"I have a problem," I said to myself. "What tools do I have to solve it?" It was hardly a question I needed to ask myself, for although it has been some time since I have been on a bus without knowing exactly where I was going, the memories are still quite fresh. On went the silver U.F.O. shoes, though they are looking a little scruffy these days, on went the sweater, the scarf and the coat. My only guide was a note in my pocket, on which I had scribbled the address of the branch and the number of the bus that I thought would get me somewhere reasonably close.
I tried to study, but I found myself tied to the scenes on the other side of the window. Houses on the hills fell past me, boarded and fenced, seemingly empty of life. Stairs ascended to naught but a dent in the ground where a home once stood. A building perched as best it could amid bare trees and long grass; it was alone save for the desperate, as its concrete steps, the only access up the steep grade, had collapsed when the ground beneath them eroded and gave way. Car dealerships and car modification businesses surrounded by chain link fences, car wash after car wash, where grown men in coats cleaned vehicles by hand and tried to wave down more.
I was jarred out of my melancholy observation by a sign, for it told of a road that ----> way, and I had a sudden epiphany that I knew where it went to. I once walked on its other end last year. How strange that the economic condition of the two areas thus connected should be so different!
A second sign had me thinking fast. It indicated that the bureau was also that ----> way. I had been keeping an eye out for some sort of shopping center, which I still did not see, but I felt that I would much rather get off too soon and be in the middle, than wait too long and be out in the boondocks somewhere where it would be difficult to find my way out. I hopped off the bus, wondering if I should call someone and ask them to look up where the hell I was and a set of directions, but as I oriented myself, I realized that there was an open air mall tucked in on the one side of the hill. It had been impossible to see from where I was sitting on the bus, but it was undeniably there, so it was most fortunate that I had elected to take to my feet at that point.
I located the branch in short order. Once inside, I took a little paper slip and claimed a chair, waiting with several sets of parents and their teenagers, and a couple of guys who wanted their motorcycle permit. I couldn't hear the workers very well when they called the numbers out and so I missed a few, but I was listening so hard I did notice when they skipped from "43" to "46" without mentioning "45," which was mine. I wasn't going to sit for that, no thank you, so I got up and shouted my number, and thus assured my place in line.
I took the test. I passed. Now I have a $31 piece of paper to show for it.
And that very night, I proceeded to have a surprisingly long dream about the many different ways (not all realistic) one could crash a car. The accident that stands out most in my mind is never going to happen, for while people are stupid, they are certainly not crazy enough to build a road as my dream logic decided they would. I could not see over the top of the hill, so when I crested it, I was surprised to discover that the road divided into three before me. There was no time to debate, nor could I see very far ahead. I had to choose right then and there which fork to take, and in a mortal panic over my speed and oh God, was that a lake there, I defaulted to the left. As it turned out, that was the right choice to make ... sort of. The right most path descended straight into the lake. The middle acted as sort of a ramp, so if you chose that one, you flew a brief distance before crashing into the water below. The left, the one I selected, went down to water level ... in theory, to a ferry. The ferry was, unfortunately, not there, so I plunged into the depths. I knew I had to get out of the vehicle and the water, but I could not possibly leave the automobile behind, so I hooked my left foot into an open window and struggled back to land.