When we moved five years ago to a new state, it was filled with the typical annoyances of movers. New address forms, new library cards, new neighbors, new schools, new church … but worst of all … a new driver’s license. The last time I went to the DMV was five years ago, and let’s just say five years went way too quickly, because this place of torture hasn’t changed. There is an unknown quote that says, “If you’re ever feeling bad about yourself, spend the day at the DMV. You’ll feel pretty good about yourself, but hate the rest of humanity.” Two words … true that! Let’s just say that after spending two hours on a Tuesday no less (Don’t people work?) at this dreadful establishment, I have decided that there is a special place in heaven for those that must work here.
I’ll begin with the ambiance – gray walls, gray floor, gray ceilings. Got a mental picture? There are no photos aside from poster-portraits of the Secretary of State (for whom this grungy building was named). The entire place is filled with lines and lines of broken plastic chairs that are taped, TAPED together in rows (not matching of course). The only decorations are these bizarre twigs with ribbons and leaves on them, sparse and pathetically hanging above the stations of each worker. I am not sure if they were intended to be crafty, but they looked more like a “Pintrest-don’t” to me, a symbol of a project gone wrong … much like the workings of the government-led DMV.
In terms of people I must say that every, literally, every kind of human is subjected to this place. I kept looking at the hundreds of full seats and individuals pouring in the door thinking, where are they all coming from? And more importantly, why today? The amount of time I had to dedicate to this trip almost made me want to turn Amish and reject cars all together, because given one hundred and twenty minutes of “thinking time” you start to realize nothing is worth this! It’s amazing all the things you notice about people when you’ve got nothing to do but watch them: a woman sucking on a too-large-for-her-mouth cherry tootsie pop, the cute guy who needs to shave his neck hair, the new teenage driver who was too busy texting to look up and talk to her mom, the hideous tattoo that appeared to be a hibiscus flower blowing up on the girl’s neck in front of me, the Greek elderly couple pointing everywhere in confused gestures, the man who absolutely could not sit still despite his apparent jittery-effort, the business woman in clickey-heels who seemed “above” it all, the fact that there were only three bald men in the entire cacophony of masses, the poor, blessedly unfortunate mom who had to bring her kids! Thank you God I didn’t have to bring mine. It was a prayer I repeated over and over again in my mind like a mantra. Old people, young people, happy, angry, stunned, sleeping. They were all there. At one point I was pretty certain there was a planned reunion of sorts because people were laughing and hugging, but then I realized they were just on their way out of the building, embracing, no doubt, in recognition of the relationship they’d been able to forage in the trenches of waiting and celebrating the fact that they survived. Okay, maybe I’m embellishing a little, but not much.
I refused to sit the whole time because, well, eww. I think it was a good decision because along with representation of every type of human being on earth, there were the nearly “less-than-human” types. Near me a woman coughed, and I moved. Then the dude beside me on the other side sneezed, and I moved. But I couldn’t move forward, because there was this really creepy couple where the girl had a perpetually confused/suspicious look on her face, dyed pink hair and no bra. (I’m pretty sure she was on drugs.) Then the guy – he was wearing mis-matched swim shorts, a character shirt and shoes without socks. I might have thought he was “almost” normal, but he kept starting at the floor with rapt attention. There was nothing on the floor, (as I’d checked) but every once in awhile, he’d glance up, yawn, and go right back to looking down intently. (I decided he was on drugs too.) Freaked out, I noticed myself inadvertently moving closer to the college kid next to me because he seemed “safe” in his Cubs hat and Nike t-shirt, then moved away when I realized I shouldn’t find comfort in twenty-something-year-old strangers.
Inching away from anyone at all, I heard the droning robotic voice chime, “B370.” You’d think there were only twenty people to go because that’s logical. But this is not a logical place. They don’t go in order of number here, because each station is a different letter, A-F. For awhile I tried my hand at recognizing patterns, listening intently for any semblance of a routine to the way they choose who would go next, but no. And then I smelled pot.
Nearly hyperventilating at this point from the gray walls crawling in on me, (and wondering if I was suffering the effects of second-hand pot) I realized that all of us had this sort of animalistic half-crazed look going on. Desperately our eyes all kept widening, checking our tickets for the millionth time against the blinking light that flashed them with the same level of intensity as checking a winning lottery ticket. Though, in all honesty, I think the probability of my number getting called was less than a jackpot at that point. I imagined people losing it and half expected a brawl to break out. I could just see the little white-haired lady beside me tripping the sixteen-year-old next to her in order to steal the kid’s number; she had just the air “innocent-old-lady” to pull it off.
When the miracle of miracles happened and my number was called, I tried not to make eye-contact or walk too fast for fear that someone would try to take me out. I made it safely, but when I reached the counter, I had to take an eye exam which consisted of looking into a black binocular piece. Before I could, of course, I had to get a wet-wipe out of my bag and ceremoniously wipe the oils and residues off the machine from other people’s foreheads. Swallowing the bile rising in my throat at all I had to wipe off, I then used a kleenex to dry it. Good news is … I passed. Bad news is … I had to wait in another line! The cashier section was narrow and slow-moving, and I was unfortunately placed in front of a man with no regard for personal space or breath mints. Finally, after paying, I was asked to sit down and wait in yet, another section, to get my picture taken. And my chair was warm. Yuck. After a few mispronunciations of my name, (four) I was able to take my only-slightly-less-than-awful picture, and GET OUT!
Practically bathing in hand sanitizer on my way out, I couldn’t help but drive away with dread at how quickly the next five years would pass until I had to come back. But the worst part was … my husband needed to go to the DMV too so he went after work – and it took him five minutes.
(Formerly known as “Elle”)