License to grin

6 comments on License to grin
3 minutes

My youngest son just got his learner’s permit, so I want to retell this story from 2009 of me getting my driver’s license.

My friends had all had their driver’s licenses for a couple years when I finally got mine. My dad had given me some driving lessons but wasn’t very motivated about it, and my pestering seemed only to further delay him. So on the day I turned 18, the day the BMV considered me an adult and no longer required a parent to sign a financial responsibility agreement, I drove to the license branch and took the test, Dad be darned. The photo on my first driver’s license showed me with the goofiest grin – of relief at finally being licensed, and of devilish anticipation of my dad finding the license waiting on the dining room table for him to see when he came home from work. Take that, Dad! You wouldn’t handle it, so I did.


But dang, that embarrassing goofy grin. I never told my friends I got my driver’s license; I didn’t want them to see! This was the 80s, back when people still wrote checks to pay for things at the store, and I hated to show my license to cashiers. I still had that license when I turned 21 and started hitting the bars in college; bartenders smirked. So when that license expired, I resolved not to smile for my new license photo. I’ve kept that practice since.

Now Indiana won’t let you smile for your license photo. The BMV has introduced face-recognition software to help them prevent fraudsters from getting more than one license. Smiles, along with glasses, hats, and scarves, can fool the software and so are banned.

Such license fraud is not far-fetched. In 1994 I went into the Terre Haute license branch to renew my license, and the clerk said, “Mr. Grey, the computer says you renewed your license at the Lawrence branch last month.” Say what? It turns out someone had successfully impersonated me and was driving around on a license with my name and number but their picture.

I drove on an expired license and compulsively checked my credit and police records for three months while the BMV struggled to sort out the mess. I kept pestering them until my plight found someone with real authority at the BMV’s main office. She authorized an entirely new driver’s license number for me and put an alert on my old record that the license was fraudulent. “If the police pull the guy over for speeding,” she said, “he’ll find himself in handcuffs!”

I was lucky; my credit did not get torched and the sheriff did not appear at my door because of something my impostor did. There was an upside for me, though. The BMV’s computer couldn’t transfer my driving record to my new license, which made two speeding tickets disappear. Poof!


6 responses to “License to grin”

  1. Sam Avatar

    Cool story Jim! Maybe in a positive way, not being allowed to smile on their drivers license will work for your son and today’s kids. As I learned from the late, great Lemmy Kilmister…”Don’t smile, it makes you look cooler” :-)

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Ah, the wisdom of Lemmy!

  2. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    It is my theory that there has never been a decent looking photo taken at a BMV branch ever. Laughing at the picture on your friends’ and relatives’ driver’s licenses has been a universal experience. Smiling makes everyone look like an idiot and not smiling makes the picture look like a mug shot. There is no middle ground.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Breaking all stereotypes, the photo on my last passport was truly excellent. It was my favorite photo of me from my long-haired days. Shame that passport didn’t come back with my papers after the divorce.

  3. James whitburn Avatar
    James whitburn

    I was 16 I scared my tester while driving Id learned to par real park from a man who parked cars professionally at a parking deck in Birmingham al as a young man so the tested says to me take your time I took that to mean as fast as I wanted I’d learned from the best parr ark Parker in Birmingham zip zip zip done so was my tester at first I took that to mean you failed but he says YES you pass take me back nOW!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I would have hated to be your driving test administrator! :-)

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