The light bulbs in question comprise the third brake light on my husband’s pickup truck, so normally this is a job he would do. But I had the truck that day so our daughter could take her driving test. Although she’d done most of her practicing in a friend’s Volkswagen Jetta, she was taking the test in the truck because the truck is an automatic. (My car is a standard.)
We’d already struck out on the first try — my fault, not hers. Our small town DMV, which never used to take appointments, now did. Oops. Also we needed a one more piece of identification verifying residence. This was harder than usual because we moved in April, after my daughter got her W-2. We did have a bank statement with the new address, but her school transcript wouldn’t fly. Thankfully, I had needed her fancy schmancy birth certificate from the Bureau of Vital Statistics for her passport, and that official document was sent to the new address. The State of Texas taketh away and the State of Texas giveth.
We had an appointment at the DMV in the next town. Two tall dudes joshed around with the clerk. This time, paperwork: good. Then my daughter and the driving instructor climbed in the truck and discovered that the third brake light was out: bad. She couldn’t take the driving test until it got fixed.
It was 9:30 a.m. I’d been awake since 4:30, more nervous than my daughter. The DMV folks said if we could get the light fixed by 11, she could still take the driving test that day. So we headed to Walmart.
This was one of those rare days when I had trouble reaching my husband by text or by, you know, actually calling. I wanted to know 1) Did he know the light was out? 2) Was it just a bulb or was there a more severe problem? and 3) Really? They won’t let you take the test with a bulb out? Answer to 1) Yes, 2) Probably just a bulb, 3) Really?
The line in the auto care center at Walmart was long, at least an hour. We walked over to the SmartStyle so my daughter could get a haircut. My husband assured me that I could do this myself. All I needed to do was buy a screwdriver, take off the bulb cover, take out the bulbs, bring them inside and find new ones or get someone to help me find new ones, repeat in reverse.
That makes my husband person No. 1 who helped me change a light bulb.
Person No. 2 was Cooper, the man working the self-check kiosk at Walmart next to the SmartStyle. He’d been chatting with my daughter and I while we waited for it to open. Cooper went to college for a while, dropped out to care for both of his parents, then went back. He eventually got a master’s in physics and chemistry and worked for the U.S. Defense Department. He helped develop some kind of bomb that sounded like it was a plot point in a spy movie. He seemed to know everyone walking in to and out of the store.
Cooper found out that my daughter had just graduated from high school and would be heading to Boston for college. He knew the area and had advice for her: “Women are superior to men — remember that.” He had advice for me too, when I told him our dilemma and my husband’s solution. “You can do it,” he said. “They’re understaffed in auto. No one wants to work there.”
No one in auto had gotten to the truck yet. I checked to see what kind of screwdriver was needed (Phillips, and that’s the entire extent of my tool knowledge), and I went inside to buy a set. Checked out. Cooper showed me how to unscrew the screwdrivers from their protective case meant to protect them from thievery. Out to the truck. Unscrewed the brake light cover. Removed the three burnt bulbs, and took them inside.
Let’s just say I’m not familiar with the auto parts section of Walmart. Looking at the merchandise did not help. I read the signs on the shelves, saying things like “wireless accessories” or “motor oil.” I needed a sign with flashing neon bulbs to say “third brake lights for 2001 F-150.”
No such sign appeared. But I did spot the two dudes from the DMV.
“Hey,” I said, “I saw y’all at the DMV. My third brake light is out, so my daughter can’t take her test. Can you help me find the right bulbs?” I pulled out the bulbs in their blackened glory.
The DMV dudes were numbers 3 and 4 on the help list. One walked me over to where the lights were, and then he and his buddy compared and contrasted them — too big (*&@$%), too small (*&@$%), just right (*&@$%!) — until they found the bulbs I needed. On the top shelf. Over a foot above little old me.
I thanked the dudes and added, “I hope that someday a stranger does a favor for you.”
And then, ladies and gentleman, I replaced three light bulbs. By myself. “I did it!” I texted my husband.
He sent back a thumbs-up emoji and a smiley face with sunglasses.
“I am ridiculously proud of myself,” I wrote back.
I reached SmartStyle just as my daughter was finishing, and I thanked Cooper for his help. He told her, “I wish you all of the luck.” We reached the DMV before our 11 a.m. deadline. She got her license.
Sometimes you need more people to change a light bulb than you have light bulbs in need of changing. Installing three 912 bulbs by Sylvania took five people: my husband, Cooper, the two DMV dudes, and me. As my daughter goes to college this fall — far, far away, driver’s license in hand — she’ll need all of the luck. Some of it will still come from her father and me. Some will come from strangers. Some she will make herself and feel ridiculously proud.