If you don’t drive, you don’t exist

Essay by Jeanne Englert

Identity – November 1998 – Colorado Central Magazine


It was a minor matter, just a correction deed for three patented mining claims above Ashcroft in Pitkin County, but my signature needed to be notarized. In presenting the document to the notary public, I learned that I no longer existed. She refused to witness my signature because my driver’s license had expired in 1991.

I don’t drive any more. I consider myself to be a hazard driving in the Denver metropolitan area. Interstate 25 terrifies me, and that’s just riding shotgun in the car. If I have business in Denver or Boulder, which is seldom, I take the bus. I do okay on the open road, like shooting down the gunbarrel of U.S. 285 in the Valley, but despite years of living in southwest Colorado, I still find Wolf Creek Pass daunting. So, I figured, why bother renewing the license. I’m still me, right?

Besides, almost all my business is conducted with cards.

Clothes? I have a Joslins credit card. Food? Safeway card. I buy my booze at the same liquor store I’ve patronized for 14 years. They know me. If I need cash, I go to an ATM. My bank has issued me a debit card. I also have a VISA card. About the only time I write a check these days is for subscription renewals, like for Colorado Central, and neither Ed nor Martha has ever asked me for an I.D.

Obviously, at age 54, I don’t get carded to buy a beer. My husband and I are patrons of two restaurants, in Brighton and Louisville. The latter establishment wouldn’t even think of asking for my I.D. because the Blue Parrot’s chief bartender is my former state senator, who obviously never asked me for an I.D. when I wrote checks to contribute to his political campaigns.

The only time I can recall offhand when I was asked to produce an I.D. was, ironically, at a restaurant in Salida, the night I treated Ed and Martha to dinner. You’d think that a local eatery would accept Ed’s word that I really am Jeanne Englert, but the young fellow behind the counter wouldn’t. So, in exasperation, I produced my VISA card. “Oh, that’s much better,” he said.

Thus, I didn’t think much about it when I presented my document to the notary at King Soopers in Louisville because I’d had no trouble getting a related document notarized in 1994, using that same expired driver’s license.

“Sorry, I can’t notarize this,” the notary said. Your driver’s license has expired.”

I should have known better than to argue with a petty official, but I did. I patiently explained:

It has my picture on it;

My date of birth;

My correct address;

My I.D. was acceptable to them in 1994.

Nope, she said. Only a valid driver’s license or a Colorado I.D. would be acceptable.

I then asked her what I thought was the logical question. “Would you accept my birth certificate?” Made sense to me. That’s how you get either I.D., right?

“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.” (Aha, I thought, I’ve got her, by superior logic.)

No, she said, next Monday. “It’s against company policy to accept any identification other than what I told you.”

Perturbed, I called the driver’s license bureau, thinking they’d straighten her out, that my identity remained the same, regardless of my driving status. Wrong!

I was partially right. For identification purposes, my expired license was good for five years, but not seven. Ye gads! I haven’t existed for two years.

So I began to assemble the package to prove the existence of my former self: my marriage certificate, what had hitherto worked to identify me, (the City and County of Denver Certificate of Registration), my Social Security card.

My husband then decided, given this circumstance, he’d better get my official birth certificate, which, he said, was no inconvenience because the department of birth registry is only one floor below where he works at the state health department.

He correctly gave my mother’s name and my father’s name — at least they still have identities even though they’re dead. With that information punched in, the clerk then asks my husband for identification. “See,” he points to his picture I.D. as a health department employee; you can’t get into the building without it. She of course wears one too. He says his office is only one floor above.

“Sorry, Mr. Englert,” she says. “I need to see your driver’s license.”

C’est la vie.

#98-279-1055 was born in Aspen, spent years in Durango where she edited the Southern Ute Drum and fought the Animas-La Plata project, and now abides in Lafayette.