Contest #198 shortlist ⭐️

DMV in Retrograde

Submitted into Contest #198 in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt


Coming of Age Funny Contemporary

“You nervous?”

“A little. You know… I’ll be okay.”

“I’m sure you will. I’ll be at the café. Text me when you’re ready.”

Corey, fifteen-and-a-half-years-old, repeated ‘You got this,’ to himself. If only he believed it.

He’d driven hundreds of miles practicing over the last few months. But until he passed this test, to the world, he knew squat.

First tests… firsts of anything are mysterious to the uninitiated. Rites of passage used to mean something. Crossing that line meant leaving childhood forever. He’d take on the mantel of adulthood and everything that meant.

Driving legally was about the only rite of passage remaining. Yes, it’s an important step, but a step down from facing enemy fire on a battlefield.

Parked in the DMV lot, Corey and his father sat in Corey’s vintage Plymouth Valiant convertible. They got out and shook hands.

Corey’s father said, “You know your stuff. Stay focused. You’ll do great.”

“I’ll knock this out and then I can take that job.”

Corey headed toward the building. Because of his appointment, he wasn’t worried about the line of people waiting. He’d heard horrible things about the DMV. But this might be okay.

A lanky man with a DMV badge intercepted him. He carried a clip board.

“Looking for a tester? Have a driver’s test scheduled?” Corey nodded. “You’re up. I’m Ziggy. Let’s see your paperwork…”

Ziggy looked at Corey’s permit.

“Oh, you’re a Pisces…”


“Don’t know if you’re coming or going. Always swim against the current. You know how it goes… Can’t ‘go with the flow,’ as they say.”

“This is for my driver’s test, right?”

“Of course. DMV at your service… We’ll discover what drives you.”


“Yeah… you, I, everyone goes ‘round wearing these chassis.” He slapped his chest and arm. “Are you the vehicle to greater understanding? Or will you merely tick off the miles ‘til you get hauled, creaking and groaning, to the scrap heap?”

“Uhm, my car’s over there.”

“The convertible?”


“Nice. You like the top up or down?”


Ziggy snickered. Corey gave him a curious look. “Nothing… A private joke. You consider yourself convertible? Or already converted?”

“I don’t get it…” Already on edge, Corey began doubting his grasp of reality.

They got in and fastened their seat belts. Corey started the car and revved gently.

Ziggy said, “So, is this an automatic or manual transmission?”


Ziggy sighed. “Isn’t that like life? So often, we act without thinking. Let ‘the Man’ do it. You know, ‘the Man,’ the government, the internet. No personal initiative anymore.”

The word ‘mystified,’ popped into Corey’s brain.

Ziggy continued. “You feel in control, Corey? Admit it. There’s so little we control.”

Corey tried to focus. “Where are we going?”

“Ah, age-old questions. Where am I? And, where are we going? Where are you going, Corey?”

“I meant for the driving test. You want me to drive?”

Ziggy laughed. “If you don’t know where you’re going, how do you know if you got there? Right?”

“Right…” Corey wondered how he could pass this. ‘What would passing look like?

“Tell you what… take the wheel, pull out of the lot. Just drive.”

Corey idled to the exit. He flicked the signal and checked for oncoming traffic before turning.

Waxing philosophical, Ziggy talked nonstop. “Ahhh, the great wheel of life… You know, the great mandala? ‘Round and ‘round it goes. Where it stops… Where are you on that wheel, Corey? Do you know?”

“Hands at three and nine o’clock, sir.”

“Very good. Not what I asked but, good to know.”

Needing to concentrate, Corey wanted to tune him out, but couldn’t. He slowed for traffic and entered the freeway onramp.

“Yes, merging is always a good idea. But with what do we merge? With the universe? The void? Traffic? What do you think, Grasshopper? I mean, Corey?”

Corey accelerated and entered the main flow of traffic. He wondered, ‘Focus… How do I get through this?’

Ziggy said, “How does it feel to travel at the speed of life? So much happens. All at once. Time is such a blessing.” Ziggy rambled on. “All these people hurtling toward their respective destinations. Oblivious to the sea of humanity in which they are immersed…” He laughed. “Who thinks of the other drivers’ problems? Or even as people? Where the hell is everyone going?”

