Monday, January 20, 2020

How Did Life Get So Complicated?


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 22, 2020] ©2020

Welcome to Auntie Inga’s Curmudgeon Hour

Grab your preferred beverage and sit down while I whine again about why life has just gotten too perplexing for me. 

Recently, for example, I wanted to attend a fundraiser only to discover when I went to buy a ticket on-line that the only type of payment accepted was PayPal.  I emailed the agency in charge of the fundraiser whose solution was that they would help me set up a PayPal account. This was not what I had in mind.

I emailed back: “Your offer is very kind but I've lasted 72 years without a PayPal account and am not planning on ruining my status as Techno-Moronic Senile Luddite of the Year.  One last option: can one pay at the door in, say, cash?  It's the green stuff made of paper that comes in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 units that boasts portraits of past presidents and is still considered legal tender, however obsolete.  Anyway, thought it was worth asking.”

Ultimately we worked out a payment solution but I couldn’t help but reflect that stuff that didn’t used to be so hard is sucking up way too much time and increasingly limited mental capacity.

For example, parking your car didn’t used to be rocket science.  You either got X minutes for free or had to stuff coins in a meter, or pay some nice person in a little booth.  You did not need to download an app, assuming of course, you even knew how to download an app, not that you  actually kept any financial information on your stupid phone anyway. You just wanted to run in and get some Damp-Rid at Manley’s!

Reading the Sunday New York Times travel section, I have learned that besides using your phone as a boarding pass, one can now track one’s bags with it, and subscribe to services that will upgrade your airplane seat if a better one becomes available.  I fear I’m destined to have the worst seat on any plane, and be the last one out of the continent after the blizzard.  And definitely the only one who truly has no idea where her bags are. 

It just seems like there are techno road blocks being thrown in my way every single day. It would never occur to me to clap my hands to turn on a room light or wave my hands under a faucet to turn it on, unless I was in a movie theater restroom and they had very specific signs.  I don’t even want to get into the ever-increasingly list of friends I will never visit again because I can’t work their high-tech Japanese toilets.  And if I have to clap to turn on their bathroom light to even GET to the high-tech toilet, I’d fantasize about wetting their pricey sofa.

Recently, I needed to give information stored on my iPhone to a customer service agent. In Inga Land, my usual protocol is to call on the land line so I can access information on the cell phone if I have to.  But in this case, I was talking on the cell away from home. I’d been on hold for 45 minutes to get to get this lady in the first place so I didn’t want to disconnect the call.  Fortunately, a 20-something person overheard this and showed me how to do it. Yes, you can get info from your Contacts list without disconnecting your call!  But could I ever replicate it?  Not a chance.

I’m terrified of my TV remote.  One accidental push of a wrong button and the TV is unworkable.  Where’s the “revert to previous settings” button?  In fact, EVERY appliance or gadget should have one!  The “Save me!” button.  (Are you listening, 18-year-old techno-nerd designers?)

The thing is, I’m just not interested in learning most of this stuff.  It takes up too much bandwidth in an already failing brain.  I’ve slowly mastered my cell phone, or at least the parts of it that I really use (texting, photos, or calling an Uber).  If I want to chat with someone, I call them up.  OK, OK, I probably should at least master that thing on my phone that lets me access my Contacts list while talking to someone on the phone.  But it’s my final offer.

Some of us Boomers have really mastered, nay, embraced all the new technology.  But there are plenty of us who have been left in the dust.  Who likes to feel incompetent, like you can’t work a basic appliance or a TV or listen to a voice mail or figure out how to pay for your parking space?  All stuff that you never gave a thought to for the first 60 years of your life.  Have I outlived my time? Probably.

But I’m drawing the line at the toilet seats.

I don't know how to do this.  And I don't want to learn.



