April 27, 2007

First Person
By Al Carlos Hernandez

A visit to the DMV as penance

I spent the longest 75 minutes of my life at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day; I viewed it as a sort of penance for not thinking ahead.

The DMV is a place where everybody on both sides of the counter is angry, off the rack, unkempt and ready to rumble. They construct a DMV like a Russian union hall, stark and brooding, in such a way as to punish working people for having used cars and lacking the foresight to make appointments.

You would think that I would have learned my lesson by now after the trauma I suffered that time I had to come back 6 times in one day to register a late model Fleetwood.

Thankfully most of our DMV business is handled on-line; I can now renew a car registration during an NBA time out. This time it was different, I had to pick up license plates for my wife’s new car, because they never sent them. She was right, you can only have those paper plates on the car so long before the neighbors think you stole it.

I knew there was going to be a problem when the DMV parking lot was filled with cars that look like they needed salvage titles.

I was immediately sentenced to a snaking conga line of broke folks babbling in 16 dialects, several of which I discerned where English. I waited to be issued a number, my fearful religious assumption was that the number was going to be 666.

The procedure is that everyone goes first to the information booth. You explain to them how stupid you are, they tell you where to go and wait. Make no mistake, everyone in the house has a problem, some of which includes personal hygiene. They issue you a number which specializes with your problem. The bigger your problem, the meaner the dateless clerk they assign you to.

I felt sorry for the holistic looking young woman who gave up on makeup, whose AA degree failed her, working the window. Distressed, hating her career counselors, filled with angst, she curtly got on the phone and reported to someone that there were 65 people in our 23 person line.

Somehow out up through a trap door or something, popped this rude woman who looked like the heifer that shot Selena, who was busting the line, slinging orders, handing out forms, and growling that the wait would be at least one solid hour.

The only people in the building happy to be there where the teenagers, who practiced their smiles for their first time driver license pictures.

I wanted desperately to inform them that they should not smile for the picture. It should be the intention of a driver’s license picture to convey to a potential arresting officer that you always look shot to the curb and somewhat faded. If your bright eyed bushy tailed driver’s license picture looks dramatically different from your everyday mug, they are going to ask you to step out of the car, believe that.

Bought the ticket took the ride, C81, looked at the TV monitor they were on C48, could have been Si48 for all I knew. Keeping my posture on the down low, stood next to a wall in the back, all the chairs were taken. Behind me was a houseshoe wearing, gum cracking woman, babbling to someone peppered with inane profanity on a cell phone.

It occurred to me that mathematically, there is a gum cracking equation. The louder you crack your gum, the greater the popping intervals, the lower the IQ, based on her proficiency. I was amazed she could walk up right. She didn’t consider her cracking an annoyance, rather an attribute, like working five hula hoops at once.

As a man of action, I decided to apply my knowledge of upper division math knowing I had plenty of time to leave and go to the post office, the house, get something to eat and check email. I returned to the DMV thinking I beat the system and they were on C53…

This time I stood on the other side of the room away from, “Gumbalina” and listened to a cross section of trilingual conversations while gazed over a bouquet of faces colored with a general malaise. Slowly one by one numbers where called, people scurried to the counters to plead their cases, others quickly filled the booty warmed plastic chairs, time dragged on.

Then, it was my turn, C81 at window 10. Naturally like a dork I was standing next to window 23, so I had to walk as fast as I could without running across the facility before another number was called, because if you start running, everyone else will run with you, don’t ask me how I know that.

At window 10 was an auto registration veteran, who was clearly detached from the sullen madness all around her, she simple worked one procedure at a time and fixed my problem.

We all could learn a lesson from her.

Al Carlos Hernandez writes from Hollywood.

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