He looked at Corey to see if he got the point. Corey nodded.

“Corey, you ever hear the one about the fish getting asked, ‘How’s the water?’ Hilarious.”

Corey signaled his lane change. He watched his speed. ‘Hang in there. Just drive…’

“Ever wondered what it would be like to live without limits…? That would be fun, right?”

Corey said, “I like speed limits. Those and stop signs are great inventions. Living without limits might be great until a giant tree decides to grow in your path.”

Ziggy nodded, “Yielding is great skill too… Yielding to the greater reality barely out of reach. Take this exit.”

“You mean the one I just passed?” Ziggy nodded. “I missed my turn.”

Ziggy shrugged. “Relax. The brass ring always comes ‘round again.”


“Take the next exit.”

Corey signaled to change lanes. The other driver wouldn’t let him in.

“It all comes down to passing, doesn’t it? Pass the test. Pass the car. Pass the time. Pass the potatoes. Is there no end to it?”

A driver flashed his lights and let Corey into the lane.

Ziggy offered, “Right of way. Who’s really right? More rights than responsibilities... Two wrongs don’t…”

Corey fumed as the next exit proved impossible to access. ‘Oh well, not trying to get anywhere special. Keep moving forward. Focus on safety…’

“No detours, friend. All roads lead to enlightenment.”

Corey rolled his eyes as he got into the exit lane, coasted and slowed for the light.

Ziggy said, “Of course, enlightenment demands caution. Or discernment. Is the light red or green? And who decides?”

Corey snapped. “What are you talking about? Is this a driver’s test?”

“Keep your eyes on the road, Sport. You learn to drive playing video games?”

“Yeah… did you see that wall ride Chastain pulled off in the NASCAR playoffs?”

“Careful. This ain’t NASCAR. You don’t want to get towed away with a toe tag.”

Corey pulled to the curb and shifted into park. He turned to Ziggy. “Are you a pod person? What does any of this have to do with anything?”

Ziggy made a note on his clip board. “Signal and, when safe, re-enter traffic flow. Head back to the DMV. This test is over.”


“You failed.”

“But how…? I did everything…”

“It’s in the stars, my Pisces friend… When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I assure you, you’re not ready.”

Corey drove back in silence. He felt lost.

How was this a driver’s test? More of a seminar on New Age claptrap.’

He pulled into the lot and parked. He focused on his breathing.

‘I drove perfectly. No errors. Arbitrarily failed by this DMV guru. Kiss that job good-bye. Re-schedule. Will I have to wait weeks?’

Ziggy exited and leaned in. “Better luck next time, fish boy…” He slammed the door and walked toward the main building.

Corey watched Ziggy go through the door. He needed to chill and then re-schedule his test.

He set the brake, stepped into the morning air and stretched. He entered the building and watched for an open window.

“Hi. I need to reschedule. I failed my driver’s test.” Corey passed the clerk his permit. The clerk searched his monitor.

“I can fit you in for 10am tomorrow. That work for you?” Corey nodded. “Let’s see, Egbert’s free. But he can be a bit slow.” The clerk leaned in. “Except when he’s behind the wheel… Then there’s Miranda. She’s never failed anyone. You’re not married, are you?”

Corey said, “No.”

“Okay. You're in. Who was your tester today?”

“Uhm, Ziggy…?”

“Oh, you mean Otto. I’ve heard about him…”

“That’s okay. I learned something.”

“Really? From Otto?”

At peace, Corey felt inspired. “...Whether I’m the water or the wave.”

“Wow… That’s some driver’s license test… What did you decide?”

Corey smiled. “I'm both.”

May 17, 2023 15:57

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Bonnie Clarkson
21:49 Jul 05, 2023

Congratulations on getting on the shortlist. I thought maybe the test was not to be distracted. Good job.


John K Adams
03:27 Jul 06, 2023

Thanks Bonnie. Glad you liked it.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zatoichi Mifune
11:07 Jul 02, 2023

Very interesting. Had me laughing the whole way through. I love a good comedy, but this was a better comedy. Ziggy is a great character. I'm still wondering... What does DMV stand for? Pretty sure it says somewhere in the story but I must've missed it.