Monday, January 13, 2020

The Curse Of The Intermittent Technical Problem


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 15, 2020] ©2020

Is it just my imagination, or do I spend an inordinate amount of time getting stuff fixed?  Something is always broken, whether it’s a computer problem, a funny noise the car is making, a broken sprinkler head, or an ice maker that isn’t making ice.  Even our security cameras decided to fog up for no known reason. 

Of course, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the stuff I’m getting fixed wouldn’t have needed fixing in my youth because it didn’t yet exist (like computers).  Or didn’t exist at my house (like ice makers, sprinkler heads, and security cameras).  There was a lot to be said for the era of manual typewriters, hand-washed dishes, ice cube trays, and a climate where it actually rains.

But the true insanity-making problem to fix is the intermittent one. Just as intermittent reinforcement is the quickest way to strengthen a desired behavior, an intermittent technical problem that absolutely refuses to manifest itself in the presence of an entity actually qualified to fix it is the fastest way to make people bats--t crazy.  

Cars, of course, are notorious for this. I am sure if you are the auto repair biz there is nothing you hate more than a person such as me bringing in a vehicle that is making a “funny noise.”  What kind of ‘funny noise’? they ask patiently.  Is it more like a knocking, or a squeaking, or a clunking?  OK, clunking. 

They take the car out for a test drive. Does it clunk?  Not a chance.  Cars are designed to never clunk on command. They only clunk again on your way home.

Our heating system has developed a whine.  It is annoying beyond belief.  But the alternative is being cold.  The heating guy has been out twice and the system purrs like a happy kitten when he is on the premises.

So that brings us to the problem of the pictures on both of our TVs “tiling” (also known as “pixelating.”) The picture will suddenly break up and get totally fuzzy and unwatchable, always, maliciously, at some critically important point in a program or sports event. The fact that it happens on both our TVs which have two different cable boxes suggests that it is not the TVs or the cable boxes but something to do with the cable itself. We allowed it could always be transmission issues from the channels themselves. But surely our cable company could troubleshoot this for us?

Our cable provider sent out a gentleman named George who had the social skills of a sock.  Unfortunately, the technical skills of one too.

Let me just say that we have actually had some very good people come out over the years to deal with the various cable problems at our house.  We have also had a fair share of ones who wish to get out of your home with the greatest possible expedience and least possible service.  I really wish you could give Yelp ratings to cable guys.  There’s a bunch I’d like to see re-employed in trash pickup.

George showed up during our early afternoon appointment window and turned on the TV sets.  No pixelating or tiling was occurring.  He tested the signal on our cable box and pronounced it “fine.”  But, of course, as we noted, the problem was intermittent. Olof mentioned that our cable installation had been done some years ago so we wondered aloud if the wiring was getting a little corroded at this point, especially being so close to the ocean. 

George, however, insisted that he can’t send a “maintenance technician” out to look at a problem that he can’t see on the TV.  He suggests – and we were a tad incredulous – that we reschedule for a service call for an evening time when this problem was occurring. 

Olof, who is a far nicer person than I, reiterated that we notice this problem in the evenings because that is the only time that either of us ever watches TV.  Could very well be happening at other times too.

I, a far less nice person than Olof, queried if the technician would be joining us on the couch for the evening hoping the screen would break up. (I offered to make popcorn.)

But George just shrugged. He left. And our TVs continue to sporadically pixelate.

I couldn’t help but reflect that in my youth, TV picture problems were solved by adjusting the rabbit ears on top of the set.  It helped, or it didn’t help.  But it was vastly less aggravating.

So now I’ll take the route I should have taken in the first place: crowdsourcing.  Anybody out there having this problem too? Were you able to fix it? Olof is hoping to find out before our TV screen disintegrates during the last five minutes of the Super Bowl.


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Refrigerator Wars


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published January 8, 2020] ©2020

I am lucky enough to have the legacy of parents who were truly kind people and never missed an opportunity to jump in where needed.  So when Olof and I realized that a disabled friend with no local family desperately required assistance, we volunteered to help. And thus began the saga I call will Refrigerator Wars. It could easily be five columns but here’s the abridged version. 

