On the Road Again
Driving is second nature – after all, I’ve been driving my entire adult life and sometimes when driving around my home town, I feel as though I am on autopilot, knowing where to go and don’t have to think about it. However, driving in North Carolina has presented some challenges, some of which are as simple as roads being unfamiliar, darkened highways at night and some things you would not expect like getting on the road legally.
Here we are, in this unfamiliar area, driving as if we had all the time in the world – and that is how many drive here (think Century City, Florida). Others believe they are NASCAR drivers. The speed limit here is 65 MPH on most highways and in some rural areas up to 70. On an average day of driving I can comfortably say I go a conservative 70 and cars speed past me like I was one of those Century City residents. And, the cars sneak up on you so quickly that you didn’t realize there was someone behind you.
Getting to know a new environment takes time and I was in no hurry to change over my license or registration until I recently received a terse note from the State of New York Department of Motor Vehicles notifying me that there is a time limit of 60 days from the time we arrived in North Carolina to relinquish our driver’s license and surrender the car plates. At this juncture, we were definitely driving on borrowed time.
Getting a North Carolina license is not as easy as it sounds. The documents required to prove that you are the person you say you are at the North Carolina DMV is more than what is required to get on a plane, start a bank account or get married. The stress of waiting on a long line and then discovering that you do not have the right paper work, coupled with the friendly disposition of the DMV personnel can make a day’s activity mildly stressful. I legally changed my name 13 years ago and subsequently misplaced my social security card, that flimsy sheet of cardboard stock paper that contains your entire life. I had a variety of other documents that proved who I am, yet was told I was unprepared and had to come back another day. I attempted to disclose that I am really who I said I was but was immediately shut down by the front desk attendant. I think she saw that I was from New York and held it against me. The only consolation was the nice woman on-line behind me who tucked the tag into the back of my shirt without asking (weird right?). I don’t think that DMV ‘professionals’ in North Carolina are indiscriminate, as they are just as unfriendly in New York. The only exception was the one man at the Huntington DMV who notoriously compliments middle age women on how young they looked when renewing their licenses. Yes, believe it or not, I am acknowledging that I am middle age. “There must be a mistake, this should read 1976 not 66!”. Ladies, he’s at Window #5. Thankfully, after some further discussion, I was allowed to take the test. It isn’t as simple as transferring your information. I spoke with several people about this test and all of them failed the first time – and that was coming from experienced licensed drivers. I was fortunate to know this in advance so I really studied. If I had gone in without that prior knowledge, I too would have failed. Really, what do I know about farming machinery on the road?
To register the cars, more paperwork was needed which then had to be notarized. I used to have the luxury of knowing a few notaries at work as well as family members who would willingly stamp their approval without question and miss that. We found a notary at our bank, who coincidentally, was from Kings Park, NY. He was more than accommodating, even printed out the right forms we needed from the DMV, as he went through the same process last year. Who said New Yorkers are not helpful? “Wait until you get the sales tax bills for your cars” he said. Both of our cars have long been paid for, what sales tax? “Oh, The HUT – Highway Usage Tax” as if I was aware of this additional fee. I can understand a sales tax when purchasing a new car but we have some fairly old clunkers in our driveway. We already paid a sales tax on the cars when we purchased them; paid property taxes on the house we just bought, which should cover roads and highways, and paid a ridiculously high amount of money to register both cars in this state. In Yiddish, this is called getting shtuped. I also have to mention that I had just re-registered our cars in New York before I knew we were moving. I know it is highly unlikely that I will see the refund from New York State. Oh, by the way, New York State wants for us to mail the plates back – I wonder if they accept them COD?
I removed my plates from the car yesterday and replaced the back plate with this shiny new white one with red lettering and ‘First in Flight’ stamped across it. The point of this story is that seeing the empty spot on the front of my car, where the plate used to be is how I am feeling. Now that the North Carolina plates are on both cars, it means that living here is for real. This is no longer an experiment of seeing if I can live elsewhere. This is my new reality. My New York plates, the little detail that distinguished me from any other driver here was part of my identity. I met a new neighbor because of those plates. “Hello New York” she said. She was from Yonkers. Having those plates on the car was the last outwardly visible sign that I was from New York. Sure, a word or two slips out that clearly identifies me as a New Yorker, but nothing else that is as prominent. I don’t know why it bothers me this much but it does.
On the flip side though, I can say that I am not the hot-headed driver I once was, always rushing from the bus stop to work and racing home to meet the bus in the afternoon, speeding like a mad woman and committing several undetected traffic violations. My daily pace now is a little calmer, a little slower, and being here has changed the way I rule the road. I am no longer that aggressive driver who is impatient at a stop sign. This slow metamorphosis of my driving has transformed me into a more conscientious driver. Maybe it is because I am still new to these roads or being unfamiliar with the area. All I know is that when I get behind the wheel, especially when I have precious cargo in the back seat, I am more relaxed. I think I will thank North Carolina for the welcome change.