The Route to Equality

My drivers license expired on my 21st birthday in 1968. I was a student at Auburn University, and I expected that my first official action as an adult would be to go to the Lee County courthouse, in Opelika, which was the county seat, to get a new license. I discovered that being a grownup was much more complicated than I had expected.

The state required that drivers licenses be issued only in the county where you maintained legal residence. It turned out that students were a lesser category of citizens who did not have the right to change their originally declared residency, even as adults. [Stupid law.] The college made decisions like that on the students' behalf, in loco parentis. Colleges did not want students voting in local elections, so no way, Ida Mae.

After much directionless family discussion, it was decided that (please note passive adult-like phrase) in the interests of expediency, I could use my grandmother's house at the corner of US-231 and Rouse Road, as my legal address of residence for obtaining a drivers license. Grandmama's mailbox was beside the main highway. The address was a rural route out of Titus, a very small town down the highway. You could look it up.

[Is that really legal?]

The conditions that my parents imposed on me for this maneuver included a prohibition on mentioning to the authorities that my grandmother owned a car and drove it every day. She was illiterate and therefore could not pass the written test.

[Something about that is definitely not legal.]

When I got to my grandmother's house to explain why she would be receiving official government mail with my name on it, her sister, my great-aunt, Julia, was visiting. Aunt Julia explained that it couldn't work that way. My grandmother had experienced a great falling-out with the letter carrier from Titus, and he had not stopped off there for years. My grandmother carried out all of her post office dealings with the letter carrier from Equality, who served mailboxes on Rouse Road. So my grandmother moved her mailbox from the side of the "big" two-lane highway to alongside the side road.

[Getting permission to legally move a mailbox usually took years. Not this time!]

At this point there is a piece missing from this narrative, about how an illiterate person benefits from the services of the post office. My head hurts every time I try to tell this story.

[But that part is probably legal.]

Another piece missing is that my grandmother definitely lived in Elmore County. But the county boundary lines trisected the formerly incorporated wide spot in the road known as Equality. This left some degree of ambiguity regarding which county or counties that town might be in. So I called the Equality Post Office to check. The rural route that the letter carrier followed from Equality to Rouse Road was definitely in Elmore County.

Anyway, I drove from Auburn to Wetumpka and passed the written and driving tests and got a drivers license which stated that I lived in Equality.

[Illegal. I was never in Equality at all.]

In spite of my best efforts, the following year I graduated with a bachelor's degree in applied physics, got commissioned as an Ensign in the regular U.S. Navy, and got sent to submarine school in Connecticut. But the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act said that I did not have to get a new drivers license when I moved, so I kept the one from Equality.

One day in Gales Ferry I took a corner too fast and skidded on a little bit of gravel [Illegal.], and a Connecticut police officer pulled me over right away. He loudly demanded my license and registration. But then he said to me, quietly, "The only reason I stopped you was so I could get away from that domestic dispute back there. But now that I've done it I have to give you a ticket."

Then he burst out laughing and said, "Equality, Alabama, huh? Okay, that's such a good one that I'm letting you go."