Our friend has 24/7 caregivers.  His refrigerator stopped working. An ancient behemoth, it was ultimately deemed not repairable, despite multiple part replacements over several days.

This was the news I dreaded.  Every appliance repair person who has ever looked at that refrigerator has said, “How on earth did that thing ever get in here?”  My husband wryly opined that it must have been manufactured on site.  It was a commercial-grade built-in refrigerator that wasn’t actually built in.  I’m sure our friend got a great deal on it. 

While lots of places have removal services for an old appliance when you buy a new one, there was no way any delivery service was going to tackle getting this massive fridge out of there.  So I hired multiple handy persons who each worked considerable hours, said they’d be back the next day to finish the job, and were never seen again. One, I learned later from the caregivers, actually used a sledge hammer.

There was fortunately a kitchen door on this 1929 house. Unfortunately it was 28 inches wide and had not only been painted shut but the lock mechanism broken in the lock position.  All other avenues to remove this refrigerator were even more impossible than the kitchen door.

The final set of handy persons succeeded in dismantling this refrigerator and removed it in 26 component pieces to the porch through the newly-unstuck re-locksmithed kitchen door.

I’d pre-selected a replacement at Home Depot only to find that any fridge I wanted was on three-week back order and one-week delivery delay. However, a nearby outlet store said they could indeed deliver the next day and provide take-away service for $90. They wouldn’t let me use my friend’s credit card (probably good news) so I had to buy it.

The next morning I was over there at our friend’s house at 7:15 a.m.  waiting for the delivery guys. 

At 8:40 a.m., a truck pulled up and three teenagers who seemed at most 15 jumped out. I asked them to confirm that they were taking away the refrigerator (pieces) that were on the porch.  Head Teenager says his paperwork doesn’t say anything about taking away the old refrigerator so he can’t do it. Do I want the new one or not?  I am really tempted to say just take it back but the caregiver is looking at me imploringly.  They’ve been without a refrigerator for over a week.

Head Teenager calls Customer Service who tell me that “someone will contact me later in the week” about picking up the old fridge.  Translation: I will never hear from them again. 

Not surprisingly, getting the new fridge in the 28-inch kitchen door requires heroic measures but to the Head Teenager’s credit, he ultimately gets it done.  Caregivers are ecstatic.

11 a.m.  Once home, I call the outlet place and ultimately get Mark, the manager, who promises someone will be out to pick up the old refrigerator tomorrow “at the latest.” 

11:30:  Mark calls back.  A problem. I didn’t tell the salesman that my old refrigerator was a built-in (even if it wasn’t actually built-in).  They don’t pick up built-ins.  I need to call a company who will send out a four-man crew which I would have to pay for.  I tell him I have already had it removed from the house onto the porch and that its component pieces need to be moved all of ten feet onto a truck. 

Mark also says the delivery kids told him there were “six steps” up to the porch.  I reply that the delivery kids are obviously products of San Diego public education and that there are actually two. Mark suggests that the best solution would be that they refund my $90 removal fee and I find some other [clueless idiot] individual to take it away for me.  Would that be acceptable to me?  Me: Hell no.  You guys are going to come get this refrigerator. 

1 p.m. Mark calls and says he is sending a crew later that day to pick up the refrigerator. 

8 p.m. Pick-up crew never shows up. 

9 a.m. Day 9: I go over to the house first thing with 26 strips of paper on which I have printed “refrigerator part” and tape them to all the assorted parts so there can be no mistake.

11:30 a.m. Caregiver calls:  Truck has come and taken away the refrigerator including all its component pieces! 

Day 10: Caregiver calls to report dishwasher isn’t working.  I say, “Tough!”


