When is a bad thing good?

 

Jerry O’Dovero (disabled, quadriplegic, paraplegic)

Last August I was in a minor accident with my 1992 Ford Van. I was turning my A/C off when the car in front stopped to talk to his neighbor. I was looking down for a second, so I didn’t know he stopped in the middle of the street until the last second. Caught off guard, I instinctively turned the steering wheel to go around the car and bumped into a parked car. It was a minor accident. My van’s bumper was pushed in a couple of inches which was fixed in 5 minutes. The other car was a little bit worse, but not much. I have insurance that will cover it. I got the ticket I should get for the accident. I didn’t maintain control of my vehicle. But the police officer checked a box saying I should be evaluated to make sure I can operate a vehicle safely on the city streets. You know, I don’t have a problem with that either. I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles over my years of driving across this country and there are a lot of unsafe drivers out there.

So when the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) suspended my driver’s license until I could be tested I wasn’t surprised. But I won’t lie to you. It was the first time I was afraid I wouldn’t get it back. Driving a motorized vehicle on City Street and the highways is a privilege not a right. But this wasn’t the first time my driver’s license was suspended. Just the first time I was worried. The very first time was months after I received it when I was 16 years old. My brother Pete called me up on a Friday night and asked if I wanted to go to Green Bay to see Alice Cooper in concert. My brother never called me on a Friday night to hang out with him and I always wanted to so of course I said yes. Then Pete said the concert started in 2 hours so hurry. The drive to Green Bay takes longer than 2 hours, so I was out the door in seconds. On the way to his house I look in my rear view mirror and see a red light flashing on the window post of the car behind me. It took me a few seconds of looking at it in my mirror to think it might be the police. You know how police cars have that spot light on the front windshield post? Maybe it was an unmarked police car, which the Michigan State Police used – a lot? So I pull over and get a speeding ticket from the unmarked Michigan State Police for 6 miles over the speed limit.

I arrive at Pete’s house and told to move over because he was driving. He also complained about me taking so long to get there. But what could I do? I guess complain to him when he was pulled over in Wisconsin for speeding, but I didn’t. If you’re driving in the state of Wisconsin and you’re from another state, bring money for speeding tickets. Well in 1979 they only accepted cash to pay for the ticket and they want it on the spot. Pete, Scott (the other guy with us) and I open our wallets to pay the hundred dollar plus speeding ticket. Now that I look back at it, not only did I get a speeding ticket which cost me my driver’s license for 30 days, but I paid $50 of Pete’s speeding ticket which he never paid me back. Of all my brothers, Pete has selfish side. He’s borrowed a lot of money from me over the years (thousands) and never pays it back. Every larger family has the child that saves their money and doesn’t spend it on all the latest crap, clothes or fancy stuff. That was me from the day I was born. I was the family banker, except I didn’t charge interest or send collectors (break a leg and bust an ankle) to get my money back. I once lent Pete money to buy a brand new 1982 Z-28 Camaro. I rode in it once.

The funny part of this story was when we got to Green Bay to go to the concert; they won’t sell us a ticket. They said the concert was too far in progress and they’re not selling tickets anymore. I worked at the San Jose Arena ticket office where the San Jose Sharks play and hold concerts so now I understand why they wouldn’t sell us a ticket back in 1979. The ticket office was probably closed. At the time we were a little pissed they wouldn’t let us in. Even just an hour of the concert would have been worth the price of a full ticket. We drove 175 miles and encountered 2 speeding tickets to get there.

Oh well. It wasn’t too long and I was sleeping anyway. The next thing I remember was waking up in Pete’s driveway. I slid over to the now empty driver’s seat and drove home$50 less in my wallet, an empty tank of gas and my first ticket while operating a motorized vehicle on public roads. It wasn’t my last ticket or the last time I lost my driving privileges.

Skip for a million years to November 1993. I had dinner with my brother John, his wife at the time Michelle and my roommate at the time Greg. I liked dinner with John and Michelle. Now I like to cook and I’m not too bad at it, but some people both cook a wonderful meal and make it look as wonderful as it tastes. They do all the little details to make the meal more appealing. Michelle did that. I on the other hand prepare a tasty meal, but it won’t win any awards.

