The License Intervention Program (LIP) of the Hamilton County Municipal Court is for losers. Losers like me. You get remanded to LIP, because some court official, judge or cop has had mercy on your sorry self. They want you to get it together.
But to drive in that sunshine of legality, there are hoops. Large, menacing, depressing hoops that must be jumped through with timeliness and paperwork.
I came to LIP as a two-time loser. Since I began legally driving, it seems I've never quite been able to hold on to a valid driver's license. I let them expire — for months and years at a time.
It's trifling, I know, but I figure once you learn how to drive and have, at least once, been deemed a legal driver, what difference can a little piece of plastic make?
I was expired and uninsured (also idiotic) last June when I was involved in a car accident just blocks from my home.
I wasn't at fault, but I was cited for the expired license and driving without insurance which, last time I checked, is an automatic suspension. Because of a confusingly filled out ticket, a capias had been issued for me. The cop at the scene told me to pay it out, but he turned it in with a mandatory court date and time.
I avoided arrest (I was still driving) and made several appearances in court.
Weeks later, driving through Clifton at dusk with one headlight shining (the other had been damaged in the accident), I ran a stale yellow light. As they're known to do, a cop appeared out of nowhere and cited me for the headlight and, again, for driving without a license.
He's the one who referred me to LIP, where they unflinchingly let you know what you're in for.
We're all adults, and we all know when we're doing something illegal. I always knew when I got behind the wheel of my car that, regardless of how safely I drove, there was a chance some moron would hit me or cause me to hit someone else. I also knew full well that I was expired and uninsured.
With the headlight out, driving home before sundown was like being a contestant on some wacked-out reality TV show.
When you get inside LIP, the hand-holding stops. You're given a folder with a yellow sheet of paper. It's called the Reinstatement Information Checklist. Items that must be fulfilled to regain driving privileges are checked off by LIP staffers. Out of a possible 16 items, I had eight.
You're sent away to accomplish those tasks. Then you report back to LIP, which sends you back in front of the judge to show you've done what you're supposed to do. Basically, that means you have about 30 days to obsess, procrastinate, curse, blow off, obsess some more and sweat before you re-appear at LIP.
I understand fully why people never show up for LIP and never show up for court. If you're irresponsible enough to drive without a license or insurance, fulfilling the necessary tasks it takes to reinstate your license must seem overwhelming. And they are. But doing it means being a grown-up. Not doing it means living foul.
I, in classic loser form, blew off my responsibilities. I begged my way back in and was given 30 more days. Again, I put off hoop-jumping until the last possible minute.
Then I spent an entire morning at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles Southwest Regional Services Center in beautiful downtown Forest Park. This place is also known as the waiting room to hell. I think Dante did research there when he was writing The Inferno.
After waiting an insufferable amount of time, paying the $125 reinstatement fee and getting my clearance letter, I got on the No. 20 bus back downtown knowing the battle was half over.
Then came the test. At almost 36 years old, I found myself at the Sharonville testing station with Chinese immigrants and oily-faced high school kids taking the driver's license written examination all over again. I was arrogant. I glanced over the signs in the booklet, but didn't really study. I passed.
I made the appointment for the road test and obsessed over the maneuverability portion. I went back to take the road test with less than one week left before I was to re-appear before Judge William Mallory.
In my friend's borrowed black convertible Toyota Celica, I eased, dangerously close and crooked, through the pylons in the rear parking lot. I made it and continued on with the road test, where I got graded down 15 points for making a wide right turn and stopping too far out in the intersection. Whatever. I passed. I got my license.
I was 10 minutes late for court Monday morning. When they called me, I stepped right up on the state seal, cleared my throat, answered to all the charges, explained to the judge what I'd done to get myself reinstated and was almost home free.
Judge Mallory looked again at his paperwork then looked up at me.
"What do you do for a living?" he asked. "I'm a writer," I said. "A what?" "A writer," I said, this time making a scribbling action in the air with my right hand.
The jig was up. The judge put it all together. "I read your column every week! I love it!"
I began to sweat profusely, fanning myself with my proof of insurance. Embarrassed, I thanked him. I wanted out. A courtroom is no place for a coward like me. He said he didn't expect to see his name in my column this week. I told him he would.
I'd like to say I'll never again take my driving privileges for granted, but I'd be lying. I will say I now have three years to drive before expiring. And when my birthday rolls around in 2004, I might not be the first in line to renew, but I'll be in line.
contact Kathy y. wilson: [email protected]