Article from the 2/12/2016 Catalina Islander

Since I became "Catalina's Official Greeter", March 10, 2014, when the Chamber Of Commerce assigned me to greet the cruise ships and cross channel boats, I have answered 42,712 questions.
These are some of the more interesting/unusual questions/comments I have received:
"Do you have any restaurants?"
Referring to the "fire breaks", "When will the ski slopes be open?"
"When will the 4PM boat be leaving for the mainland?"
"Do they have wheels on the kayaks?"
If you want to have an "Avalon" postmark, you had to bring the letters/postcards to the P. O. window.  "Do they draw on a postmark or do they use a stamp and ink pad?"


So far, the readers of this column have seen me portray myself as a pretty "normal" person and some may have even gotten the impression that NOTHING happened on Catalina Island from 1947 until the present without my involvement.  HARDLY, but I have had a charmed life and my stories are an attempt to cover our fantastic history from a different perspective, mine.  There are MANY MANY more stories that others can tell, but won't, so they will unfortunately be lost forever!  I am doing my best to share what I can in hopes that others will do the same!
In order to appreciate this particular story, I must add "literal" to whatever others might think of me.  Growing up, I never thought of myself as being "literal", but simply "precise".  I prized myself on listening to, and complying with, EVERY word I encountered.  When a sign on the freeway says to "Take The Next Exit", I don't know if it means that I should take "This Exit" or the 'Exit' that follows 'This Exit'"!  To me, THAT WOULD BE the "Next Exit"!  Needless to say, I often take the wrong one.  I hope that SOMEONE out there understands my dilemma!
I had ALWAYS had a dream of driving a tour bus on Catalina Island!  Don't ask me why, but I thought that transporting people around and educating them about Catalina's history, while entertaining them, was one of the "neatest" (O. K., I am dating myself!) things that I could ever do!  So, at the advanced age of 50, I decided that the "perfect" job was to drive a bus for "Discovery Tours"/"Santa Catalina Island Company"!
Because of the nature of the tour busses, i. e. size, capacity, air brakes, etc., I needed to have a "Class A" California Driver's License.  In order to obtain this classification to drive these "big rigs", I had to take and pass six, yes, count them, "6", tests, each comprising approximately 30 questions (180 questions total) and the tests had to be taken one after the other, on the same day, under the watchful supervision of the DMV.  If I failed to pass even one of these tests, I would have to wait a few days and come back and take six more different tests!  Since I had never driven a large commercial vehicle, I wasn't familiar with the peculiar nomenclature of the "trade".  For instance,  "Glad Hands" referred to the hand that I extended to receive my "tips" after the tour!  WRONG!  "A coupling device used to connect air hoses between a tractor and a trailer."  "Fifth Wheel", the spare tire.  WRONG.  "Coupling providing the link between semi-trailer and the leading trailers." "Chalking The Wheels"; I definitely thought I had "aced" this one, because I saw the "code enforcement" do this to my wheels many times to keep track of how long I was parked. WRONG!  "'Wheel Chocks' are wedges of sturdy material placed closely against a vehicle's wheels to prevent accidental movement."  THREE STRIKES AND I FLUNKED!!!  As you see, I was trying to use "common sense" (which is not so "common" anymore)! I studied and studied and studied some more, but would invariably flunk at least one of these six tests (I seem to recall that I could only miss up to 3 questions out of 30).  I would then return about a week later and take a whole set of six all over again!  Again, and again, and again; week in and week out!  I would enter the DMV office with my shoulders back, my head held high, and leave on my knees, by the  back door (pathos added for dramatic affect!).