This Thursday night it was snowing pretty hard. When Greg and I left after dinner there was 6 inches of snow on top of my car. Greg had to sweep off several inches of snow from my car before we left the house to go to dinner. The snow was coming down hard and one could tell it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. And this is where the proof comes that I can be a little stubborn and independent. We get home on roads that have a foot of snow on them and I drop Greg off. I decide I’m driving 5 miles to the Northwood’s to have a drink with Tracy and Jim.

Looking back at life in Marquette Michigan I’m surprised I’m still alive. Not that I’d drive in 5 miles in the middle of a snow storm to have a drink with friends, but that I never broke down in the middle of nowhere and froze to death. I never thought twice about driving to my parent’s camp in December to attend a Christmas party by myself. My parent’s cabin was at the end of a 10 mile dirt road that was plowed by the family. Most of my family drove 4 wheel drives into camp. I drove a car. A few of the hills I had to really know how to drive in snow to make it up them with a car. When I lived in Marquette I believed I had a guardian angel looking out for me. And I swear she was in love with me because every time I meet a girl I liked something would go wrong to stop anything from happening.

At the Northwood’s parking lot I looked at the sidewalk going to the door I used to enter the place. The snow was only 8 inches or so, so I felt I could make it up the slight ramp. The parking lot had only 3 cars in it so I knew the place was going to be kind of dead. But sometimes those are the best nights. You just never know. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had were with just one or a few friends. In the bar were Jim, his girlfriend Tracy and a new bartender they were training. On my side of the where the Colonel (never knew his real name) and a beautiful woman that was maybe a few years older than me.

It turned out to be one of those nights were everyone was happy and talking. The Colonel told us the story of how to tell when Easter comes every year. The Colonel enjoyed his drink. After one or two he enjoyed telling stories and tidbits about history of facts of something. A lot like me. The woman was new in town. She just moved to Marquette for work. She had a nice personality and a body that matched. I find women to come in all shapes and sizes and each one is beautiful in their own way. This woman weighted maybe 140 pounds. She had a blue dress on that flowed along every curve of her body. She had the right height, weight, shape and smile that you could sit at a restaurant and talk to all night. Well I could anyway. I think there is a perfect shape or look for everyone. This woman had hers.

I think it was somewhere between 11 and 12 when we all started to think about leaving. My new friend thought I was sweet and hoped to see me again. She said this was the only bar she had been too, liked it and wanted to know if I came very often. I told her yes, which was partly true. If you call 3 or 4 times a month often then it’s true. But I didn’t need a crystal ball to see I was going to the Northwood’s more often in my future.

Then came my drive home. First Jim made sure I made it to my car. The snow was still falling and it wasn’t slowing down. He brushed the 8 inches of snow off of it so I could see out of the windshield and off I went. On the highway home there was one set of tracks through the foot or so of the snow that had fallen since the last time the snow plow trucks cleared the highway. I drove past K-Mart where I seen my father’s employees plowing the huge several acre parking lot. There was a large front end loader and a puck up truck plowing the parking lot. I remember the snow flying off the hood of my car and freezing and melting as it hit the windshield. For about 2 miles I only had a small area to see through my windshield until my car warmed up and the windshield was warm enough to melt the snow. But when you leave there you get used to driving that way.

As I’m passing the mall I notice a car in my rear view mirror. I don’t think much of it and drive onto the bypass to go home. I turn toward downtown Marquette and I notice the car followed me. I think to myself, only two cars on the roads and we both take the bypass to go towards downtown Marquette?  What are the odds of that? Then the lights on top of the car start flashing and I realize why the odds are so good.

Before I go any further, I want to say that was the best thing that ever happened to me. That night I didn’t get pulled over because of my driving. I was pulled over because of my driving record. A month later the State of Michigan took my driver’s license away for a minimum of 5 years. I was not allowed to operate a motor vehicle on public roads for a long long time. Again, it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Well, I never did meet the woman in the blue dress again, but I blame that on my guardian angel.