John K Adams
13:57 Jul 02, 2023

Zatoichi, thanks for reading and commenting. I'm glad it worked for you. Sorry for the oversight - DMV means 'Department of Motor Vehicles.' Every US state has one and everyone who drives or owns a car must deal with them. It may be the one government bureaucracy universally despised. Though I admit I've had good experiences with them. In any case, I appreciate your comments and will read your stories.


Zatoichi Mifune
17:23 Jul 02, 2023

That makes sense. (I haven't dealt with them; I don't live in the US. ) Thank you, I'll continue reading yours.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
21:22 Jun 17, 2023

Hey John, Oh my gosh this piece! It was a brilliant take on the prompts and a well-deserved shortlist! I love the way that you instantly took us back to the moments we learned to drive and that drivers test! I, too, failed my first one. Ziggy was such a fascinating character. He felt like something that F Scott Fitzgerald might’ve created in that he had so many different layers and a bizarre backstory that you might never actually get to uncover. Corey was going through an amazing coming-of-age moment for this piece and I loved that we were ...


John K Adams
23:11 Jun 17, 2023

Thank you, Amanda, for reading, and commenting. Especially with such effusive praise. This is the first time I've been compared to Fitzgerald. No faint praise there. I look forward to reading your stories.


Show 0 replies
John K Adams
23:11 Jun 17, 2023

Thank you, Amanda, for reading, and commenting. Especially with such effusive praise. This is the first time I've been compared to Fitzgerald. No faint praise there. I look forward to reading your stories.


Show 0 replies
John K Adams
17:50 Jun 18, 2023

By the way, Amanda, when you have time, I would love your reactions to my story 'Sandcastle of Desire.'


Show 0 replies
Show 3 replies
- Lavendosaii -
21:17 May 29, 2023

A literary masterpiece.


Show 0 replies
Kate Winchester
14:50 May 27, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist! Your story was clever and funny! I loved your take on the prompt. Very creative. 🤗


John K Adams
14:54 May 27, 2023

Thank you, Kate, for reading and commenting. Glad you enjoyed it. It was fun to write.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Viga Boland
19:38 May 26, 2023

Incredibly clever! Really enjoyed this. Look forward to reading more of your stories. Love lots of dialogue stories, especially clever ones like this. Congratulations on being shortlisted.


John K Adams
20:01 May 26, 2023

Thank you, Viga, for reading and commenting. I'm glad you liked the story. It was fun to write. I'll check out your stories too.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
15:29 May 26, 2023

CONGRATULATIONS JOHN -- Glad to see some of us old timers making the boards. Well done!


John K Adams
15:37 May 26, 2023

Thanks, Deidra, I appreciate being noticed. Slow and steady wins the race, I'm told. And thanks for all the support.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mac Paul
13:23 May 25, 2023

John K., Oh my, this is an engaging story for all ages. I have critiqued many, but this ‘DMV in Retrograde’ tops it all. Indeed a dialogue that flows, holding my interest to the point I want more. You transitions every paragraph perfectly. Admittedly not enough words can describe the flow, ease of reading, and intellectual content. The added humor of dialogue between the teen and examiner was hysterical. Added comment to John K. Adams, Kudos to you for your concise writing and dialogue. Dialogue is a talent many find difficult to attain, ...


John K Adams
15:03 May 25, 2023

Thanks for the raves, Bettie. It was great fun to write. I'm pleased at yours and others' reactions to it. My wife wonders how someone who barely talks can capture dialogue so well. It's a gift.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
15:50 May 26, 2023

Congrats on this win.


Show 0 replies
Delbert Griffith
13:39 May 19, 2023

My first DMV driving grader wasn't anything like this! I wish he had been, though. He may be shit at grading driving proficiency - or maybe he sees ability on a higher plane than us mortals - but he's a cool cat. LOL Loved the tale, my friend. Fun and engaging. Cheers!


John K Adams
13:46 May 19, 2023

I always enjoy your takes on my stories, Delbert. Considering how people drive here in LA, I think Miranda sees more license applicants.


Delbert Griffith
17:32 May 19, 2023

LOLOL Yes! Nice observation, my friend!


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.