Friday, January 30, 2015
During our rest day this year of Cycle Oregon, Kiirsten and I walked down the hill into the historic downtown of Madras. We apprehensively opened the big wood door of the Rialto Tavern based on our buddy Dan Donahue's advice. The place looked pretty scary from the outside. No windows. Big Ol' Wood door. My mind quickly pictured a run down dirty dive filled with bikers who hated cyclists. Especially cyclists in lycra. I swung the heavy door open and we both were pleasantly surprised to find a big empty bar that was well lit. We made our way over to the bar and saddled up next to Dan, who was working on a pint. KK and I were both ready for a rest day beer and promptly ordered. The bartender looked us over and then asked for our ID's. Its always great to get carded when you are over 40 so I happily gave her my ID. She handed mine back and quipped that she could refuse service to me. I was shocked. The barkeep could tell I was taken back. She smiled and said my license had expired in July. My initial hopes of being accused of a minor using a fake ID were quickly dashed. I'm a rules follower and I hated having an expired drivers license. Kinda funny a legally blind guy who hadn't driven in over 9 years was bummed to not have a valid drivers license.
If I had lived in Oregon I would have had my license taken away because of my vision 20 years ago. If I had lived in Europe I would have never had an opportunity to drive with my eye disease, Retinitis Pigmentosa. 9 years ago when I became legally blind I went to turn in my drivers license and obtain a state ID card. The DMV told me at the time that if I could pass the eye test the state couldn't legally revoke my driving privileges. Heck, they even said they had 'people like me' driving everyday and since I was disabled they would pay to have me retested and given a limited drivers license. That made no sense to me. I couldn't imagine what a limited drivers license would look like. The hardest place for me to drive was in parking lots where people are usually randomly walking all over the place. Where they gonna not let me drive in parking lots but everywhere else would be ok? The DMV employee explained that WA state would allow me to drive to work and to go shopping. He encouraged me to think about it before I chose to voluntarily turn in my license and maybe discuss further with my Doctor. I left still thinking they were insane and followed up with my Doctor. My Doctor's advice was the same as when he determined I was legally blind. He asked me how I would know when it was time to stop driving. My answer was the same. I didn't want to end my driving career by killing or injuring someone. I planned on living a lot longer and I didn't want the death or injury of someone hanging over me the rest of my life. It was a devastating life change to stop driving but it was also easy to hand over my keys under the context of possibly killing someone while driving. I continued to keep my drivers license on each renewal by mail (no eye test) and I also continued to not drive.
After returning from Cycle Oregon I went to the DMV online to renew my license like I had done in the past and I was denied. I found out I could only renew my license online once every 8 years. This time I would have to go in to take an eye exam. Since becoming legally blind I'd had no plans to ever drive again but there was something nice about having a drivers license. Maybe I liked having it just in case of an emergency. Or maybe in some way having a drivers license helped keep my eyes from dying. Once we determine we have no use for something anymore, that something goes away. I didn't want my eyes to go away. I know this is a stretch but my brain is good at stretching out scenarios in many different ways. Sometimes for healthy reasons and sometimes to add worry to my life.
After some thought I decided to find my letter from Dr. Weleber stating I became legally blind on Friday, March 11, 2005 and head into the DMW to obtain my State ID card. And that thought was quickly followed by another thought. a crazy thought. I waited until my wife got home from coaching and I shared my idea with her. What if I bust through the DMV door with my cane a swinging and ask for a renewal of my driver's license? Surely they couldn't give a drivers license to a guy with an obvious visual impairment using a mobility cane. That would be insane! But it could also make for a funny story if I some how pulled it off. My wife flashed that twinkle in her eye and her devilish grin and said,"that would be awesome!". That is all I needed to hear. Decision made. I would try and renew my license as a legally blind man with a cane.
