Like many new residents of the state, I recently went to get my Florida driver’s license. Now, all of us have heard the horror stories of spending time at the DMV and I have to say that I was not looking forward to it. Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised by the experience. It gave me the chance to reflect on the diversity of the people I saw, how getting a driver’s license can be a rite of passage for teenagers, and the idea that I am literally taking on a new identity as a Florida resident.
In Pinellas County, we have the option of going to the Tax Collector’s Office to handle motor vehicle issues. I made an appointment and arrived with my husband to register our cars and transfer our out-of-state drivers’ licenses. We were greeted by a uniformed officer, directed to a registration desk where we got our ticket (K112) and headed over to sit down in chairs that were spaced six feet apart. Looking around, most seats were filled but it wasn’t crowded. There were over thirty individual cubicles where masked employees, each dressed in a navy blue polo shirt with a Pinellas County logo, sat on one side of a plexiglass partition, working with members of the public.
During our wait of about thirty minutes, I saw people of all different ethnicities, races and ages in the room. There was an older couple renewing their licenses, a suntanned man registering his new boat trailer, and a clearly nervous teenager with his mother.
It was unclear where the teenager was in the process of getting what was clearly his first license. I couldn’t tell if he had already taken his driving test or was about to. But watching the interaction with his mother, it made me think about how in our society, getting a driver’s license is one of the few coming-of-age rituals that most adolescents go through. A person is tested, overcomes a challenge and reaches a greater sense of self-awareness and maturity. Getting a driver’s license indicates that you are an adult, able to take on the very serious responsibility of operating a motor vehicle. It denotes independence and requires an understanding of your place in the world.
Watching your child drive away on their own for the first time is also one of the scariest moments of being a parent. It is a rite of passage for all of us, and there is a huge significance of trusting your children, believing that you have taught them well, that they have the judgement and ability to take this next step on their journey to adulthood.
Along the way of getting a driver’s license, you answer a lot of questions. Sarah, the friendly and helpful staff member who handled our case, inquired about my continuing to be an organ donor and whether I wanted to register to vote. "Yes," was my answer to both, and I encourage others to consider the benefits of being an organ donor and the importance of fulfilling our civic duty by registering to vote and participating in our political process.
At the end of our visit, which took about an hour and a half, we walked away with two new drivers’ licenses and two new Florida “Sunshine State” license plate tags. It occurred to me that I literally have a new identity. How many times in the coming years will I pull out my driver’s license to confirm who I am? Whether I am in front of the TSA at the airport, in line at the bank to cash a check, or buying a bottle of wine at Publix (where I am secretly thrilled to be “carded” at my age), this document says I belong here. I live in Florida and this is my home.
As an added bonus, the picture on my driver’s license actually turned out to be a pretty good photo. Ask me the next time I see you in person, and I will show it to you!
All the best,