Monday, December 9, 2019

(Trying To) Embrace The Bus


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Dec. 11, 2019] ©2019

On May 21, 2015 a La Jolla Light article queried why 87% of people who live within a mile of public transit still drive to work.  The answer: they need to actually GET to work.

A letter to the Editor in the San Diego Union-Tribune made a related inquiry:  Do supporters of mass transit use it?  The answer:  We’re trying.

My husband and I are two of the biggest supporters of public transit but have concluded that San Diego just isn’t set up for it to be a successful mode of daily transport, unless you have endless time on your hands and don’t have to get to work by a specific time.  If you have kids or are elderly, it isn’t for you either.

My husband and I had the pleasure of spending two car-less years in Sweden on a work contract in 2005 and 2006 and became total converts to public transit.  It helped, of course, that their system – buses, subways, long distance trains – runs to the minute despite serious weather challenges. 

My husband, for whom a short work week was sixty hours, attempted to continue his love affair with buses when we returned to La Jolla even though the drive was twenty minutes door-to-door and the bus (no transfers) at least sixty.  Sometimes the bus was running so late that he just walked home and drove.  When the route changed to be too far from his office, he was back to auto travel.

Still, the San Diego MTS (Metropolitan Transit System) has much to recommend it:  the buses are clean, the drivers are unfailingly helpful, and at $23, a monthly senior pass is a steal.  Other than one trip when I thought I might be sitting next to the Unabomber’s younger brother, I’ve always felt safe.

At various local committee meetings I’ve attended, the committee members have responded to complaints that inadequate parking is being required for proposed new builds by maintaining that we are headed toward a future of not driving our own personal cars.  I genuinely hope so.  But we are waaaay off from that day. 

Unlike Sweden where bus stops are covered against inclement weather, up-to-date schedules are clearly posted, and a digital readout counts down to when the next bus is arriving, large portions of San Diego are inaccessible by public transit, and the buses are mired in the same traffic as everyone else.  Doing away with transfers a few years ago doubled bus fares, and routes are constantly being reduced, none of which has expanded ridership. 

In Stockholm, buses have a wide center door without steps for strollers and handicapped persons, and the bus itself tilts to allow them easy access to get on and off.  It’s not really fair to compare a much smaller city like Stockholm to the sprawl of San Diego, but the Swedes have made on-time-to-the-minute public transit a major societal priority, including special traffic lanes for buses. 

I’m trying to imagine the average San Diego mom trying to grocery shop, drop off and pick kids up from school, get kids to sports practices and to games all over a huge county, and manage already-tight time schedules on our current bus system.  Even Ubers and Lyfts can’t do the job because of the state-mandated car seat requirements for kids under eight.  (In some cities in the U.S., you can request a car seat at an additional cost of $10 per seat – not feasible for routine transportation.)

As for the recently-passed City Council regulation that would not require parking in new multi-family units that are “near” (1/2 mile) current or planned  public transit, I personally think they’ve lost their minds. Our public transit system doesn’t even access large sections of the city, has little or no service late at night, and limited hours on the weekends.  A half mile is a long way, and that’s even assuming the terrain is flat and you’re not hauling groceries or kids. (I never had to walk more than three blocks in Stockholm to encounter public transit.)  

An article in the La Jolla Village News on November 29 regarding the proposed development on the former 76 Unocal site on Pearl street quoted the developer as saying, “The target market tenant will live and work in the village, with 30% of tenants expected to use ride-sharing services and not own a car.”  Personally, I project that 100% of those tenants will own a car, and will park it on Eads.

San Diego will never have a system like Sweden’s. But it does seem like we need to ratchet up public transit quite a few notches before making regulations that people have to use it. Restore some of the previous routes and schedules plus add some more, especially evening and weekend hours. Some benches would be nice too.

But right now, we’re just not ready for prime time.    

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Revisiting Washers, Toilet Paper Rolls, And Good People



 ["Let Inga Tell You," La Jolla Light, published Nov. 27, 2019] ©2019 

One true upside to writing Let Inga Tell You for the last ten years is the opportunity to learn from readers.

