Sunday, August 09, 2009

The DMV and riff-raff

The license has expired. It's been a decade at least, and then suddenly it came. Quick. Too quick. "Shit, now I have to go to the DMV!" Maybe I can renew it online. Login. Click, clack, sigh. Sorry can't do it. Next up a call goes in to the labyrinth of hell. "Your wait will be about 10 minutes, please hold or call back at another time," was the voice on the other side. Probably from a guy who no longer works there, but Jenny in the "operations" department thought José's voice sounded perfect for the recording. Since then José has left for greener pastures to work in the jury room of the Sacramento county court house. Onward.

I wait. Put the phone on speaker, burn my shitty AT&T minutes and hope that something will come from it. Finally, a voice. Annoyed, disgruntled, flat-out wondering why I have disrupted her morning. I can hear it in her tone. I get through it, make the appointment for July 29, 2009 at 10:30 am. Sweet, an appointment. Like with any appointment this will go well. Wait, like most appointments in the real world, this means nothing, zero, zip, nada. Go the dentist for the 9:30 am on a Monday, and it soon becomes the 10:30 am. Same with the car dealership and everything else. But here's the reality: if I went by this motto and arrived an hour later it would be just my luck that the dentist, or doctor or pissed-off DMV employee would somehow, magically, by the grace of God, be on time and have the best performance day of their career. Can't use that motto Skippy. Gotta go earlier than 10:30 am, maybe 9:45. I do.

I get there at 9:45 am. Pull into the driveway and park. I head over to the line that is always there, any day, all day, all the time, forever. Why is there a line forever? Who are all these people? Why do they all look like they just fell out of bed, or jail, or came from a fight? The DMV seems to be full of riff-raff. I said it, and I believe it. I am going on the shallow assumption of initial appearance but I survey the crowd and make grand assumptions below my breath: "That crazy looking Asian kid was caught with pot, speeding and wrecked his lowered Acura," "That beat looking white trash woman lost her license because her dirty boyfriend got a DUI and she was holding the Schnapps." Everyone, in my head, has a tragic story pinned to their shirt. Likely most are here to do what I am doing, renewing my license. Others like the fresh-faced teen is getting her driving permit or license. And that old man over there with no teeth is taking a test. Where's his huge Lincoln Town Car, I wonder.

This line, do I have to stand in it? I go to the front and ask the tiny Asian dude who is the master of ceremonies. He's directing people here, there, down there, back over there and on and on. Most have to stay in line while he directs me to sit on the bench, the dirty one over there with the other people and the discarded Carl's Jr. cups and wrappers that for some reason the jackass who brought it couldn't put it in the trash can three steps away. I push it aside. We are the appointment crew. The smart one's who made the choice to get a time and not the retards who decided that standing in line was the best choice. He asks in broken English: "Wuh ime you hab pointmen?" "10:00 my friend." "Ohhhhh you too ewlee."

So I sit and wait. I make eye contact with the maestro so he doesn't forget me. He looks at me with a face that says to me, "You stupi whi boy. Come too ewlee. Naw tin clock yeh. Phhhh." Finally he orders me to a line. I head down rambling through people, jockeying for position in the appointment line where the clerk behind the fiberglass processes my information and gives me a computer generated number. I am now "G14". I sit in the dreary waiting room while people on my right wait for their own stuff: taking a driver's test. The computer screen and computer voice spit out numbers, it seems, at random: "A20, D25, G10..." There's no science to it. It's pure American inefficiency. If it were Germany the place would be organized and rebuilt from the ground up with concierge and a beer garden. Here I am in Pasadena in a run down 1970's building with build-out upon build-out. Sitting there makes me wonder about infrastructure and service. "Sure we are rich and powerful, but we can't even figure this basic shit out?" Finally "G14, window 25." That was easy. Shouldn't doubt my country!

Up to the window and 20-something Asian guy process my stuff, one finger type at a time. He must be new, or maybe they don't expect a lot from Window 25 guy. Whatever. He asks me to read the top two lines of letters to "test" my vision. It's five feet away and the type is huge. Easy. What a joke. If you need glasses to read those things, you are in deep trouble. Off to the next line where I get my picture.

Around the corner and past all the snarling riff-raff I get to the picture line. A couple people in front of me touch up faces and the old Asian man currently talking to the picture clerk can't speak a lick of English. His USC-educated son is translating. "Now you have to take a picture. A picture. A picture, dad." I am assuming he's saying this but I don't know for sure because, well, he's speaking Chinese.

My turn. I scribble my signature on the disintegrating digital pad. Do it once. "No good" says clerk. Do it a second time and the end result is half print, half cursive that looks like a 7-year-old did it. Whatever, take my picture. Snap. "Looks good" says picture clerk. What a dreadful job he has. "Four to six weeks, you will get it." What the fuck takes so long. Isn't it essentially done right there? I don't get it. Why not five weeks? Or two days?

Two weeks later I get it. Looks nice, though I am rounder in my face and heavier in my weight listing. I remember thinking when I filled out the information: "Oh man, I would love to be 155 pounds still. Should I put that in there? That's what my old one said. Nope, can't do it." Didn't.

Two-thousand-fourteen is when my new license expires. I can bet with certainty that the DMV will have the same type of people, the same lines, the same chaos, the same dirty building and the same (well different people) type of grumpy, somber people working there.