Does the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) hire extras just to make the place look busy?
They say that living to a ripe old age is a blessing. But when you do it while standing on line at the DMV, you begin to see things from an entirely different perspective. Suddenly, the expression "something to look forward to" can mean something as mundane as seeing a DMV employee get back from lunch to take care of huge line. And the emotional impact of the simple word "next" can bring tears of joy trickling down your cheeks -- you'd think it was written by the poet Yusef Komunyakaa.
Probably the most frightening phrase you can hear at the DMV is, "It's a clerical error." This phrase can mean almost any imaginable horrible thing you can conjure up. It can mean that you'll have to come back and waste another day. It can mean that you'll have to retake the road test you already passed because your records have been misplaced. Or it can mean that due to a misspelling of your name, you're now on the FBI's most wanted list. And it's not even proper decorum to get angry about such things. You see, it's not really their fault -- making errors is part of the system.
But things at the DMV have improved somewhat over the years. On some "lines," instead of standing for hours, as was the case in years gone by, you now take a number, sit down on a bench and watch a large electronic board with a confusing array of numbers. Every now and then, someone yells "Bingo!"
Having spent my share of time at the DMV, I've found that in addition to spending about seventy percent of your time waiting on lines, you spend about ten percent looking for the right line and about fifteen percent taking directions from security personnel who couldn't give you clear enough directions to find the ocean on a cruise ship.
My first line, on one particular occasion, was the "picture" line. That's where everyone "fixes up" and smiles for a picture that'll never be seen by anyone except cops. And these pictures never come out right. Anyone who actually looks like the picture on his or her driver's license is too ill to drive.
My next line was so crowded, one guy fainted. But no one noticed it because he couldn't fall down till six people got off.
After several hours of ruffling my forms so they wouldn't get moldy before I reached the window, I met Cindy, who had just moved from bench six to bench seven because bench six was being radiocarbon tested by scientists to see what's the longest anyone ever sat on it.
We found out we had a lot in common. Our licenses expired in the same month. At one point in our lives, we both received collection notices for summonses we never received. And at our last visit to the DMV, both of our faces appeared on milk containers by the time we got out.
She showed me pictures of her pets. They were the most adorable little puppies I'd ever seen. Not having pets or kids of my own, I showed her pictures of my last collision. She was impressed. She said it took a lot of talent to twist a fender into the shape of the Big Dipper at only three miles per hour. And I'm not even an astronomer.
As time wore on, we hit it off so well, we made plans to go out on a date. Where we would go was a tossup between a trendy upper East Side night spot for young singles and a downtown senior citizen's ball, depending on when we got out.
By now our line had gotten shorter by twenty-three people. Eight had renewed their licenses, four were on the wrong line, three were in the wrong country, six died of natural causes, and one asked for political asylum.
One guy, who wasn't too familiar with our language or customs, thought he was being picked out of a lineup when the woman behind the window looked at him and yelled "Next!" He confessed to two burglaries and a subway turnstile jumping. The man now works for the DMV, sort of -- he makes license plates at an upstate correctional facility.
When I finally reached the window, the woman asked to see two forms of identification. I showed her a major credit card and a picture ID. Taking a quick look at the picture, she said, "This doesn't look like you."
I said, "It did when I arrived. I was younger then."
She pointed to an eye chart and asked, "Can you read the bottom line?"
I said, "Can I read it? I know the guy. He works for a Greek car service on my block."
Upon my passing the eye exam, she stamped my forms, saying, "Your license will be good for four years." Then, gleefully pointing to a long cashier's line, she added, "You can pay at the cashier."
"Four years from when?" I asked. "From when I get on the line or from when get off the line?" If looks could kill, the look she gave me could've killed a Brontosaurus the size of a DMV backlog.
On the cashier's line I wound up near a guy listening to a small radio. After two hours of eavesdropping on news reports and financial updates, I found out that in the time I'd been waiting on this line, the dollar had devaluated by about four percent on the Japanese market, our national debt had risen by about six percent, and my patients was wearing thinner by about eighteen percent.
By the time I reached the cashier's window, I had a pretty solid understanding of how the world financial markets operate -- but I still hadn't the foggiest clue as to how the DMV does. Is the DMV's system designed to make the place look busy? Is it crowded because they have no system? Or is the DMV just a stepping stone for moving up to a better career; like, if you work really slow here you can eventually move up to becoming a postal employee.
Cindy and I were reunited outside and shared a cab. I asked the cabbie to step on it. Cindy asked what the rush was. I said, "No rush, I'd just forgotten what 'fast' looked like."
Growing Old At The DMV from shopndrop.com
Josh Greenberger: A computer consultant for over two decades, the author has developed software for such organizations as NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, AT&T, Charles Schwab, Bell Laboratories and Chase Manhattan Bank. Since 1984, the author's literary works have appeared in such periodicals as The New York Post, The Daily News, The Village Voice, The Jewish Press, and others. His articles have ranged from humor to scientific to topical events. Visit his site ==>shopndrop.com