four years.

I’m good for four more years. I was honest about my height and weight, I got just one wrong on the written test, and my photo isn’t a complete disaster. I don’t look like Nick Nolte after he was pulled over by police – the gold standard for bad mug shots.

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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