Last August when I lost my driver’s license it wasn’t the best thing to happen to me. There was no period of time I could wait and then simply get my license back. It was gone and I had to prove I could safely operate a motor vehicle on public streets again. Now while I feel perfectly safe when I’m driving, is the DMV going to feel the same?

Finally in November I have an appointment with the DMV to be tested. I had three tests to pass; an eye test, a written test and finally a driving test. The eye test was easy. I went to Costco and got new glasses. Actually I had my eyes checked and got a new prescription first. Then it was off to the DMV. My body Steve took the day off so he could drive me. It said in the letter that I needed someone with a valid driver’s license to drive me there for the 8 o’clock meeting.

A few days before the day of the appointment I receive the reminder phone call asking me to confirm my 9 o’clock appointment. OK it’s changed to 9 o’clock, I’ll be there. Steve and I show up a few minutes to 9 and that’s when things got ugly. The guy at the DMV said my appointment was at 8 o’clock and I was late and missed it and that I had to reschedule. I tried to explain, but he was having no part of my excuse. OK, how do I reschedule? He gave me a number which I called 5 seconds later. The lady that answered said my appointment was right now and to have their manager call them right now. 2 minutes later the guy behind the desk looked at me and said, I don’t know what you did, but this guy is going to have you look at the eye chart. I passed it.

The written test made me a little nervous. They always ask questions in a manor that’s misleading. When I nervously handed it to the nice guy behind the desk that was now helping me I held my breath. I wheeled back to where Steve was waiting to tell him I had no clue on 4 of the questions. 4 wrong and I fail. I get to Steve and he says you passed. I try to tell him I didn’t have a clue on 4 questions when he says the guy yelled over that you passed as you were wheeling over.

Ok I’m breathing but still one more test. I follow the driving instructor out the door and show him my car. I decided to use my 1994 emerald green Cadillac El Dorado. My van is getting old. The car is in much better shape. I transfer into the car while the DMV guy inspects my car. Oh crap. I forgot to check my lights before we came. As he told me to turn each one on I held my breath.

Soon he sat in my car and started writing on his clip board. OK you can start the car and exit out that way. Alright the car passed the inspection. A few weeks before the appointment I burnt my finger on a heater. And with my luck, of course it became infected so I started antibiotics. Then I burn another two, so I was on antibiotics for two months. But anyway, instead of a bandage, I used a black dress sock. I cut a hole for the thumb and that was my bandage. It’s kind of a pain in the rear having my entire hand in a sock except my thumb, but it works for me. So I’m driving out of the parking lot and I use my right hand with the sock on it to turn my blinker which is on the left hand side of the car’s steering column. My left hand is pressing on the brake handle. The instructor sees this and tells me they make an adaptive devise to convert the blinkers to the right side. I try to explain that I burnt my hand and it will be healed in a few days that I don’t normally wear a sock on it.

At first I thought this guy might be like the first DMV person I met, not a happy camper, but right away he informs me he’s not going to ask me to do anything evasive driving or to do thing at the spur of the moment. Within minutes I felt comfortable. I did his parking request, turns at the lights. Many of the streets are 3 lanes wide so I’d have to change over 3 lanes to make the turns.  All simple driving if you know how to drive, which was all he was looking for. I relaxed until he asked why I didn’t stop at the last intersection? Oh crap, did I miss a stop sign?  Oh no. he responds. It’s just everyone else stops at the yield sign. You’re the only one that’s done it right.

After a spin on the freeway, we head back to the DMV. In the parking lot the handicapped spots are full. The instructors says I can park anywhere. But I stop and ask if I passed or not. In my mind I need to know if I’m driving home or not. The parking has flat areas to park on and unlevel areas. The parking spots directly in front of us were unlevel. If I’m transferring I want a level parking spot. So I’m stopped waiting for the answer. After a minute, he says I passed. Then he says normally he never tells the verdict until the car is in park.

Happy I park in the unlevel parking spot. But then he informs me he’ll forward the results to the police officer and he’ll have 30 days to decide if he’ll lift my suspension. OK I’m not driving home. But I’m happy anyway.

I PASSED!

A few weeks later I received a letter saying my suspension was over!

Life is never easy or boring!