Another Day, Another DMV Victim

Oh, the DMV.

Just those three letters put together like that are enough to elicit rolls of the eyes and groans and painful memories.

A DMV notice in the mail is a punch in the gut. Or maybe it's something slightly worse than that...it's like a receiving notification that you will be punched in the gut and you have 5 weeks of advanced notice to anticipate it--the grown-up, drawn-out version of "you're getting a spanking when we get home."

I don't fear the DMV anymore, though. I learned about the appointment system. And the appointment system is fucking genius.

When you make an appointment, you do what I did the other morning: you saunter in, bypass the 75-person deep line of preliminary check-ins and go straight to a counter where NOBODY is standing but you (at the Oakland Coliseum DMV anyway, where appointments are apparently not "a thing" yet). You are asked a single question and then issued a number. You won't even have time to locate a next-number-up indicator screen before your number is called and you will find yourself whisked to a far off window, much to the dismay/envy of the hapless 75 in line--not to mention the many dozens seated in plastic chairs in four separate waiting areas.

The appointment system works.

When I found myself at the window to renew my license at my appointment the other day, I felt pleased. I made more conversation than I normally would have because the employee assisting me was friendly and had a good sense of humor and she seemed she could use the break from the constant stream of inevitably frustrated customers.

Anyway that transaction went quickly and smoothly, and the only thing I had left to do was to get my new photo taken. I was a little nervous about that part. A recent peek at my Aunt's license photo made me aware of just how badly things *could* during that part of the process:

She doesn't look like that, by the way. Here she is, NOT under the guise of Deranged Wal-Mart Lady:

Beautiful, see?

I digress. But not too much. This blog is about what happened next, at the photo taking station.

But first, a time out: when I was at the first window, I asked the employee if women these days ever try to do the no-arm-fat pose--ever obnoxiously prevalent on Facebook and Instagram--for their driver license photos. I was *joking*.  She said it happens all the time.

I arrived at the photo line, which was relatively short: just 7 or so people before me. The employee at the camera's helm was an acerbic and wildly unpleasant woman who found it necessary to intermix forceful accusations of talking in the testing area, even though there are "signs clearly posted ALL OVER THE TESTING AREA!" in between every order barked at her own customers (and let's get this straight: visitors to the DMV are customers, even if the state treats us with a disregard that would put any legitimate business's stock holders in an early grave). What was this? The testing area wasn't even the photo lady's jurisdiction! There was another DMV employee right there administering tests. Not only that, there were TWO (likely highly ineffective, given their octogenarian-ness) uniformed security guards standing there, guarding the tests (?), the testers (?)...guarding the pencils (?).

Anyway, I could see this woman was no joke. I kept looking at the kindly, smiling test administrator, wishing she could be the photographer. But no switcheroos happening here. One away from the front, I prepared myself like George and Jerry and Elaine trying to buy soup from the Soup Nazi.

I bent down and looked right into the eyes of my 4-year-old son in tow, who'd begun to get squirrelly. "Listen to Mama," I said, my solemnity no doubt sobering. "When we get to the front, you are going to stand with your back against that counter right there and you are going to look at the people behind me in line, okay."

"Okay Mama," he promised. I knew by his tone that he knew I meant business.

Nothing to do but straighten up and fly right.

I didn't want to upset her by approaching the window before she called me, but instead I upset her by not moving quickly enough. She looked at me with Eyes of Death and made a grabby grabby motion at me with her hand, as if to say "hurry the fuck up and place your goddamned papers into my m'fuggin' HAND already!"

I gave them to her and smiled.

"Place your right thumb on the screen....I SAID NO TALKING IN THE TESTING AREA," she spewed. I looked over at the testing area. The only people talking were the poor, withered security guards. They shrugged guiltily at each other like children just humiliated in front of the class, and one of them shuffled away.

"Sign your name with the special pen and press OK with the special pen." (No time to find humor in the pointed, twice-employed use of the phrase "special pen" (what's so special about this pen?)...I was going to do this right, start to finish.)

While she silently clicked around with her mouse, I moved into position, toes behind the line like I'd heard her tell everyone else to do before me. I wanted her to see that I was an over-achiever. I was going to save her the headache!

"Move your hair out of your eyes! We need to see your eyes!"

I complied.

This time I waited for her direction. I'd heard her tell everyone else to look at the camera and smile, and I didn't want to do this move too early or else risk that frozen plastic smile like kids have in every photo from ages 3-6.

"SIR YOU NEED TO TURN THAT CELL PHONE OFF! IT SAYS SO ON ALL THE CLEARLY MARKED SIGNS." She was looking away at the offender. I looked at him too. I looked back.


Wha? Did I even turn back in time. Surely I wasn't smiling OR looking at the camera. Were my eyes even open?

She paused to look at the picture and then grabby grab-motioned for the next person in line.

I was helpless. I couldn't react but to laugh out loud. I wasn't going to ask her to do it again only to have her reject and censure me publicly like she had half the room. That evil woman!! That evil evil woman. I swear I saw a little smirk cross her face. I am certain she did it on purpose. I am certain that tripping people up in this way is the *one* little glimmer of joy she gets from a job she despises.

Or maybe it's not that at all. Maybe she loves her job. Maybe nothing in the world gives her greater joy than an otherwise happy face, FUBAR for the next five years on the owner's state-issued driver license.

I think the former and the latter may be true.

Listen, I'm not trying to say it's easy to work in customer service and that this woman should have been overjoyed at the sight of customer number 481 for the day. I have worked in customer service almost exclusively since I was 15 years old. I get that it's difficult and that you can't always be "on." I also get that it's not easy to get a job at all these days, so I already want to shoot down the part of me that says, "why BE in customer service if you are gonna be so angry about it?"

But there's this: Yes, it's difficult to get a job. It is *especially* difficult to get a government job. One doesn't accidentally happen into one. You have to take tests. You have to pass background checks. You have to wait for months. You have to fill out mounds of paperwork and go through many sessions of training. So why on earth do you go through all that unless you really really want to work with the hoards of motley folks down at the DMV? You know what it's gonna be like, working there. It's gonna be a shit fest, day after day after day. I think it may even read that in the job description.

And yet. And yet the two other employees I encountered, plus the smiling test administrator, plus the shrunken security guard whom I'd asked a question about the photo line...they were all good. They were courteous and appropriately responsive. They comported themselves like normal human beings in a job where there is an exchange: we give them information and payment in exchange for their services. It's not a damned oligarchy, people! And we are not asking for a favor, either.


To the DMV employee who "helped" me and others that day I say: you win. You wiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiin! I walked out of the DMV as annoyed as the next person, and so all is well in the world. We have maintained the equilibrium of the universe of government agencies and their victims.

Thank goodness this only happens every five years.

And I can't wait to see what this picture looks like. I owe my Aunt a good laugh.

Kevin's Sketch

Aliento Del Diablo. 
A work in progress in charcoal out of the same vein as A Death Rose For Eunice—the Spanish translation of ‘Breath of the Devil’, reminding me of a darker species of Baby’s Breath. (Blur effect intentional, for now)

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