Thursday, March 20, 2008

Breakfast at the DMV

A dry-erase board in the lobby of the DMV warns: "Wait time can be 10 minutes to 3 hours." And then a long list of exceptions follows, enumerating the many ways that THE WAIT CAN BE LONGER ....
* If there is a high volume of people taking the test.
* If a low number of examiners is available.
* If the computers are down.
In other words, "just have a seat, and we'll get to you when and IF we feel like it. Or not." It was scrawled in blood.

This is an account of actual events that transpired when I took my 16-year-old to get her license. Our "sales associate" or "customer relations specialist" was Soup Nazi's first cousin, License Exam Nazi, a.k.a. Meanie McMeanster. She comes from the House of Crazy Control Freaks and lives in the land of Bureaucracy.
"I need to see your vehicle registration."
I proudly handed her the papers and tag that I had paid for only 10 MINUTES EARLIER, being the Deadline Girl that I am.
"I don't need to see your tag."
"Oh, yes, ma'am. I'm sorry. So very sorry." Hands shaking, I pulled out the registration paper as she tilted her head back and tossed peanuts into her mouth. She then looked at my paper with such scrutiny, I was certain I had somehow registered the wrong car and that I would be cuffed and tossed into a jail cell, to die hungry and alone. She handed me the paper.
"I hate to ask you this," I asked, "but, um, should I put this in the car now, before the driving test?"
"Yes, put it in the car, and put the tag in the back window."
So I did as I was told (who wouldn't?), walked to the parking lot, put the paper in the glove box and the tag in the back window and returned to the lobby. My daughter came out of the exam area and into the lobby and whispered, "She needs to see you."
Everyone in the lobby took a collective deep breath. I stood and sniffed and mustered as much courage as I could, walked through the door and approached her desk.
"Where's your vehicle registration?"
"Um, it's in the ... car?"
She laughed like she was the Great and Powerful Oz. I cowered and ran to the parking lot as if I were responsible for detonating a bomb, or else the entire building would blow, with my oldest child chained to a metal office chair, tears running down her cheeks and a handkerchief in her mouth.

I delivered the paper to the License Exam Nazi like I was presenting her with the body of the enemy. She looked pleased. I half-smiled and swaggered to the lobby, with armpit sweat marks on my shirt and a slight mascara problem on my face.

For the next 30 minutes or two hours or the entire day (time stood still, so who knows), the lobby was filled with a great deal of inappropriate laughter. Everything, it seemed, garnered a canned laugh track -- CNN on the TV in the corner, the opening of a door, the pop of a soda top. None of these things were funny; it was like whistling in a graveyard -- it makes you feel better and helps you forget where you REALLY are. Takes the edge off. When a mom and son left after earning his learner's permit, I waved and yelled, "Hey, best of luck to you! We'll be here when you come back in a year for your driver's test! We'll be the skeletons propped up in the corner with cobwebs hanging from our arms!" It brought the house down. But then again, their standards weren't very high.

When my next child takes his driver's license test, I will help the next generation of test-takers and their parents with my own dry-erase board. I will display it on an easel in the lobby, next to a basket of complimentary healthy snacks and cans of Diet Dr. Pepper. The instructions on the easel:

* Use only these phrases: "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am."
* Avert your eyes. Do not look directly at the examiner. You may otherwise turn to stone.
* Be humble. As if your life depends on it. Because it might.
* In the event of a high volume of people taking the test, help yourself to a snack. We don't want anyone falling out!
* If the computers are down, no worries. Help yourself to a deck of cards or a board game, like Aggravation or Trouble. (How appropriate!)
* Let's keep in mind that these nice people hold the keys (no pun intended) to your kid being able to drive to the grocery store for you. So, be nice!