There are certain, unpleasant tasks in life that we all have to do at one time or another. From going to the dentist to showing up for jury duty to bending over for a colonoscopy, these chores are such a hassle and can be so agonizing that the only thing we can do is smile, bite our tongues and hope it doesn’t hurt too badly.
So that’s exactly what I tried to do on my recent trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Having relocated to a new state nearly a year ago, I decided it was finally time to switch my driver’s license and car registration to my current residence. And while I was not wild about severing these ties to my home state of Texas, the nostalgic disappointment I felt would soon be dwarfed by the mental and emotional anguish I was about to experience.
When I told people what I was attempting to do, they inevitably responded with a laugh and a sucks-to-be-you shake of the head. And I couldn’t disagree with them. Dealing with the government is never fun. They’re slow. They’re apathetic. And even though your tax dollars pay their salary, they would rather serve as a speed bump on their driver’s test course than go out of their way to help you.
Knowing this, I did everything I could to be fully prepared for my impending mission. I pored over their website like I was trying to crack the Da Vinci code, making sure that I had the correct type and adequate amount of each of the required documents. I wanted to be ready for any question or problem that might arise.
Once I accumulated everything – my passport, my social security card, my W-2 and two documents that proved residency – I set out for my neighborhood branch. Unable to go first-thing in the morning, I decided to show up in the mid-afternoon, hoping I could avoid the crowds by slipping in that window of time between the lunch and after-work rushes.
I mean, how many people could possibly need a license at 2:30pm on a rainy Thursday afternoon?
A lot, it turns out.
After checking in at the information desk – where they confirmed I had the proper paperwork – I took my ticket and sat down in the waiting area. I stared at the hanging TV screens, attempting to make sense of their system of jumbled letters and numbers to determine how many people were in front of me.
Ten minutes and a headache later, I estimated that I was approximately 80th in line.
After reading just a few pages of the book I’d brought, my eyelids began to get heavy. Because I had so much important personal information with me that could easily be stolen – and because I didn’t want to fall asleep on the scuzzy biker chick one seat over – I figured it’d be best if I came up with a different way to pass the time.
So I started observing my surroundings – the employees going through their motions, the mopes seated around me, the half-conscious security guard – and one thing became abundantly clear: nobody wanted to be here. It was a miserable environment.
The only ray of sunshine came from the 16-year-old who was about to get her license for the first time.
Slowly, with time dragging on, I got sucked into this void of negativity. My positive, do-what-you-gotta-do attitude gave way to frustration and anger. I reached the point where I hated everyone and everything in sight. Every time a person took exceedingly long at a window, every time someone disrupted the flow of the operation by asking a question when it wasn’t their turn, every time a clerk got up for a break (which was every 20 minutes), every time the automated announcer called a number that wasn’t mine, I felt like taking the “Now Serving” monitor and slamming it over my head.
Finally, after two hours of seething, I was summoned to window No. 4. Despite all of my research and preparation, a sense of uneasiness came over me as I laid my papers on the table. I couldn’t help but expect the worst.
Sure enough, the clerk examined my documents…then got up to go talk to her supervisor.
“Is there a problem?” I asked when she returned.
“Your passport has the name ‘Brent J’ and your driver’s license has the name ‘Brent Jason’,” she said. “Therefore, we can’t accept your passport as valid proof of identification.”
Every corner of my body became charged with rage, as homicidal visions swirled in my mind. The attendant’s blank, unsympathetic stare only fueled my fire, and I was so flustered that I could only manage a “Thanks a lot,” before storming out of the building.
But had I been able to construct a coherent thought, I probably would have asked why this discrepancy hadn’t been caught at the initial check-in, before I flushed two hours of my life away…or why my social security card or W-2 form didn’t count for anything… or if she was worried that my middle initial “J” stood for “Jihad”…or why MY PICTURE on the “conflicting” documents was not proof enough that I was who I claimed to be.
Not that saying any of that would’ve made a difference. Expecting the government to use common sense is like trying to convince Cialis that it’s impossible for a 65-year-old couple to carry two bathtubs into a meadow…it’s just not going to happen. Everything is black and white, and you’re completely at their mercy. If they think there’s a problem, no matter how miniscule, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to change the situation. All you can do is meet their ridiculous requirements.
In order to do that, I had my dad over-night my birth certificate to me, and I returned to the DMV the next day. As I waited in line, brimming with confidence, I was certain I would be successful. After all, I had the original document. It’s what my parents received on the day I was born. It had imprints of my feet on the back, for heaven’s sake.
They couldn’t say no to this, could they?
But that’s exactly what they did. Because the document was issued by the hospital – and not the state of Texas – the DMV had no use for it. I thought about taking off my shoe and slamming my foot on the counter for comparison, but I resisted the urge.
So now, I’m left to await the arrival of the certified copy of my birth certificate that I ordered from another government agency – the Department of Vital Statistics. I think I filled out the form correctly, and I think I made my check out properly, but the instructions weren’t very clear, so who knows if it will ever get here.
Not surprisingly, when I called to see if my request had been processed, nobody could tell me anything.
Over the two-and-a-half hours I have now spent at the DMV, I’ve seen an endless stream of people get called to a window, smile for the camera and get issued a driver’s license, while I’m still left out in the cold. I guess they were smart enough and prophetic enough to fill out every application, every official document – middle name included – in a uniform manner.
I understand the government has these rules in place to protect us, and sometimes, they can be extremely intrusive and inconvenient. And that’s okay. After 9/11, I’m willing to put up with whatever measures are deemed necessary to keep us safe.
That’s why I believe the President should deputize the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration to oversee the Department of Homeland Security. They’re deliberate, they’re unflinching and absolutely nothing gets by them.
After all, if they can protect their citizens from a hardened criminal like me, Al Qaeda shouldn’t stand a chance.
- "It's not a lie, if you believe it." Those were the words of one of my generation's great sages, George Costanza, and the more of life I experience, the truer they ring. And while I still haven't found what I'm looking for, the search for my own personal "truths" is never-ending. Care to come along for the ride?