The Inferno: Another Holiday Adventure

Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself at the DMV…

December 28th. 7:50 AM. Frigid temps. My son needs to take the test to get his learner’s permit. We have tried to beat the rush by arriving before the DMV even opens, but a line has already formed from the entrance all the way to the end of the building. My son and I take our place at the back of the line.


Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

The doors open promptly at 8 and oh, rapturous joy: we finally make it inside. As our limbs begin to thaw, we wonder…Is this Paradise?

We slowly advance through the snaking line until at last it is our turn to approach the info desk.

There dreadful Minos stands, gnashing his teeth:
examining the sins of those who enter,
he judges and assigns as his tail twines.

I mean that when the spirit born to evil
appears before him, it confesses all;
and he, the connoisseur of sin, can tell

the depth in Hell appropriate to it;
as many times as Minos wraps his tail 
around himself, that marks the sinner’s level.

Always there is a crowd that stands before him:
each soul in turn advances toward that judgment;
they speak and hear, then they are cast below.

Minos takes a cursory glance at the documents clutched in my hand and informs us that the original Social Security card (not just the number) is needed for identification.

But the stars that marked our starting fall away.
We must go deeper into greater pain,
for it is not permitted that we stay.

Suddenly, I understand why this plaque is so prominently displayed on the DMV building…


We drive back home in quiet despair. I have no idea where my son’s Social Security card might be. I remember only that it was mailed to our house (two houses ago)! shortly after his birth. After multiple moves, it could be anywhere or nowhere at all. I frantically root around in various locations where I may have stashed it away more than 15 years ago.

Miracle of miracles! I find the card and we drive back for Round 2 at the DMV.

“No pressure or anything, kid, but I really, really hope you pass your test after all this, or somebody‘s not going to be feeling so jolly…”


He gives me an anxious glance as he trudges to his cubicle to take the test.

Are you feeling anxious, dear reader?

Do not be afraid; our fate
Cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.

The boy has passed! The next day I take my newly minted learner to the parking lot of the elementary school down the road. I taught my oldest son to drive there just last year…

We buck and lurch around the parking lot until he comes to a stop and wails, “I can’t handle all this power!”

They yearn for what they fear for…

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The way is long, and difficult the road…

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Perseverando. Perseverando. Perseverando…

Driver’s Ed

We made a very quick, long overdue trip to Arlington to see my parents this weekend. The last time we saw them was at Christmas when we were all together at my sister’s house in New Jersey. The kids have been missing their grandparents. As for the grandparents? When I talked to my dad over the phone a few weeks ago, he said in a forlorn little voice, “So…you’re not going to visit us anymore?”

We had a lot of catching up to do. My oldest son is about to turn 15 in a couple of weeks and so at the top of the list of discussion topics was the astonishing fact that the state of Virginia would be prepared to give this baby a learner’s permit a mere six months after his 15th birthday.

I’ve written before about the conversation I had with my son a couple years ago when he was about to turn 13 and was already then excitedly musing about the fact that he could legally get his learner’s permit in less than three years.

Obviously, I couldn’t shirk my moral responsibility and duty as his mother to disabuse him of the notion that this was a given. “Killjoy,” “Wet Dishrag,” and “Party Pooper” happen to be my middle names. This is why I get paid the big bucks after all.

“It’s not just about how old you are,” I replied. “We would have to see that you were really ready for the responsibility of driving. We’d want to make sure that you were mature enough to handle that responsibility.”

I watched the light die in his eyes. He was silent for a moment as he pondered my words and performed some mental calculations before coming to an unwelcome conclusion, “If T (his sister who was then 7) is driving me around when she‘s fifteen and a half, I’m going to be really, really mad!”

The fact that his brother may soon be driving has apparently been weighing as heavily on my 12 year old son’s mind as it has on mine.

“N. will be learning to drive soon,” he said to me one day as I was ferrying him back home from some activity. “That’s a pretty scary thought…Can we make sure he doesn’t drive with me in the car until he’s at least 18?”

I reported this conversation to my dad and we chuckled about it. Our conversation reminded me of the day my mother finally got her driver’s license at the age of 50 after years of trying. She never actually failed the test, she just lost her nerve every time she was about to take it. It wasn’t her fault. Every time she would screw up the courage to start learning how to drive, she would get into a serious car accident. I don’t even think she was driving the car any of the times that it happened. It was just extraordinarily bad luck and timing.

When she finally came back from the DMV clutching her brand new driver’s license, she was giddy with triumph.

“You got it! That’s amazing, Mom! Tell me all about it!”

“Well, the man told me to drive around the block and so I did. But THEN, he told me to do a U-turn! I said, ‘WHAAAAAAAAAT?! I don’t know how to do a U-turn!!'”

“Uh-oh…So then what happened?”

“He reached over and turned the wheel for me,” she replied as if this should be perfectly obvious.

Here’s where the story got confusing. Who pulls a stunt like that and then actually passes the test and gets her license? My mom. That’s who.

“And that’s when I knew she had magical powers!” I said to my dad, “I mean I’d always suspected it, of course, and I knew she could get people to do whatever she wanted them to, but that was definitive proof that she really is some kind of a witch.”

To this day, I have a recurring nightmare in which I find myself in a car with my mother at the wheel. But to her credit, the day she got her license was the last day my mother ever drove a car. It was enough that she had slain the dragon. The best witches know their limits.