I was late to catch a bus from work on my lunch hour to renew my license so I grabbed my cane and headed out at a brisk pace. I rounded the corner from my office with eyes focused down the long hallway and WHAM! I totally nailed a mop bucket right in front of the elevators! My foot literally landed directly in the mop bucket before I knocked it over. With adrendalin pouring out of my ears and water pouring down the elevator shaft I quickly searched for a mop to stop the gushing water. I didn't see a mop so I jogged down the hall looking for a mop in maintenance. No mops! Only Environmental Services (EVS) had mops. Crap! I jogged back to my office and called the power plant to make sure the elevators were not going to be ruined by the 5 gallons of water running down the shaft. While Ed assured me the water would not damage the elevators I could now hear a EVS guy in the hallway going ballistic. He was yelling up and down the hallway looking for the jerk who knocked over his bucket. I quickly ended my phone call and headed out to the hallway to let the cleaner know I was the jerk who messed up his afternoon. After he realized who did it, he felt terrible and made sure I was ok. I was ok. I had a wet pant leg and a shoe filled with dirty soapy mop water and I was late to catch my bus, but I was physically fine. I saw the irony of the moment. How couldn't I? I was a legally blind man who just knocked over a bright yellow mop bucket in the middle of a hallway while I was headed to renew my driver's license. How funny is that?
I made it to the DMV office after traveling by bus and was ready for the show. I headed through the glass door vestibule and into the large open room. I saw a board that displayed numbers so I knew I had to get a ticket to keep my spot in line. While searching for the ticket dispenser a staff member directed me back to the front counter. I searched for a while longer with no luck and finally the same staffer told me to wait in line and he would check me in. The man was clearly treating me as blind or visually impaired person. When it was my turn, the employee asked me why I was there and I answered with a big smile,"I'm here to renew my license or get a state ID card". He gave me a number and I found my way to an open seat with the use of my cane. After a brief wait my number came up on the big screen and also echoed through the room on the overhead speakers. As I made my way to the back of the room my cane saved me from walking into a row of chairs that I did not see. I could feel the glares from the seated people waiting for the next available booth. I'm sure some were even scratching their heads. The employee at the booth asked me how she could help me and again I answered,"I'm here to renew my license or get a state ID card". She didn't even flinch. She asked me if I had any limitations that could effect or impair my driving like seizures, strokes, heart ailments or disabilities. I told her I was legally blind and asked if that counted as a disability with a snarky grin on my face. I gave her the background of doing this 9 years ago and passing the eye test. She assured me that if I passed the eye test that I would receive a new license. I promptly followed that statement with,"Well then, Let's Do This!". I easily passed the eye test. I read the letters with ease, found the red ball in the rectangle and even saw the flashing white light in my periphery. My tiny island of vision in my periphery must have lined up nicely with the flashing white light. So, that was it. I was bonafide. Legit. Another driver ready to hit the road! She sent me up to the front counter to get my picture taken. I made my way up to the counter with my cane a swinging side to side and proudly had my picture taken WITH my cane. I normally don't smile for my driver's license picture but I was giddy. I couldn't wait to tell my friends and family about this one.
Sometimes life can be funny while witnessing incompetence. Better to laugh it off then get angry. Why have someone else's incompetence ruin your day? I could laugh at this because I know I'm not going to drive. But what about the people out there who are legally blind and who ARE going to drive? Now that is scary! I was hit by a 84 yr old man while riding my bike home from work in 2008 who had 200 yards to see me. No obstructions. Sunny day. He had no idea I existed until my helmet was touching his windshield. Luckily I escaped with no major injuries but I did have a couple of Physical Therapy appointment and I missed out on a pack trip to my favorite place on the planet. Ol' Elmer Fristoe clearly should not have been driving. In my interactions with the State of Washington Department of Motor Vehicles it is clear to me that they want people on the road. The DMV wants people to keep their independence. It almost feels like the DMV is treating driving as a right rather than a privilege. Washington State's protocol for obtaining a driver's license is criminal. How can someone like me obtain a license? How about asking me if I have a visually impairment? How about requiring me to show a letter from a doctor that says I am visually fit to operate a motor vehicle? My doctor would NEVER do that for me.
After this experience I almost feel obligated to change the laws regarding how someone becomes approved to drive a vehicle in the state of Washington. I am still a cyclist. I am a pedestrian. I am visually impaired. I do not want people like me driving. My question to you is how do I get the process changed? Do I write a letter to the DMV? Do I contact a news agency and share my story? I would really appreciate your thoughts. I hope this story made you chuckle and are thankful I'm not driving a 5 ton rig every day. Thanks for reading and for the suggestions!