As if I needed objective evidence for the alleged incompetence at the BMV bureaucracy, I visited there to renew my driver’s license recently. Those of us born more than six decades ago are required to submit to a vision screening at every license renewal. This upper-echelon septuagenarian shuffled into the office of the BMV without my glasses, but nicely equipped with a bad attitude, Ph.D.-level sarcasm, and a case of anxiety that would rattle a Buddhist monk. After more than 60 years of driving where I want to go, I did not want my motoring future to be dependent upon the results of some bureaucrat’s idea of a vision exam.

For many years I enjoyed competitive long-range shooting sports. Through the years, my eye mechanics had always managed to dial in a 20/15 or better prescription for me, which was essential for success in open-sight competition. But somewhere along the timeline, age happened. According to my ophthalmologist, I see well enough to drive. But I don’t see perfectly, so I obsess about it.

It had worried me for months, as the expiration date of that precious, freedom-giving license approached. But I was not aware that perfect vision is not an essential element of the license qualifications. That would have been comforting information to have. It also might help to explain the number of poor and often dangerous drivers out there.

After all my decades of driving, I have come to know that there are many drivers on the road who are worse at it than I. It’s not that I am an exceptionally talented driver. It’s just that, while they drive, many other motorists with whom I innocently share the roads are busy with other matters unrelated to their vehicle’s operation, much less the preservation of their lives, and my life. Most of them are easy to spot because, generally, they do not display Maine plates on their dorkmobiles.

Meanwhile, back at the BMV, my number was called to window No. 1. A dour bureaucracy veteran asked in undisguised condescension how she could help me. Sensing this not to be a good time for chitchat, I got to the point, handed her my license, and we were quickly headed to the vision testing and photography counter.

“Now, Mr. Lawson, please read the second line.”

“Not the first?” I asked her.

“No, the second will do.”

My joy at not having to read the sans-serif 0.5-point font must have been interpreted as something else, as she said, “You CAN see the second line, can’t you?”

“Oh yes, ma’am,” I said, and I rattled off the letters, acknowledged the little flashing lights in my peripheral vision, and smiled triumphantly. But there was something not OK on her BMV overlord face.

She said, “Where are your glasses?”


“Your glasses. Your license indicates corrective lenses are required for driving.”

I explained that since my eye surgery, I haven’t needed them.

In an unsettling, accusatory tone, she asked, “How long ago was that?”

“I dunno, maybe 3 1/2 years.”

In a voice that reminded me of Jack Webb in “Dragnet,” she informed me that for the past several years I had been driving illegally and, if stopped by law enforcement, I could have been arrested for driving without the required eyewear. She then took my license and slammed it into a little gizmo that poked holes in it spelling out the word “VOID.” She ventilated my license.

I said, “I could have been arrested for seeing better than you thought I could?”

She gave me a steely lipped, one-syllable answer that went on for 10 minutes. “Yessssssssssssssssssss.”

This is not the direction in which I hoped the day would go, but I got my new license, albeit a temporary one while the new one — without restrictions — is produced. The photo on the new one is without glasses. The image shows a smirking old guy who didn’t mention to the nice lady that the weight on the document is wrong by 70 pounds.

I didn’t find the incompetence for which the BMV is legendary, but at least they still don’t have a sense of humor. Starchy people are fun to mess with. It won’t surprise me if ever I am stopped and asked for my license by someone allowed to do that sort of thing and find myself in traffic court for “driving while skinny.”

Butch Lawson is an observer of life. He lives on Bailey Island.