As I sat in the North Carolina driver’s license office in Clyde recently, the lady behind the counter was curious, and concerned, as to what the “K” stood for on my New York State driver’s license.
“Do you have any other form of current identification that states, in full, what your middle is?”
I looked down at my pile of papers. Tax forms. Electric bill. Paycheck stub. Nothing said, in full, what the “K” stood for. Crap.
“It doesn’t appear I do.”
“What about a passport?”
“College degree from a school in the state of North Carolina?”
“Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.”
I was out of luck, seemingly on every front. So, I headed back to my office in Waynesville to sort out things and get a correct tax form. On my second attempt at getting my license, all of my identification requirements were good to go. Onward to the vision and computer driver’s test — both of which I aced with flying colors. OK, I can get my license now, right?
“Well, not today you won’t,” said the man behind the counter. “Our camera isn’t working today. You’ll have to come back tomorrow to get your photo taken. Then, you can get your paper license, then your plastic one in the mail, then you can register your vehicle and get plates.”
I didn’t get frustrated, I got a grin across my face leaving the license office. I wasn’t mad. I’ll get it tomorrow. No biggie. What am I going to do, get mad at a complete stranger because their camera doesn’t work? No, never.
And so, as I cruised back into Waynesville, my thoughts drifted to my last encounter with the driver’s license office. When I was 16, and the world was my oyster. Where once that license was in my possession, the open road was mine for the taking. I took that newly minted license, stuffed it proudly into my wallet and headed home, ready to purchase my first car.
With 199,999 miles on the odometer, that rust bucket 1989 Toyota Camry was a dream come true for my teenage self. I forked over $300 to the current owner as he handed me back the keys and title. Once my New York plates were thrown on it, that vehicle became my personal bumper car, bouncing off of parking garage pillars, mailboxes, garbage cans and, as expected, other people’s modes of transportation.
Those license plates were eventually transferred from the Camry to my 1991 Plymouth Acclaim, while I waved goodbye to the Camry as the mechanic drove it into the junkyard. After a few years, the Acclaim lost its plates to a 1998 Isuzu Hombre pickup truck. And soon, those plates were once again unscrewed and peeled off, only to be placed on a 2001 GMC Sonoma — my current ride.
That Sonoma pickup truck, once my beloved late grandfather’s, has been in snowy Wyoming ditches, sandy Maine beaches, desolate North Carolina mountaintops, bustling Manhattan streets, and everywhere in between. And all the while, those original license plates have remained, as if a personal metal diary of rust, dirt and identification numbers.
By the time this column becomes last week’s news, my cherished New York plates will be taken down for one final time. Most likely, I’ll take one and place it on my bookshelf, the other to be donated to the wall of Tipping Point Brewing in Waynesville. They’ll be switched for pristine North Carolina metal, adorned with the words “First in Flight,” containing the possibility of unknown people, places and things I’ll eventually cross paths with in this glorious home I call Western North Carolina.
1: Country legend Merle Haggard plays Harrah’s Cherokee at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 7.
2: The Woody Allen classic film “Annie Hall” will be screened at 7:45 p.m. Feb. 7 and 5 and 7:45 p.m. Feb. 8 at The Strand at 38 Main in Waynesville.
3: Jeff Sipe Trio performs at 9 p.m. Feb. 7 at No Name Sports Pub in Sylva.
4: An artist reception for the new exhibit “Local Flavors” will be held at 1 p.m. Feb. 9 at Gallery 86 in Waynesville.
5: Acclaimed printmaker Matt Liddle will give a talk during a reception at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Jackson County Public Library in Sylva.