We’ll get to my recent column about toilet paper in a moment but first, I’d like to revisit my column from earlier in the year about my brand-new washing machine.  It seems I am not the only person who is exasperated by the “smart” features installed in most new washers.  “Balance” seems to be a particular problem across many brands (probably not all that surprising since one repair guy maintained they’re all made in the same factory in China).  My machine wants to self-balance but if there is anything in there heavier than underwear (God forbid you should want to wash towels), it is scientifically designed to shift everything to one side then sound like it is agitating a bowling ball.  The only person more scared of this machine than the dog is me.  I can’t leave the house when it is running as I have to be prepared to race in and stop a machine that is literally flailing around like it’s possessed before it ends up in the living room.  Multiple calls to the warranty service people have ended with them suggesting I “not wash heavy objects in it.”  These would be the same heavy objects I have been washing in its predecessors for 40 years.  I did finally find one semi-solution which is to ignore all instructions in the manual.  I now over-ride the auto water level sensor on virtually all loads  and wash everything on “deep water wash and rinse” thereby obviating all the ecological advantages this stupid, useless machine was supposed to have.

And now to toilet paper rolls. I had long thought that the country was divided into Red States and Blue States but really it all comes down to advocates of ever-larger toilet paper rolls versus saner, nicer people who think toilet paper rolls should actually fit on toilet paper spindles.  By coincidence, the day my column appeared, the Wall Street Journal had an article about how Charmin and other toilet paper companies were responding to customer clamor for ever-larger rolls so they’d have to be changed less frequently.  I was whining about Charmin’s newer Super-Mega rolls but it turns out I was already waaaaay out of date.  Charmin now has Forever Rolls that sport 2,500 sheets and come with their own starter kit including a free-standing dispenser which in my house we’d have to take out the bathtub to accommodate.  The WSJ reporter did note that no matter how many sheets of toilet paper you get on a roll, it will still be the woman of the house who ends up changing it. 

I also had not been aware that a newer ecological move in the Toilet Paper Industrial Complex is tube-less rolls.  I have read the arguments for this and about why it is just a waste to be throwing out all those cardboard tubes (unless you have grade school kids. Do away with those tubes and you’ll never get a school-made Christmas gift again). If people whine about the five seconds it takes to shove a dowel through a new roll and snap it into the dispenser, try threading a dowel through a squished mass of a toilet tissue whose alleged opening has disappeared somewhere between denuding the forests of Canada and your local market. I gather from readers there is a lot of “GAH!s” and bad words that often go on in the process. 

As for the column about finally getting a window air conditioner for our bedroom after three brutally hot summers in a row?  It was one of the coldest summers on record and we used it for exactly 10 minutes – and even that was during a brief episode of Indian Indigenous American summer in early October. 

And now an update on Charles, the wonderful security guard at the credit union in the Staples shopping center in Pacific Beach whom I wrote about in March, 2016.  We’ve become fast friends ever since he ran out in a sudden downpour and saved me from running over my iPhone which had fallen out of my purse as I hurled wet packages into my car.  He refused a reward, but when I got home, I sent a letter to the manager of the credit union extolling his character. I never go to that shopping center without stopping for a hug and chat with Charles.  At the time, I said I hoped he had at least posted the column I wrote about him in the break room and maybe shared his new-found fame with his family too.  But in a comment that has stuck with me ever since, he modestly demurred. “Nah. I was raised by my grandma. She said that if you do something nice for someone, you keep it to yourself.” 

Charles for President?

 Washing machine from hell

The wonderful Charles, rescuer of cell phones

Monday, November 18, 2019

Inga's Ultimate California Driver's Test


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published Nov. 20, 2019] ©2019

Last week I wrote about getting my driver’s license renewed and having to take the written test since I’m over 70.  After some 40 practice exams (and 56 years of keen observation at the wheel), I think I can save readers a lot of trouble and just sum it all up in one all-encompassing test.  Pass this and you’re good to go.