I’m an overachiever

I hate to brag, but I’m going to give myself some props for some things that I do better than most people. I wrote about one of those rare talents yesterday, when I revealed how I can get telemarketers so mad by being nice to them that they hang up on me. And then there are certain driving maneuvers…the three point turn, for instance?…I pretty much kill it. Three points are for average people. Me? I do it in seventeen. I would imagine it’s pretty breathtaking to watch, though perhaps not quite as breathtaking as watching me dance. Jaws literally drop when I start busting a move. I’m guessing there aren’t many others in the world who can actually get people to weep when they dance like I can.

In case you’re feeling really jealous of me right now, let me make you feel better by telling you that there are some areas of my life where I struggle. Punctuality, for example, has never been my strong suit. Lately, circumstances have conspired against me, making the task of getting my daughter to school on time even more of a challenge than usual. We used to cross a rickety, one-lane wooden bridge on our way there. They’ve recently closed it and are rebuilding it. In a year’s time when they’ve finished the work, it won’t feel like you should be driving over it in a covered wagon. In the meantime, unfortunately, the detour we now have to take makes the drive to school five minutes longer. As we all know, five minutes in the morning is equivalent to at least half an hour during the rest of the day. (Have I mentioned that I’m also really amazing at math)?

This morning I was driving my daughter to school and it became clear that we were going to be late. When I announced this fact out loud, she heaved a sigh.

“Hey, it’s not that bad. This is the first time we’ve been late all week!” I said.

And then I realized it was Tuesday.

I’m on a roll.

Weekend Snapshots 6

Around his thirteenth birthday a few months ago, my son was waxing expansively about how it would be less than three years before he would get his learner’s permit to drive. It’s true that somewhere, somehow, some crackpot, who was smoking weed or was in some other way mentally impaired at the time, deemed fifteen and a half the age at which children could get their learner’s permit to drive in the state of Virginia. Of course, I hastened to disabuse my son of the notion that he would be getting his license at that age.

In as neutral a voice as I could muster I said, “It’s not just about how old you are. We would have to see that you were really ready for the responsibility of driving. We’d want to make sure that you were mature enough to handle that responsibility.”

This silenced him for a few moments. I could see that he was performing some mental calculations before coming to an obvious, but unpleasant conclusion. Finally, he erupted, “If T (his eight year old sister) is driving me around when she’s fifteen and a half, I’m going to be really, really mad!”

It may be years before he ever gets behind the wheel of a real car, but this weekend we went Go-Karting at Windy Hills Sports Complex in Richmond, Virginia for his little brother’s belated birthday celebration and we all did some driving:

Clearly, my daughter was unimpressed with her mother’s driving:

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Odyssey in the Odyssey

Part 1: C’ville – DC

Everyone makes the occasional dunderhead move while driving. As an Asian woman driver, I have always felt unduly burdened by the weight of negative expectations on the part of other drivers on the road. I worry that to them, my occasional driving blunder is no mere momentary lapse, but rather: further evidence that Asian Women Can’t Drive.

“Damn!” I think when a wheel goes over a curb, or when I am forced to make an inelegant seventeen point turn in my big honking Honda Odyssey minivan. It’s not the action itself that bothers me so much as the reaction I imagine witnesses having.

“Mmmhmmm,” I imagine them saying to themselves, “Asian Woman Driver.”

This is all to say that our trip to New York City was somewhat tortuous, and maybe even a little torturous. I started out in Charlottesville and picked up our friends at a hotel in D.C. From there, we planned to drive on to Gettysburg to pick up my son, who was there finishing up a weeklong field trip with his school.

As I have written before, navigation is not my strength. In preparation for the trip, I had printed out a sheaf of google maps for every leg of the journey. I had also set up my iPhone maps to help me navigate. Despite my best efforts, I was in trouble not five minutes after leaving my parents’ house in Arlington to pick up our friends. As I approached I-66, I called my sister in bewilderment.

“There’s a huge sign that says HOV-2 and motorcycles only! Is that a general prohibition, or just in the lanes with the diamonds?”

“Just the lanes with the diamonds!” my sister reassured me over the phone. I was still rattled. If I could have possibly figured out an alternate route, I would have, just to be sure not to get hit with the whopping $1000 fine single drivers are threatened with on those big electronic signs dotting the highway. Finding an alternate route on my own? Obviously, that was just not an option for the likes of me. I kept nervously glancing over at other cars hoping to spot other single drivers, but didn’t see any. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I managed to make it to the hotel hotel without getting pulled over.

When Rosita got in the car she immediately set up her own iPhone with google maps. Even with two different iPhone navigation apps and a set of printed directions, we still managed to get lost in D.C. None of our sources took into account the vagaries of D.C. traffic patterns, which change according to the hour and the day. At one point, we quite literally were directed straight into oncoming traffic. We kept having to make sudden last minute U-turns and lane changes. I was getting so frazzled that I started to make genuinely boneheaded driving maneuvers. I may have driven through a red light, for example.

“We’d make a lousy Thelma and Louise,” Rosita observed.

I followed her train of thought, “Yeah. We’d be like, ‘How do we get to the cliff? Which way should we go?! What does google maps say? Where’s the freaking cliff?! Oh, never mind…’.”

Later in New York, we met up with a high school friend of Rosita’s. He listened to our harrowing tale of escape from D.C. and told us that he had learned an expression for this when he lived in L.A.: “DWA,” or “Driving While Asian.” Whatever.

Part 2: Gettysburg – NYC

We made it to Gettysburg and met up with my son. We decided to kill some time walking around Gettysburg to wait for a cafe to open so we could have lunch before pushing on to NYC.



I got yelled at by a little old lady in Victorian garb in the Gettysburg Emporium for taking this picture:


The Cupcake Café! This perfectly pink and frothy venue was just the place to start our adventures with our two adolescent boys. They let us know how they felt about it:


Pit stop at the Cracker Barrel:


We finally made it!





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