Let me share an example of how completely useless some of these questions were.  I will NEVER forget, "If your tractor/trailer rig went off a cliff, statistics have shown what percentage of your passengers would perish?"  Our particular rigs at the time were carrying up to 40 passengers up and down the steep winding switch-back roads and up over the "Summit' which is 1600' high.  By virtue of "common sense", I confidently answered "100%"!  WRONG!  The correct answer was "75%".  I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP!  This incorrect answer was the "killer" that would cause me to have to take ANOTHER six tests.  I went to the DMV examiner and I threw myself at her mercy!  I laid out my most persuasive and passionate arguments and explained that on the cliffs and hills of Catalina Island, if my bus went over one of them, EVERYONE WOULD DIE!  NO ONE WOULD WOULD SURVIVE!.  (Of course this has never occurred nor should it with all of the extremely well trained bus drivers that all of the tour companies on the Island hire and train!)  Unfortunately, statistics are statistics!  She was a "State Employee" (they are not like "normal humans") and so she wasn't moved to see my side.  I then asked her if she could PLEASE replace this "highly theoretical' question with a "factual" one, but SHE REFUSED!  BACK TO THE ISLAND AND BACK TO THE PERVERBIAL "DRAWING BOARD"!
After taking five sets of six tests (30 individual tests, 900 questions), I PANICKED!  There was only one more set of six left and if I flunked them, I couldn't take any more!  "No passy, no drivey!"  I asked a good friend of mine, who had been driving for years, how to study for these tests and I was told that the ONLY WAY to pass them would be to memorize them!  Fortunately, copies of ALL of the answers to all thirty-six tests were available (including my substantial contribution).  I decided to simply memorize them, which I DID!  I actually have friends whose lives have been scarred for life by "studying" with me with "flash cards"!  
When the last DMV waiting period was over, I went back to the Fullerton office, ended up going to the same examiner who had been there for my last five attempts, and asked her for my final set of six.  Along with the exams, she gave me the least supportive look EVER!  I ran and hid in my little "cubby hole", that I had made for myself in the examination room (I think there is now a bronze plaque with my name on it there), partially curled up in the semi-fetal position, and set out to PASS!  When I finished I groveled like the hunchback, Quasimodo, took the tests to "Ms. Sunshine" and handed her the FINAL documents.  Like Oliver Twist, when he pleaded, "Please, Sir, I want some more!"  In my case, "Please, Mam, I want to pass!"  She grabbed the papers and began to grade them.  I made some mistakes on each one, but not enough to fail me, SO, I PASSED!  I PASSED!   I PPPAAASSSEEEDDD!!!"
She looked at me scornfully, as if to say, "Where is your 'seed pod'?  YOU CAN'T BE CHUCK LIDDELL!!!"  However, she said the mandatory, monotone, "congratulations", told me that I would now have to have my picture taken, but I would need to make an appointment for that, and sent me on my way.  What could POSSIBLY go wrong now!?!
I quickly ran to my car, got my cell phone, and called Eric, my supervisor, and told him that I had FINALLY passed, but now all I needed was a new driver's license picture..  Since my training time was running short, he told me that I should go directly to the San Pedro DMV, as they usually weren't as busy, and I wouldn't have to make an appointment.
I rushed to San Pedro and stood in line.  He was right, there weren't many people ahead of me, but as I stood there, quite a number fell in line behind me.  Must have been their "lunch break".  I went up to the counter and the woman seemed kind and pleasant enough (ANYONE would have been better than "Nurse Ratchet" in Fullerton) and gave her the proof that I HAD PASSED and simply needed my picture taken.  I had gotten this far and NO ONE could take it away from me!!!  I was preparing for my "end zone dance", when she spoke.  She told me to put my finger in this machine, which would take my finger print. I want to make it clear that it had been so long since I last had my Driver's License picture taken, as I had not had any driving violations, and my license was simply renewed and mailed to me over the last 15 plus years.  l  didn't know anything about "finger printing", but I complied.  I placed my finger smartly into the receptacle and waited for my next set of instructions.  
Now comes the "L I T E R A L" PART!  READY!?!  She said to these were here exact words... "Put your finger in the machine and then step back to the line for your picture."  For those of you who are "literally inclined", you have already figured out what I then did.  For the rest of you "normal" people, read the lady's words over again, EXACTLY as they are written and try to figure out what happened next!  Also, please keep in mind that I had been over the past five weeks subjected to EVERY test that the DMV could throw at me and I wasn't going to do or say ANYTHING that might mess up my changes of getting my "Class A" license!
