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The DMV as an Allegory of American Decadence


I suppose that nearly every adult (I’ll come back to that “nearly”) has his DMV story. The endless lines, the surly clerks, the insufferable atmosphere of bureaucratic imperiousness.

My latest encounter with the DMV was just the other day when I went to renew my driver’s license. I looked up our local emporium on the internet and read that Tuesday and Friday mornings tended to be the least busy times. Hot dog: It was Friday morning right now!

The elaborate communication I received in the mail from the DMV worried me a little. No longer was renewing your license simply, you know, renewing your license: handing in the one about to expire and getting a new one. That’s so yesterday. Now, because of “new federal guidelines,” you had a choice.  You could opt for a “regular renewal,” which was like renewals of yore, except that your license wouldn’t count as a form of identification for such things as domestic flights.  Or you could opt for a “verified renewal,” in which case it would serve as a form of identification. “I’ll take one ‘verified,’ straight-up, please.”

Not so fast. The process of verification is a process indeed. You needed a passport or some other certifiable form of identification. You needed 2 (two) pieces of mail addressed to you at your home address, and such addresses had to be computer generated, i.e., not handwritten or typed.  You also needed — pay attention now — your Social Security card. Failing that, I later discovered, a copy of your W2 or a 1099 IRS would do.

You know the old adage, “Haste makes waste.” Guess what? It’s true. I scurried down to the DMV yesterday morning. I had my current license. I had my passport. I had 2 (two) utility bills addressed to me. I did not have my Social Security card (do you?) nor, cutting to the chase, did I have a copy of my W2 or any 1099 forms. In my haste, I skimmed right over that requirement. I would have thought that a current license, a passport, and two pieces of mail addressed to me would go pretty far in “verifying” that the R. Kimball in front of you was, in fact, the R. Kimball he said he was.

You can see how this ends.  This being Friday morning, a light-traffic day at the DMV, I stood in the information line for only about 1 hour.  Everybody has to stand in the information line. It’s there, I think, just to soften you up. When you get to the front, a bureaucrat asks you what you want and then gives you a number. This number entitles you to move to another part of the room and sit down to wait for a different bureaucrat who will actually act on your request. That was another hour.

So: two hours on a lovely summer morning, summer solstice, in fact, the longest day of the year, which was nice, because more than two hours of it were devoted to waiting at the DMV.  When my number was finally called, I zipped up to the window, smiled, and asked for one renewed license, verified, hold the olives.

Ha ha ha.