Wednesday, May 12, 2010


More from my guest Al Carlos Hernandez.

A dog day afternoon … at the DMV.
By Al Carlos Hernandez

SAN FRANCISCO (Herald de Paris) - I spent the longest seventy-five minutes of my life at the Department of Motor Vehicles the other day. I viewed it as penance for not using new media and/or paying attention to snail mail directives. One would think that I had learned my lesson by now after the trauma I suffered that time I had to come back six times in one day to register a late model Fleetwood during my Superfly days.

The DMV is a place where everybody on both sides of the counter is angry, off the rack, unkempt and ready to rumble. They construct a DMV like a Russian union hall - stark, officious, and brooding in such a way as to punish working people for having used cars and lacking the ability to negotiate a Kafkaesque phone appointment system.

Thankfully most of our DMV business is handled on-line. I can now renew a car registration during an NBA time out. This time, however, it was different. I had to pick up license plates for my wife’s new car because they never sent them. She was right. You can only have those paper plates on the car so long before the neighbors think you stole it.

I knew there was going to be a problem when the DMV parking lot was filled with cars sporting homemade tinted windows looking like they needed salvage titles.

Once inside I was immediately sentenced to a snaking conga line of broke folks babbling in sixteen dialects, several of which I discerned where English. I waited to be issued a number and my fearful religious assumption was the number was going to be 666.

The procedure is simple: everyone lines up and goes to the information booth. You explain to them how stupid you are. They tell you where to go and wait. Make no mistake, everyone in the house has a problem, some of which include personal hygiene.

They issue you a number which determines the clerk who specializes in your particular problem. The bigger your problem, the meaner the dateless clerk to which they assign you.

I felt sorry for the holistic woman clerk, who’d given up on makeup, and whose AA degree had failed her, working the window. Distressed, hating her career counselors, and filled with angst, she curtly got on the phone and reported to someone that there were sixty-five people in our twenty-three person line. Somehow, up through a trap door or something, there appeared this rude woman who looked like the heifer that shot Selena. She was busting the line, slinging orders, handing out forms, and growling that the wait would be at least one solid hour.

The only people in the building happy to be there where the teenagers, who practiced their smiles for their first time driver’s license photo. I wanted desperately to inform them that they should not smile for the picture. It should be the intention of a driver’s license picture to convey to a potential arresting officer that you always look shot to the curb and somewhat faded. If your bright eyed, bushy tailed driver’s license picture looks dramatically different from your everyday mug, they are going to ask you to step out of the car. Believe that.

Bought the ticket, took the ride. My number: C81. I looked at the TV monitor. They were on C48. Could have been Si 48 for all I knew. Keeping my posture on the down low, I was standing next to a wall in the back since all the chairs were taken. Behind me was a house shoe wearing, gum cracking woman, babbling to someone on a cell phone and peppering her conversation with inane profanity. It occurred to me that mathematically there is a gum cracking equation. The louder you crack your gum, the greater the popping intervals, the lower the IQ. Based on her proficiency I was amazed she could walk up right. She didn’t consider her cracking an annoyance but rather as an attribute. Like working five hula hoops at once.

As a man of action, I decided to apply my knowledge of upper division math. I knew I had plenty of time to leave and go to the post office, the house, get something to eat and check email. I returned to the DMV thinking I beat the system and . . . they were on C53.

This time I stood on the other side of the room away from “Gumbalina” and listened to a cross section of tri-lingual conversations while gazing over a bouquet of faces colored with a general malaise. Slowly, one by one, numbers where called and people scurried to the counters to plead their cases Others quickly filled the booty-warmed plastic chairs. Time dragged on.

Then it was my turn. C81 at window 10. Now. Naturally, like a dork, I was standing next to window 23, so I had to walk as fast as I could - without running - across the facility before another number was called. If you start running, everyone else will run with you. Don’t ask me how I know that.

At window 10 was an auto registration veteran, who was clearly detached from the sullen madness all around her. She simply worked one procedure at a time and fixed my problem.

We all could learn a lesson from her.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Excuse the last post, I was logged in with the wrong account :-S
    Wow. I live in a small country town in Australia and your piece makes me grateful for our motor transport office (your DMV) - There's usually two friendly girls behind the counter and no other customers - it's a very chatty experience. My past life living in Sydney still haunts me with memories of taking a number and waiting desperately for it to be your turn as the day goes by. Felt back there when I read your post :-)

  3. Hi Charmaine. Actually, the piece takes place in America, and I'm in Canada. It's similar but different. If that makes sense. We call it the Motor Vehicle Branch. MVB.


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