I’ve never really been a fan of government systems because it’s been my experience they are slow, often inefficient and just take up way too much time of your day. I cringe at the thought of going to a county office to do something because I know I’m going to lose a day of my life. It’s just terrible.
Without question, however, there is one place that tops them all – the dreaded department of motor vehicles.
Just writing that makes my stomach turn yet it’s one of those necessary evils of our society that everyone has to endure because everyone needs an ID card at the very least if you want to be able to do anything.
You need an ID to vote. You need an ID to cash a check. You need an ID to get beer. You need an ID to get on a plane. You need an ID to go with the ATM card that has your picture on it. You need an ID to go to your kid’s elementary school when you sign in. I think in some places you even need an ID to fart in public places.
(Ok, that might be a lie, but it sure feels like it is very plausible in some backwoods town.)
You can’t do anything without an ID. You can only get one at the DMV. It’s the leash everyone has to have to the government whether you like it or not.
When I had to finally get my new California driver’s license, I tried to put it off as long as I could. I just didn’t want to have to drag myself through that kind of torture if I didn’t have to.
I’m not kidding. I really put it off.
I endured questions about what I was doing in California every time I was carded. I suffered through the many different eyebrow raises and squinty, examining eyes from clerks wondering what someone from Texas would be doing in San Jose. And, very much to my disappointment, I even sacrificed getting discounted rates at the golf course because I wasn’t a resident.
Despite all that, I just couldn’t bring myself to going to the DMV. I needed more time to build up my patience especially after hearing horror stories about California.
“You’ll probably want to clear off your entire day if you’re going to get your Cali license. They are pretty bad.”
“Oh man, you’re thinking about doing that? Good luck. I was there for 6 hours. It was terrible.”
“What? You’re going to just go without an appointment? You’re a fool! You better make an appointment and be ready to wait a couple months before getting scheduled. It’s going to take awhile.”
You have to be kidding me. Who wouldn’t freak out at that?
I was particularly fazed by the appointment notion. In Texas, it was a simple process where the early bird got the worm. The notion of having to TRY to get an appointment and then having to wait at least a month was just bonkers. Stupid California.
It wasn’t till December when I finally scheduled an appointment for just after the New Year. I figured it would be a great way to get 2014 started and it was also the only time I would be able to make an appointment for the very first thing in the morning. It was another tip I had been given because if I waited any later in the day, I might “have to spend the night with those crazies and you don’t want to do that, trust me.”
It’s funny the things you do and the thoughts that run through your mind the night before the dreaded day at the DMV. I must have checked all my paperwork at least a million times because there was no way I was leaving empty handed. One visit was going to be enough.
I even practiced my “license smile.” I didn’t want to look too much like a goof with a huge smile because, well, that’s just goofy. I also didn’t want to look too tough like an asshole. You don’t want to get into trouble someday and have your ID picture plastered all over the news and have people think, “Yeah, that guy DOES look like a criminal. He probably did it,” and then be screwed when it comes to your trial because all people think of is your asshole driver’s license picture from the news.
I also shaved off my beard. I didn’t want to have a crazy looking beard on my face because I was going to be stuck with this picture for at least 10 years. The thought of having people ask me a million times if that was really me in the picture seemed like too much of a chore.
On that Friday, I got up early, got dressed and left with plenty of time to beat traffic and still be at the DMV with 30 minutes to opening. As I drove up, my jaw dropped. It was 7:32 on a chilly morning and there had to be at least 50 people all lined up in single file waiting to get in the building. Everyone was cold and tightly gripped the coffee they bought from the food truck on the other side of the street.
Yes, there was a food truck. There was a taco truck, to be precise, and they were selling burritos and coffee. It just needed some music to come from the poorly attached speakers on the top of the truck and we would have had a party going.
“Café! Quien quiere un café,” yelled an older lady from the street as parent’s barked orders at their children to get them a cup of Joe while they stayed in line.
“Oh man, I’m fucked. The stories were true and I’m 50 deep in this line. Appointment system my ass California!”
Just before 8 am, an older, heavy-set lady with a ratty San Jose Sharks jacket walked out with a cart full of paperwork. Her glasses sat at the edge of her nose, her silver hair pulled back into a bun and her voice was raspy like Roz from Monsters Inc.
“Okay everyone,” she bellowed, “who’s here that has an appointment? … I SAID WHO IS HERE THAT HAS AN APPOINTMENT? I’m not going to ask again.”
