GROWING OLD AT THE DMV
They say that living to a ripe old age is a blessing. But when you do it while standing on line at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles), 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, who is one of three people taking care of a line of about six hundred and thirty-two applicants, get back from lunch. And the emotional impact of the simple word "next" can bring tears of joy trickling down your cheeks.
Probably the most frightening phrase you can hear at the DMV is, "It's a clerical error." This phrase can mean almost any imaginable, horrifying 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 until your number comes up. Every now and then someone yells "Bingo!" or asks what time the train to Greenwich leaves.
Having spent my share of time at the DMV, I've found that only about five percent of the time is spent on actually taking care of the business you're there for. 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 sound like they couldn't 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 a cop. 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, after about two hours, I ruffeld my forms so they wouldn't get moldy before I reached the window.
Then I met Cindy. She was nice enough to offer me a chocolate bar, which I relished. I offered her an orange that I'd bought just before entering the DMV. She refused, saying she was allergic to penicillin.
She showed me pictures of her pets. They were the most adorable little puppies I'd ever seen. Not having pets 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 millennials or a downtown senior citizen's ball, depending on how long we still had to spend at the DMV.
By now our line had gotten a lot shorter. Eight had renewed their licenses, four were in the wrong line, three were in the wrong country, and six died of old age.
One guy, who wasn't too familiar with our language or customs, thought he was 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 governmant, 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."
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 Russian 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."
"My license is good for four years from when?" I asked. "From when I get on the long cashiers line, or from when I reach the window?" If looks could kill, her looks coud've killed a Brontosaurus.
Once on the cashier's line, I wound up near a guy quietly listening to a small radio. After two hours of eavesdropping on news reports and financial updates, it dawned on me that in the time that 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 financial markets work -- but still hadn't no idea how the DMV works. Is the DMV's slow system designed to make the place look busy? Or are DMV employees trainig to become postal employees?
Cindy and I were reunited outside. As we shared a cab, I asked the cabbie to step on it. He asked what the rush was. I said, "No rush. We just forgot what moving fast felt like."