Tuesday, January 13, 2009

DMV, Easy as ABC

My driver's license was expiring, and those fine folks at the Department of Motor Vehicles wanted an updated photo of me. They politely declined the picture from my Christmas card. Instead, they insisted I visit them. Yes, a trip to the DMV, I feel your pity. But I also sensed a journalistic opportunity, perhaps another chapter in the ongoing adventure, "Shock and Awe at Government Inefficiencies."

With the EDD buried under ten tons of unemployment sludge, the thought of visiting any government facility had me shaking. But I'm a writer, and that's what we do. We brave horrific situations and risk great peril to bring you the story. Especially when we have to go there anyway.

First I tried going online to set up an appointment. As anyone who lives on this planet knows, you don't even think about the DMV without an appointment. You probably needed an appointment just to read this article. I entered my information, and the system assigned me to a day a few weeks into the future, well past my license expiration date. How could they! Strike one.

So I called them. You laugh, I know. Here comes strike two. A silly thing to do, unless you have several hours to spare. "Your wait time is less than five minutes," said the recording. Whoa. I heard that several times, and began to wonder if they should be a bit more honest and change it to say, ""Your wait time is less than five minutes until you hear this recording again."

Eventually someone came on the line. The wait was approximately 7 minutes and 23.27 seconds. He cheerfully explained that the DMV would not penalize me for being a few days late on my license renewal. I coughed. "However, the police might not see it the same way," he added. Ok, then.

"Let me check the wait time at your local office," he said. "Let's see - the Thousand Oaks office has a wait time of approximately...." he paused. And paused. And paused. "Three minutes."

"So I can either wait three weeks for an appointment, or go in there now and wait three minutes?"


"Hmmm...I'll have to think about this. Thanks." I hung up and got in the car.

I walked in and was given a ticket with a number on it, something insanely high like 6,302. Luckily I brought with me two books, lunch, a snack, and several bottles of water. Before I could cross the room, an electronic voice called my number. Approximate wait time was less than zero. This was getting weird.

After an eye test (shouldn't it be an "EYES test?" We have two of them), I paid by check, putting "2008" on it instead of "2009." Now I was doomed - sure to be put in a line for numb-numbered knuckleheads, made to stare at a huge calendar for an hour or so until I got it right. Nope. Just a polite chuckle at my goof. Then on to get my picture taken.

Just a notch above mug shots, driver's license photos are notorious for being unflattering. Maybe after a long wait, people are awakened by the bright flash, hence the classic deer-in-the-headlights driver's license stare. Not at this DMV office. A lovely older woman sporting a charming smile and a yellow, stuffed lizard took my photo. Who can resist smiling back at a lady who reminds you of your Nana? Especially when she's waving a bright yellow lizard at you.

The only wait involved in the whole process was the DMV waiting for me. It probably took you longer to read this column than it did for me to renew my license. Approximately.

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