“Holy shit, this lady needs some coffee from the taco truck, sheesh!” Like a little kid that’s been caught reaching into the cookie jar, I slowly raised my hand.
“Move over here in order of your appointment time,” she said as her voice crackled and she pointed to an empty planter. I walked quickly and was surprised to see only three other people begin to walk up as well.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “License? Fill this out. Read the instructions carefully, you’re not getting another copy.”
“Damn, she needs two cups and a burrito. She’s in a really bad mood.”
As she trolled the rest of the crowd, people became anxious about getting the process over and tempers began to flair, specifically the people at the front of the non-appointment line. Apparently a skinny kid walked up while I was filling out my paperwork (closely paying attention to detail) and got into an argument with a big black lady who looked like Tyler Perry’s Madea. She was big, loud and just angry that this “punk ass little kid just tried to cut in line and I ain’t having that shit this early in the morning.”
They argued a bit before Roz strolled back over to put out the fire. Apparently the kid was there early and another guy was holding his place in line while he went to the bathroom.
“Back of the line. NOW!” grumbled Roz and mumbled something else as she walked away. Problem solved.
After finally making it inside, there was another wonderful line waiting for me where I got an alpha-number combo ticket. I didn’t win the lottery but I found a seat and spent five excruciating minutes waiting to be called. Ironically, I was called to a window clear on the other side of the room and had all my paperwork reviewed.
While I was waiting, I looked around the DMV and began to notice something odd. Every employee there at 8:15 in the morning all looked like they had been out to the clubs the night before. Had the room been composed of workers in their 20’s, it would have made sense. Instead, the room was filled with grumpy, slow moving and half-asleep geriatric grandparents who looked like they needed a lot more than coffee to wake up. There were droopy eyes, feet shuffling on the old floor, and this putrid smell that permeated the air. It was like I was in an old folks home.
Sadly, this was my introduction to the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
It felt like 30 minutes had passed before he even asked me for my name that was clearly written on the application and on my Texas license. The decrepit old man looked up from his seat and said to take my application to window ADCTGWXDS-984239 on the other side of the room.
The side of the room I had originally sat down in.
Once I learned the window was hidden behind a counter and near a wall next to the entrance to the Twilight Zone, I handed the lady my paperwork. She glanced at me and told me to stand in the box and to just look forward. This was the moment of truth – the picture.
“Okay-ah, I a-want choo to look-a forward-ah,” she said in some un-discernable language that seemed to mesh English, Chinese and possibly something from a Scandinavian country. Or Spanish, but I’m not sure. I was utterly amazed I actually understood more than anything.
I began to smile, but not too big, before I heard a loud click like an old mechanical shutter. There was no flash and I began to move thinking the photo was taken.
“AHH ahh ahh, don’t-ah mooove-ah!”
Click, click, FLASH!
“Ah, fuck me!!!”
The lady shook her head as I stepped towards her. I knew it was a terrible picture immediately. The smirk on the lady’s face said it all.
“Can I see the picture? Please?” God please don’t let it be that bad, please!!
“Eh, it-ah looks-ah fine. No retake-ah.” Her smile grew wider, fucking sneaky old bitch.
Dammit, I knew it was bad and there was nothing I could do about it. I seriously began to think about how I could lose this ID, get another and have my picture retaken. Then I remembered I was at the DMV and there was no way I was coming back. If my logical portion of my brain could have pimp slapped me at that moment, it would have and then said, “Run for your life, bitch! Don’t look back!”
She printed out another paper and added it to the application, stamped it 20 times so all white areas of the paper were covered in red and said I would get the license in a week.
The torture was over and I could leave.
I didn’t say anything else, I turned and I ran. I ran ran faster than an Olympic 100 meter dash. If it weren’t’ for the terrible picture I just took, I would have yelled at everyone, “I’m out bitches, ha ha ha ha!!” Instead I left quietly and quickly. There was no time to gloat.
One week passed and just like I was told, my new California license came in the mail. I dreaded opening the letter.
I looked at the picture and sighed.
Instead of looking goofy or like a bad mo-fo, I look like a semi-smiling dumbass with fat rolls at my neck. Apparently at the moment of the picture, my brain tried to move me back but it didn’t work out. I moved my head back and my body didn’t. I might as well have had “short bus” stamped across the picture.
Stephanie looked at the card and said it wasn’t bad. I think she was just being nice.
Good grief, 10 years of fat neck and lazy eye to deal with.