At a stop sign with at least a little bit of visibility on either side, you should:
(a) quickly glance both ways then increase speed and blow through it
(b) forget the glancing and just blow through it
(c) realize that STOP means “Slow To Observe Police”

You are stuck behind a total geezer driving the speed limit on a two-lane road where passing on the left is prohibited.  You:
(a) pass him on the right hoping to nudge him into oncoming traffic
(b) wait for the next ravine and make your move
(c) Old people should be put on ice floes and sent out to sea

As the light turns green, a blind person with a service dog is crossing in front of you.  You:
(a) honk and proceed (damn dog needs to learn to walk faster)
(b) assume the guy bought the cane and the dog’s vest on Amazon and is faking.
(c) should make a donation to the Humane Society in the dog’s name if you were wrong

With a Class C driver license, a person may drive:
(a) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is less than 6,000 pounds and you are towing a horse trailer
(b) a two-axle vehicle if the Gross Vehicular Weight is more than 6,000 pounds but the horse trailer contains goats
(c) No one, including the DMV, actually knows what a “Class C” driver’s license is

You do not have to signal a left turn:
(a) if one hand is occupied with the wheel and the other with your cell phone
(b) if you drive a black SUV
(c) because it’s nobody’s business which direction you’re turning

Children who say “Are we there yet?” more than 10 times may be:
(a) left by the side of the road
(b) given phenobarbital
(c) addressed in a tone that is not our “inside voice”

Hitting a tree at 80 miles per hour while intoxicated:
(a) is most damaging to deciduous varieties and ornamentals
(b) makes a moot point of the whole 400-feet-to-stop thing
(c) may require your estate to replace the tree

The yellow light in a traffic signal:
(a) means “speed up or you’ll miss the light!”
(b) is also known as a “pink” light if the light has already turned red when you go through it
(c) All of the above

Alcohol concentration in the blood is legally described as:
(a) “a buzz”
(b) “hammered”
(c) “basted”

Just before a train hits your car that is stalled on the railroad tracks, your last words are:
(a) #@%^**^&!
(b) @(&^%$$%!!
(c) &$#@###*&%!!!

You must stop at railroad tracks when the bell sounds and the gate goes down:
(a) if you actually have time to wait for a whole frigging freight train to go by
(b) unless you think there is room to get around the gate before the train gets there
(c) This question should have been before the last one

If you park your vehicle in an area not usually used for parking:
(a) it usually means it is a primo make-out area
(b) you have no memory after that 10th Jello shot how you got your car ended up on top of that storage shed
(c) think the parking control people are too rigid in their definition of “sidewalk”

State law requires children to be restrained in an approved car seat until:
(a) the square root of their age plus the reciprocal of their weight
(b) the square root of their weight minus the reciprocal of their height
(c) they whine so loud that you can’t stand it

When using a roundabout, drivers should:
(a) be prepared to get sucked into a vortex from which they’ll never escape
(b) petition your Congress person to outlaw roundabouts which are confusing and terrifying to just about everyone
(c) just drive over the median on the smaller ones

It is OK to smoke in a car with passengers under 16 if:
(a) the kids are not coughing violently
(b) you can still see out the windshield
(c) it really depends on what you’re smoking (wink wink)

You can make a U-turn in the middle of a block when:
(a) you see a prime parking spot on the other side of the street
(b) you spot a Taco Bell advertising a two-for-one Chalupa special
(c) Police officers pursuing you have put up a road block ahead

The best mindset toward other drivers when navigating California’s roadways is:
(a) It’s all about me
(b) It’s only about me
(c) Move over




Sunday, November 10, 2019

The DMV, Real ID, and Me


[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published November 13, 2019] ©2019

DMV, how do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways.

