À propos of nothing in particular: a paean to the DMV

>> Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Everybody hates the Division Of Motor Vehicles. Everybody jokes about it. Politicians of a certain stripe will ask, rhetorically, if anyone wants their (Insert Issue Here) handled by the DMV? In every state, the Division Of Motor Vehicles is regarded, not without justification, as an Orwellian ordeal, a Kafkaesque tribulation, a model of Stalinist efficiency.

Consider, please, the Division Of Motor Vehicles. Put yourself, just for a moment, in an employee's starched cotton-polyester blend uniform shirt.

And here you are, sitting in one spot day after day, five days a week, eight hours a day minus breaks and lunch. And there is an interminable line winding through the lobby and sometimes around the building every single day. And in this line are assholes. Lots and lots of assholes. And a few nice people, yes, but even these nice people have had their patience frayed by standing in this interminable line for hours on end. And because the driver's license is the one constant that truly, actually binds every resident of American soil together--politicians' calls for unity aside, we differ in ideology and creed and ethnicity and nationality and dialect and party and class and every other thing you might imagine, but we all need a driver's license to drive and in much of the nation you can't get anywhere without a drive--because of this constant, you are dealing with people of any kind of background imaginable. That is, your next customer may be a man who dropped out of school in third grade to work on a farm... in Laos... or Ecuador, or Somalia, or wherever he's from, his accent is so thick you'd need a machete to hack your way through to the subject noun. And he has a question about the motor vehicle law, which in many (perhaps all) states is a tome a couple of inches thick all by itself, and that doesn't even include the assorted caselaw from the judicial system and administrative decisions of the executive branch interpreting and defining clarifying and obfuscating the motor vehicle law--a mess, all in all, that would try the memory of the most erudite Talmudic scholar and tax the logical prowess of the most patient Jesuit priest. And his question, perhaps, isn't just about your state motor vehicle law, no: he wants to know why you do it differently from New Jersey, where he just moved from, and the vehicle he'll be driving is registered here but he actually lives in Georgia, and also, he cleared up that ticket from Wyoming and there's no reason for it to show up in your computer system. Only, see, it's not just space that is a challenge, it's also time (call The Doctor!): he cleared up that ticket in Wyoming in 1973. (He pleaded guilty and it was dismissed, or something like that.)

If you're very, very lucky, of course, you might not have to deal with the line. You might get to get out a little, get some fresh air before you get into the passenger-side of a vehicle being piloted (in a loose sense of the word) by a terrified sixteen year-old (who's very safe, not counting the times he ran over the mailbox, which, to be fair, is very hard to see in the bushes three feet from the mouth of the driveway).

Or maybe you can give an old lady her eye exam and try to very loudly explain to her between spontaneous micronaps what her doctor hasn't had the heart to impart to her about her failing organs: that at this point in time she's being held together entirely by wool sweaters and occasionally indomitable willpower (those naps being something more akin to les petites mortes than the usual erotic definition: her soul keeps stepping out, taking a few toddling paces into the hereafter--only to wonder if it turned off the stove or left a light on in the basement). (When she finally puts the pieces you offer her together into a loose puzzle, she will angrily inform you she's a very safe driver, not counting the times she ran over the mailbox, which, to be fair, is very hard to see in the bushes three feet from the mouth of the driveway.)

And let's say it's Thursday. Thursday afternoon. Thursday afternoon around three o'clock in the afternoon. Too late and too soon, three-and-a-half days behind you and all of tomorrow ahead, the weekend too far off in the fog to see and there will be a Monday morning and five more days of this shit on the other side of that. And you haven't had a pay increase since the recession hit and there are rumbles about whether your employees' pension will still be worth the promises made for it; and good God you'd take a cigarette but you don't smoke and anyway there's a no-smoke zone surrounding the building (it's why half these assholes are being assholes, matter of fact) or better yet you'd take a goddamn drink right now but you really need this job and the only thing worse than being fired for being drunk on the job would be getting fired for crawling under the counter and curling up into a little ball and putting your thumb in your mouth, which is what you want even more than the drink.

Suppose this is you. Close your eyes. Imagine.

Feeling nice? Feeling full of work ethic and glad to be seeing the world? How about feeling glad there isn't a loaded firearm within easy reach? It's okay: you're not really working for the DMV, probably.

And if you are? If you are a real live DMV employee and you stumbled here somehow? Thank you. No, seriously: thank you. Not being sarcastic. And if I was a douche the last time I was in your line, because I waited for two hours and worried the whole time about whether I'd left some document at home or would panic and forget the shapes of the signs or because it had been a couple of years since my last eye exam? That was all me, and if I took any of it out on you, I really am sorry about that, okay?

You can't spell "civilization" without "civil": bless the civil servant.


timb111 Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 3:35:00 PM EDT  

Your duplicate descriptions of the youth & senior driving issues reminded my of this Bizarro comic.

Random Michelle K Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 4:20:00 PM EDT  

True, this.

I have to say that aside from the incredibly long lines--which are not their fault--the people at the DMV have always been wonderful.

When Grandmom needed a non-driver's ID, they told us precisely where to go to get a replacement SS card. And they let her get her ID even though the rules had changed and her birth certificate wasn't official and also we discovered that her name wasn't what she'd thought it was all those years--it was Helena Lillian not Helen Lillian even though she went by Lillian and the woman behind the counter was kind and patient and figured that a birth certificate that had been issued in 1917 was going to be accepted even if it hadn't been issue by an official agency (because those official agencies didn't EXIST at the time apparently.)

So, yeah. Kudos on them for not snapping and killing the lot of us, no matter how much we deserve it, and for showing kindness in whatever ways they can.

Eric Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 4:54:00 PM EDT  

I have to admit my own experiences at the DMV have mostly been positive once I finally got to the front of the line. (I'd also have to add the line experience itself has been incrementally improved by Amazon.com's Kindle software for Android, not that that has anything to do with the DMV.)

I'm glad the WV DMV was helpful and kind to you and your Grandmom, Michelle. That's the kind of thing that ought to be repeated far and wide whenever someone of either party takes a cheap shot.

Nick from the O.C.,  Tuesday, September 11, 2012 at 10:26:00 PM EDT  

It's been a while since I last visited our DMV; they let me renew by mail last time. But my last couple of visits have been fine, really. They encourage us to make appointments and, if you actually have taken the trouble to make an appointment and you actually show up reasonably close to your appointment time and you have your paperwork with you, then you go to a very short line and all is well.

No complaints from me.

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