Now serving G 294, said the nice robot lady. I was G 208. Had I fallen asleep and slept through 86 numbers? No. Was I sure I was G 208? YES. For the past 15 minutes I had abandoned my old identity and fully embraced G 208, desperate for my new name to be called.
Yes, it was another exciting afternoon at the poetically named Hennepin County Service Center (“Where ‘service’ is almost our middle name”). Objective: that quadrennial reminder of how much hair you’ve lost or wrinkles you’ve gained. The driver’s license.
You can do everything online but this. But that’s good! Here’s why it’s awesome:
1. It’s one of the few shared experiences where you can sit in a room with people of all shapes, sizes, ethnic origins, creeds, and be utterly bored together. Well, that and an Adam Sandler movie. You are united in purpose — to just get out of here with a magic piece of paper — and occasionally you are united by something that reminds you all of your common humanity.
Specifically, how much you don’t like it. There were the two kids in the play area, one of whom is screaming like she’s halfway swallowed by an anaconda, and another who’s slamming the steering wheel in the play-pit from side to side yelling, “CHOO CHOO CHOO CHOO.”
Everyone looks around to see who’s the mom. Who’s paying no attention at all? That’s her.
2. You are reminded how good we have it. Number G 294 was followed by G 295 in just a few minutes.
Think about that. Someone had a problem. The clerk solved it. The person left. NEXT! That’s the way it’s supposed to be, right?
Well. When I lived in Washington, D.C., a trip to the DMV was regarded like an Antarctic trek in your underwear with half a Slim Jim for supplies. The staff acted as if eye contact would turn one of you to stone and it dang sure wasn’t going to be her, and if it was you there’d be paperwork.
A clerk would look at your paper, frown, disappear to the backroom for however long it took to find the right form or watch a segment of Jerry Springer; when she came back, you would get a stamp on your form indicating you had had your form stamped by the Department of Form Stamping, which permitted you to advance to the Department of Form Stamp Inspection, and so on.
When you got to the last step, the picture-taking, you expected one of those caricature artists who gives everyone big heads and buck teeth, because it was doubtful that newfangled daguerreotype had reached them yet. But no: they used some sort of Polaroid camera the size of a steamer trunk, and work rules said the pictures had to be waved 40 times, and the Official Waver had a wrist-brace from repetitive motion injury and could only wave it once between two-minute breaks.
I got my passport stamped to get into Russia faster. People advance to the 33rd degree of Freemasonry quicker. Everyone’s picture looks like your ID is from a refugee camp typhus ward. The DMV was supposedly computerized, but an exposé later revealed the mainframe to be just a typewriter, a TV set and an abacus in a cardboard box.
My experience at Hennepin County Service Centers over the years has never been anything but brisk, courteous and efficient. No jokes; no chitchat, because that slows things down. STAMP STAMP RIP OK, over here for the eye test.
Can you read the top line? It really should be S T O P, when you think about it, but it’s something like FKDX. On which sides are the lights flashing? Trick question! Both sides. I pass, which means that if I’m ever driving toward a guy holding an orange sign that says FKDX and two ambulances are flanking me at high speed, I’ll know what to do.
There should be another part of the license test, in which you’re asked to text someone, and your license is immediately revoked and a bouncer escorts you by the collar to the nearest bus stop, and does that hand-dusting motion with his hands after he drops you.
Next: picture time. I always want to make an expression that indicates nervous tension and eagerness to please, because that’s what the officer is going to see when he asks for my license, and he’d think oh, he always looks like this. Flash! The picture shows up on the monitor and you realize the camera has three settings: Harsh, Unsparing and Cruel.
You take it again on the Harsh setting. Doesn’t matter. You still look like the shot between the “before” and “after” in a Faces of Meth PSA.
And that’s it! Out in four minutes. Incredibly efficient. It makes you want to scream. Stop confounding my clichéd assumptions about unresponsive public servants! What am I supposed to complain about?