Fear and Loathing At The DMV

The longest 70 minutes of my life

By Al Carlos Hernandez
Published on LatinoLA: August 5, 2002

Fear and Loathing At The DMV

I spent the longest 70 minutes of my life at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day. The DMV is a place where everybody on both sides of the counter is angry, unkempt, and ready to rumble. They construct the DMV 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 six times to register a late model Fleetwood. Each time, a different issue; Smog certificate,. Bill of sale. Proof of insurance. Lienholder release. Statement of facts. Not enough money.

Most of our DMV business is handled by mail. My wife makes it a point to pay the bills on time so I do not put myself in the precarious position of haranguing State employees.

This time was different.

I had to pick up new license plates for her car. I lolly-gagged on scoring the plates for a year. You can only have those new car paper plates on the ride for only so long before the neighbors think you stole it.

I knew there would be a problem when the parking lot was full of cars that looked like they had salvage titles. Strolling into the gray cube facility with the personality of the California Governor, I was immediately sentenced to a snaking conga line of broke folks speaking sixteen dialects waiting to be issued a number.

The newest procedure is that everyone has to first go to the information booth. You explain to them how stupid you are and what your problem is, They tell you where to go. Make no mistake, everyone in the house has a problem. They issue you a number; the number coincides with your problem. The bigger the problem the meaner the clerk they assign you to.

I felt sorry for the holistic-looking young woman who gave up on make-up working the window. Distressed and filled with angst; she curtly got on the phone and reported to someone that there were 60 people in line. Soon, a rude woman who looked like the heifer that shot Selena was busting the line slinging orders, handing out forms, and growling that the wait would be at least one hour.

The only people happy to be there were the kids who smile for their driver license pictures.

I wanted desperately to inform them that they should not smile for the picture. It should be intention of a drivers 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 drivers license picture looks dramatically different from your everyday mug, they are going to ask you to step out of the car. Believe that.

I took the ticket C81, I looked at the TV monitor C48, I stood next to a wall in the back, all the chairs were taken. Behind me was a houseshoe-wearing, gumcracking woman, babbling to someone on a cell phone. It occurred to me that mathematically there is a gum cracking equation. The louder you crack the gum and the greater the cracking intervals, the lower the IQ. She didn?t consider her cracking an annoyance as much as an attribute.

As a man of action I decided to leave and drove to the Post Office, went to the house got something to eat, checked the e-mail, and went back to the DMV thinking that I beat the system?C53.

This time I stood on the other side of the room from ?gumbalina?, and listened to a cross talk of tri-lingual conversations while gazed over a bouquet of faces colored with general malaise. Slowly, one by one, numbers were called and people scurried to the counters to plead their cases. Others quickly filled the warm plastic chairs, time dragged on, as the clerks meandered back and forth looking for the right colored paper clips.

Then it was my turn: C81 at window 10. I was standing next to window 23 so I had to walk as fast as I could across the facility, without running, because if you run everyone will run with you. Don?t ask me how I know that.

At window 10 was a registration war veteran, who was clearly emotionally detached from the madness that surrounded her. She simply worked one procedure at a time.

We could all learn a lesson from her.

About Al Carlos Hernandez:
Al Carlos is a contributing columnist.

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