The first time your license expires after you turn 70, you have to show up in person at the DMV regardless of how good a driving record you have. I guess they want to make sure you haven’t gone blind and that you still have enough synapses firing to pass the written test.  I decided to get my Real ID at the same time.

Frankly, I’d rather clean the restroom floors at Grand Central Station with my tongue than go to the DMV.  No wait, that’s get a new iPhone.  But the DMV is a close second on my aversion list.

To even get an appointment at my preferred location, I had to register on-line with DMV.gov and create an account that required choosing FIVE utterly stupid security questions, the least bad of which included: “What is the name of a college you applied to but didn’t attend?”  (They have to remind me about all the places that didn’t accept me 55 years ago?)  And: “On what street is your grocery store?”  (Is this the 1950s?  Do they mean Sprouts? Trader Joe’s? Gelsons? P.B. Vons? La Jolla Vons?)  Plus: “What is the name of the doctor who delivered your first child?” (How the hell would I know? He’s adopted!) They clearly get their security questions from the same place as United.

The DMV site advises that to “save time,” one should fill out the required Driver’s License Application form, the DL 44, on-line.  Believe me, I could have saved a lot of time filling it out there.  I thought I could just sign into my account at DMV.gov and access it. But no, the DMV has apparently “partnered” with something called ID.me which required another whole registration process including a “two factor authentication process” that sent me a code – good for only 15 minutes - that I had to input to a window that I’d accidentally clicked out of.

Given all the horror stories I’d heard from people who were turned away at the Real ID desk for failing to have the proper documents, I tried to bring five of everything.  Puzzlingly, a California Driver’s license is not acceptable as one of the proofs of ID for a Real ID.  (So is ours an UnReal ID? An Ersatz ID? A Wannabe ID?)  It basically has to be a passport or a birth certificate.  But not so fast. The name on the birth certificate has to be the same one that will be on your Real ID which means it works for 99.9% of men and about two percent of women.  Otherwise your stack of documents need to include an original copy of your marriage certificate. Probably just as well in my case. My birth certificate, after 72 years moldering in various safety deposit boxes, had the consistency of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Handing it over to the DMV lady would have been its last hurrah.

BTW, while you can download the 132-page Driver’s Handbook on-line, actual copies of it reside in public libraries (the College Room at the La Jolla Riford Library, in our case.) This is the best kept secret in California.

So I read the manual, carefully underlining all the number stuff (speed limits, how tall a kid has to be not to have to ride in a car seat, etc. etc.)  I took eight practice tests on-line and aced them, even learning a few things like you can no longer smoke in a car with kids under 16.  When I was growing up in the 50s, it was amazing parents could see out the windshield.

One question I kept getting wrong: that it is illegal to park in an "unmarked crosswalk."  Inquiring minds wanted to know how you know its a crosswalk if it's unmarked.  Turns out an unmarked crosswalk is the portion of the roadway at an intersection 10-feet wide that would connect opposite sides of the street.  (My second PSA of this column.)

I have to say that some of the questions on the practice tests were freebies, like what does a "No U-Turn" sign mean? In fact, there ought to be a few key questions on each test that are automatic fails, like under what circumstances you can mow down pedestrians and blind people.

Two days before my appointment at the DMV, I decided to take a few more practice tests - and failed 14 out of 18.  These questions were exponentially harder: What is a crossbuck sign? (It's the X-shaped railroad crossing sign.)  How many classes of mopeds are there? (Three.)  What does a pentagonal sign mean? (School.)  The average California driver would know "pentagonal" means five-sided? 

I was in full-scale panic mode the morning of the test.  Fortunately, the questions were of the type on my first set of practice tests and I got a perfect score.  (What I couldn't do was work the test machine.)

Well, theoretically, I have a Real ID on its way to me and I will hopefully be dead (or not driving) the next time my license expires.  It's all I can hope for.