I may or may not be standing in the garbage heap of the human gene pool. Around me, the homo-erectus detritus lurks awkwardly, their lobotomized stares and random grunts conveying an absence of certain aspects of chromosomal development. This is the Department of Motor Vehicles. In addition to supplying various means of identification – social security cards, driver’s licenses, criminal records – the DMV is government’s bureaucratic home to everything auto.
The main line starts at the entrance, although at this moment, the term entrance entails walking around two corners of a Wal-mart-sized one-story brick building hoping to get a place in a line that may or may not terminate by the five o’clock closing time. Assuming they’ve something truly insignificant or critically important – an issue which presumably gives them some authority to skip the growing Anaconda now stretching to the third corner – most folks bypass the line and go directly to the information booth, only to be told that the line is there for a reason and they are being rather presumptuous in presuming they are entitled to move ahead of the two-hundred other Mesolithic monsters currently dotting the sidewalk and to please stop wasting the time and energy of the underpaid DMV employees who are ostensibly paid to not be bothered – all overtly conveyed with a friendly sense of condescension and displeasure.
Because of some unexplainable technical glitch (read: we have no idea why the website isn’t working and our government-paid programmers have been “getting right on it” for four months and assure us we are close to a resolution but until then, you’re pretty much hosed) I am here to renew my Driver’s license. The eyes of the Anaconda bear down upon me as I enter the building to be met by the Gestapo-like information officer now giving me a number and ordering me to move quickly to my home at the snake’s tail for the interminable four hour wait.
I look down at my ticket. I am guest 241. Guest? As I pass the line of faces, there are two reactions: one of united mercy – the camaraderie of brothers experiencing the common bond of frustration and strain such that it creates a communal empathy amongst all line-standers – the other, a disdainful smirk of disapproval – the not-so-subtle intimation that I am “not better than them” and “how dare I think I could circumvent this clearly well-designed and orderly procession.” Along with these expressions, I notice the characters, a virtual Post office wall of desperation – a Fedora-adorned old man who is staring at his cell phone like one of Kubrick’s chimps; a red-faced teenager apparently here to take his first Driver’s Test, the sweat now pooling beneath his arms and stomach in such fashion that another ten minutes will see Mickey’s head and ears unite; the twitching and obviously annoyed attorney using a Bluetooth device on his right ear and talking loudly enough into his other cell phone trying to explain to the judge that the reason he will be late for court is he is stuck at the DMV paying a speeding ticket he got for rushing to the same judge’s courtroom two months prior and that irony and coincidence, while objectionable, should clearly be considered an adequate defense against contempt; a housewife, of mini-skirt clothing and flowing blond hair, doing her damndest to avoid the insufferable degenerative and lewd stares of this frightfully unattractive and hirsute circus of evolution’s leftovers.
Reaching the end of this 1960’s yearbook, I begin my infinite waiting period. In the distance I hear the echoing intercom announcing the numbers, “42 to the Registration desk, number 42,” and I do the requisite math problem, noting the place of the sun and wondering if I will capture a sunset while still in the body of the beast. About the time body odors reach beyond personal boundaries, the sun is at its apex and I am now standing in the unpleasant combination of my own sweat and the foreign stench of Darwin’s scrap pile.
Nearly five hours later, I am the eyes, tongue and the head of the snake, my venomous wrath coiled and ready to strike anyone who dares to cross my path, the half-day buildup of frustration and angst now directed outwardly such that even the information officer steps back in a brief moment of uncertain cowardice.
My bladder about to burst, the appropriately termed Moo-moo wearing woman behind the counter lifts her flabby white arms to me with a gesture more like a traffic cop than a secretary, and I move to the counter. Having spent the last twenty minutes filling out my paperwork and reviewing it with Supreme Court justice-like scrutiny, twice, to be certain of no contention, I hand her my application. Ten seconds later she points me to another line, this one ten-deep, and while my immediate thought included a sharp and decisive pen thrust through her skull, I retreated and entered the formation, determined to complete this mission – one which has cost me a day of work, endless frustration, and an overwhelming hatred of governmental organizations, all resulting because some computer tech – presumably wearing a pocket protector, thick glasses and suffering the disfiguring disfunctionality of carpal tunnel syndrome – has chosen to spend six months in Bali with his new wife and baby rather than attend to his outrageously overpaid DMV information systems workload.
At four-thirty pm, the sun now casting long weeping shadows through the glass doors, I reach the front of the line, my pants leg now slightly damp from an inability to stem the flow, and hunger pangs loud enough to make the minimum-wage making employee think I am growling at her. My deodorant quit an hour ago and the growing case of swamp-ass is making me unfalteringly uncomfortable.
She reviews my paperwork and smiles, a satisfactory grin suggesting I have passed my first test, and to be honest, I do experience a mixed sense of achievement and pride.
I step back for my eye test, and though it looks like cuneiform, I begin navigating my way through the Seussian-like amalgamation of letters. Where the hell is Vanna White when you need her? At some point I’m guessing and she frowns. At forty-one, I am terrified I might have just failed a vision test, and for a moment I ponder whether a pedestrian life is perhaps easier than surviving another trip to the DMV. But then, like a college dean, the half-woman half-wildebeest behind the counter gestures her approval as though I’ve just graduated from some Ivy League version of opthamological hell. I turn back to the line, the dour, tight-lipped frowns now coiling at the front of the great creature, the venomous salivation now dripping from their mouths. With a restrained smile I move back to the desk and perform some Pythagorean operation with my thumb, the black ink cold and damp against my skin, and then press firmly onto the computer screen – now marked for life – unless of course I smudge, which I do, and suddenly the friendly wildebeest is grunting at me with a less than cordial glare. I retry. This time I’m accurate, a true DaVinci of a print, the Mona Lisa of opposable thumbs, and I survey the jealous crowd behind me wondering how many of them lack this genetically evolved feature.
The final step represents the defining moment of the DMV experience –the Driver’s license photo. Depending on my performance, this picture will either elicit the resounding and derisive laughter from airline jet way attendants, bank employees, and overeager waitresses who dare to ask for identification from a man whose crow’s feet wrinkles and slightly graying hair indicate a minimum of four decades on the planet, or it will derive a sweet and suggestive “aww, good photo” from which I will gain eternal self-esteem and the confidence to ask out said jet way employee, bank attendant, and overeager waitress. The pressure mounts as I step the yellow stripe delineating the proper distance from the camera. She begins her count and I freeze, now unsure whether we are clicking on three or a beat thereafter. As I open my mouth to ask, the flash bulb goes off and I realize the rest of my life will now be filled with mocking quips and unadulterated teasing. I beg for a re-shoot and she smirks, replying, “we are not a modeling agency.”
I stagger away, sulking, and consider driving downtown to pay the extra fifty bucks for a fake ID. Apparently DMV stands for Drawing My Venom.