It was 1997, and I had moved back to my hometown after a relationship tanked miserably. My parents very graciously allowed me to move back home, ten years before all the cool kids were doing it. After a few weeks of job hunting and wandering around my boxes and figuring out what to do with my life, I finally resigned myself to being a permanent resident of the town where I graduated from high school.
Yep, I went to get a new drivers license.
The county where my parents live is mostly rural. They reside in the more populated northern side of the county, which bumps up against a large metropolitan county. So I could have gone downtown to get my license, but instead I headed south to the small county courthouse, just for the experience. My parents told me where to find it, and wow. It's a tiny downtown. There's one stoplight in the town square, a few small stores, and the old courthouse. Here's a picture I found online:
I found an empty parking space on the street, right in front of the building. What kind of planet had I landed on? Further evidence of having left actual terra firma for parts unknown: there were only TWO people in line at the License Window. Cue angels singing Hallelujah!
Drivers license, fishing license, boat license, license plate for your boat, your car, your RV, etc. - all of this happens at the same License Window in the courthouse. Ahh, small towns. I immediately vowed I would never go to the downtown DMV again.
I told the woman at the window that I had just moved from Utah, and needed to get a drivers license. Clearly, this woman thought I was coming from another country (she was about half right), and although I didn't know it at the time, one vital word could have saved my morning from heading off the rails, right here ... but I didn't say it. She told me I needed to head over to the "Buchellus Building" to get my license.
"Where?" I asked, not sure I understood her accent.
She pointed to a doorway, which led to a parking lot. "It's across the parkin' lot, the Buchellus Buildin'."
Okay. I had no idea what I needed to do in this other building that couldn't be done at the super-nice, all-inclusive, no-waiting License Window, but I dutifully headed to the parking lot.
While I walked, I tried to figure out who the heck this "Buchellus" might be. Some Italian, I wondered, had settled here, of all places, and got this small town to name a public building after him! Amazing.
Once I made it across the parking lot, though, I started laughing. Over the top of the door, the sign proudly declared: "The Frank 'Butch' Ellis Building."
Inside, I encountered a small group of about six people, seated in chairs lining a hallway. It appeared to be moms with their bored-looking teens. So of course I started to get nervous that I would have to retake the drivers test. (Anyone remember what the fine is for littering on the highway? Yeah, I don't either.) I grabbed a copy of the drivers manual sitting on a table nearby, and took a number. Sitting down, I flipped through the book, awaiting some clerk to tell me it was my turn to fail. I overheard one of the moms say that she was really worried about her daughter's driving test, since that four-way stop intersection nearby was pretty tricky, and she wished they had gone to (even smaller town) instead for their test. That comment made me giggle, picturing my own drivers' test about a dozen years earlier. It was on the wrong side of downtown in the previously mentioned metropolitan area. To compare, a four-way stop in that neighborhood might be the ideal location for a carjacking.
Eventually, one of the clerks came back from administering a driver's test, and he did a double take when he saw me. Apparently that building was for teenagers anxiously awaiting freedom, not adult children returning to the nest because they couldn't make their first post-college relationship work right. I got to skip to the head of the line. Thank god for small favors, because it was at this point I learned I did not have to retake the test. Sweet! Then I learned that since I previously had a license in that state, he sent me back to the courthouse to get my old license number dug up and reinstated. I had just spent all that time waiting for him for nothing. That one vital word I should have told the first clerk? I had just moved BACK from Utah. Tips 'em off that I used to live here, la ti dah, here's your old license. None of the co-mingling with sweaty, nervous teens, none of the worries about re-testing decades after Drivers Ed, none of it. Ah, well.
Back across the parking lot. Back to the short line at the License Window. One photo session and small fee later, back to owning my new/old license. Again.
To sum up: there are no famous Italians in small rural Southern towns. Four-way intersections freak out moms of teenagers, probably because they know their own kids are so bad about taking turns. When you leave your hometown, YOU NEVER REALLY LEAVE YOUR HOMETOWN. Even the DMV is just waiting for you to mess it all up and come crawling back.
And no matter how far into the woods you drive, and no matter how short the line is, it still takes forever to get out of the DMV.