WELL, HERE WE GO!  With my finger STILL in the finger printing machine, I started moving my feet backward toward the photo line!  The line was a good five feet away so I found myself doing a "modified reverse limbo" (sounds like an Olympic gymnastic move and it felt like it) to be able to accomplish this "Chinese Acrobatic" feat!  By the time I had reached the line, I was now almost parallel to the floor, but I had just enough strength to bend my neck back, so that I could face the camera and force a "smile".  During my "limbo stretch", the DMV lady had been working on my paperwork with her head down.  Now, she looked up/down at me, in my "Iron Eagle Position" and motioned me to come to the counter (or should I say the rest of my bod,y as my finger was still in the machine on the counter).  I was relieved as my muscles were beginning to spasm, and for some reason, the people behind me in line were laughing out loud,  WHAT!?!
When I got to the counter, the kind sole, obviously biting her tongue, to keep from laughing, said, "I expected you to take your finger OUT of the machine BEFORE you went back to the line for the picture."  Of course, feeling very self-righteous, I reminder her of her exact instructions to me and I was SURE that over the years, I was not the ONLY ONE to take what she said so "literally".  Now that I was on a role, I further suggested that she might change her verbal instructions if she didn't want additional innocents like me, to do exactly what I did!  Her face didn't change, jaw set in iron, glaring at me.  I began to panic and with a pleading in my voice said, "Please don't tell me that I am the ONLY ONE who has EVER DONE THIS!!!!"  She regained her composure long enough to say, "In my twenty years of working for the DMV, this is the first time that I have EVER seen this happen.  Mr. Liddell, you are a VERY SPECIAL PERSON!!!"  I know what she meant by "special".  I remember in school that these "special kids" had their own homeroom, with an aquarium in the middle, went on a lot of "outings", and didn't have to play P. E.!  I now had a new respect for them as I was now one of them!  Nevertheless, I GOT MY PICTURE TAKEN! I looked like a deer not only blinded by the car lights, but then run over! WHO CARES!?!  I PASSED!   I immediately called Eric to give him the "good" and "bad" news.  Yes, I had passed the written test, but had ALMOST flunked "picture".  
A few weeks later my license arrived and it looked as it I was now FINISHED with the DMV and the humiliation that went with it.  NO SUCH LUCK!  I received a letter from these wonderful state officials telling ,me that because of some numbers on the back of my license, I would have to make an appointment to go back to the Fullerton office!  I quickly turned my card over and saw "13" which stated "Area Restriction".  That I understood.  I could only use my "Class A" license on Catalina Island.  The other number stumped me.  "50".  It stated "Customized Restrictions On File - Contact DMV".  What the heck did that mean?  I made an appointment and showed up to have this matter cleared up.  I showed this examiner, obviously the ugly sister of the "Wicked Witch Of The West", who I had dealt with before!  I asked her for clarification. She had a puzzled look and took my license.  She told me to wait while she looked it up in "the book".  She went to a back room.  Now, I am probably a bit paranoid by this time, but I swear I saw EVERY survelance camera in the DMV point directly at me and  I heard laughter coming from the back room!  I am sure I saw people peeking at me through a crack in the door!  A few moments later she came back to the desk and informed me, "I am sorry, but there is no such code number '50'!  There must be some mistake!
I must thank Ron Louder, Eric Cederwall, and Janie Eisenhut for training me to drive the big rigs, although I only did it for two years.  I am happy to inform you that I now only do the History and Ghost WALKING Tours so hopefully the citizens and visitors to Catalina can now sleep soundly!  I still can't get "50" out of my mind.  If anyone works for the DMV, please tell me what it means!  I am pretty sure of one thing!  At EVERY "DMV Christmas Party" across the US, and possibly Canada and Mexico, the video of me attempting to have my picture taken in San Pedro is played as an "Aren't you glad you didn't have him in YOUR DMV office!"