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"License and registration, please."

“License and registration, please.”

I think it was the American composer Eddie Money who once said, “I wanna go back and do it all over, but I can’t go back, I know.”

Ah, but you can go back, I learned as I passed through airport security a few weeks ago while making a trip home to Atlanta.

“You should know we can only accept this for a year after it’s expired,” the TSA guard said as he handed me back my driver’s license.

“Expired? What do you mean?”

“I mean, ‘expired,'” the guard said glumly. “Your license has been expired for more than eight months.”

Crap, I thought. Eight months of driving on an invalid license is pretty bad. I didn’t realize just how bad it was until I returned home and read through the regulations on the Missouri Department of Revenue website. Since it was so long since I had been street legal, I would need to go through the full battery of written, visual and driving tests to earn my license back. It would be just like being 15 years old and applying for a learner’s permit. Who said you can’t go back and do it all over?

Twenty-seven years ago, it took me two tries to get my learner’s permit from the state of South Carolina. On my first attempt, I settled into my mom’s 1984 Buick Park Avenue with my driving instructor, who asked me to turn on the headlights. I flinched, not knowing where they were. It should be noted that 15-year-olds weren’t allowed to drive alone at night at that time, so why on earth would I need to know how to turn on the headlights?

“Well, you failed,” the bureaucrat said, getting out of the car.

“What?! That’s it?”

“Yep. You can come back tomorrow and try again.”

I eventually did return, and gave my instructor a sweaty hug when I barely passed the driving exam the second time around. Twenty-seven years later, at 42 years old, I was determined to get everything right the first time. I spent an entire evening devouring the Missouri driver’s manual before getting a ride from my wife to the nearest highway patrol testing station. I breezed through the written test (20 answers right; three answers wrong), as well as the visual exam. I had advanced to the final round, the driving test. I am not ashamed to admit that I was testing the limits of my Old Spice underarm deodorant as my uniformed instructor, who looked to be about 18 years old and actually wore braces, stepped into my CRV.

“You’re obviously an experienced driver,” she said, peering at me from under her tan Smokey the Bear hat. “So just try very hard to avoid any bad driving habits you might have developed over the years.”

“Okay,” I said, my hands gripping the steering wheel at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock, respectively.

I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that the rule requiring one to use one’s emergency brake when parking on a slight incline is ridiculous, and to add that I have always been, and continue to be, an outstanding parallel parker. I passed the test, earning an 85 out of 100. This time, I did not hug my driving instructor. I gave her a polite nod, which she stoically returned as we walked back to the testing station.

Riding in the passenger seat as my wife took the wheel (she had to transport me to the licensing bureau before I could officially become legal again), I couldn’t help beaming with pride at the knowledge that I had deftly defeated one of the great speed bumps of teen-aged life – not just once, but twice.

“I really kicked that test’s ass,” I told my wife.

“You sure did,” she said, smiling. “Now you can drive me to work again.”

I sure could. In a month or so, I will receive my real driver’s license in the mail. Until then, I have a folded up piece of paper in my wallet that officially verifies I am, once again, a certified driver of automobiles.

Image courtesy of www.khmoradio.com.