Lileks: Our DMV: It works, darn it

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2014 - 11:59 PM

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?

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