Tim WhytePauline HartePatti RasmussenRichard RiouxLeon Worden

Black N Whyte

Playing hooky at the DMV

Tim Whyte · February 23, 1997

It was a great day to play hooky. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. A gentle breeze took the edge off a premature spring-like warmth. I'm getting older now, so sometimes, on days such as this, I find myself in pursuit of peaceful, tranquil activities; excursions that aren't as much adventures as they are moments of reflection, time to be alone with one's thoughts, away from the hectic pace of work and raising a family.

So I went to the DMV.

It was my birthday yesterday, so on Friday I had to go to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver's license renewed. I was fortunate in that the DMV for some reason sent me a letter saying all I had to do was pass a self-administered, self-scored test, and no, I need not submit the test to the DMV. Then, all I'd have to do is pay 12 bucks and get my picture taken, then voila, one of those new credit card-style, magnetic stripe driver's licenses would soon arrive in my mailbox. No road test, no written exam to score, no eye test.

I guess they have yet to hear about that ticket I got a couple of weeks ago.

My trip had all the markings of a disaster when I pulled into the parking lot and found there were only two available parking spots, almost right next to each other. The guy in front of me passed the first one, then, rather than just pulling into the second one, he changed his mind and backed up to pull into the first one. He made me back up, too. Then he and his girlfriend walked extra quickly to beat me to the door.

They must be aware of the theory that, for every minute you delay arriving at the DMV, you stand the chance of delaying your exit by five. It's one of those mysteries of math that can only be solved by complex geometric equations.

I had no appointment, so I would have to wait. I got in line. There were four people in front of me, counting the baby in a stroller. I was surprised when the baby's mother, who had been a few feet away filling out paperwork at the counter, reached around me to pull the stroller toward her.

Now there were three people in front of me -- this line was really flying -- and I wasn't sure if the baby's mother was miffed because she had hoped the stroller would hold her place in line.

Heck, maybe she just thought she'd put her daughter in line for the driver's test now, and by the time she got to the front of the line....

OK, that was a cheap shot at the DMV stereotypes. Actually, things have improved a bit at the ol' DMV. It was better than I expected, especially considering the fact that, when I first walked in, I saw a DMV employee who, I swear, was there when I got my original license back in 19-whatever. I was convinced he hadn't moved more than a foot since then.

"ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOP..." sang a little girl, behind me in line, not missing a single letter. She was quite good, and I found myself humming along. The guy in the Harley Davidson jacket gave me a strange look, so I stopped. I turned my thoughts to the driver's license in my wallet that, in a matter of moments, was about to become invalid after being used for ... oh, quite a while.

Some of the information, originally submitted to this very DMV office on my 16th birthday, was still correct. Hair, still mostly brown ... the address was different, but the correct one was on the extension ... height, still a bit over 6 feet ... weight ....

Yeah, a few things had changed.

There was a barefoot guy standing in one of the other lines. He was wearing a stars-and-stripes bandanna, an In-N-Out Burger T-shirt, and he had one of those serial killer beards.

Barefoot at the DMV.

There was a security guard wearing dark glasses. He could have been sleeping. I'm not sure. Aside from the guy with the bandanna, I wasn't sure why the SClarita DMV needs a security guard. "Register my minivan NOW, or the picture lady eats lead!"

There were two windows serving the line in which I was standing. Just as I reached the front, one of the expressionless clerks went on her lunch break.

But the wait wasn't all that long. The other expressionless clerk took care of the paperwork and sent me to the next window, where I waited to be booked -- er, have my picture taken.

They take your thumb print now. There's this little electronic gadget on the counter, and you put your thumb on it. It reads your thumb print, no gooey ink to stain your fingers as a tell-tale sign you've been to the big house.

That threw me off, and when I stepped back to have my picture taken, I nearly knocked over the backdrop. A young couple waiting in line laughed at me. "Silly old man," they were thinking.

And it was done. I was free to go.

Jokes aside, it took much less time to get my license renewed than I thought it would. No one was breaking any speed records behind the counter, but on the whole, it wasn't an unpleasantly long wait. The entire experience took 30 minutes -- 28 minutes waiting, two minutes being served. I had time to think about where I'm going to build that shelf to hold my Star Wars action figures, and I did a mental run-through of my taxes -- a thoroughly depressing act, but I think I found a new deduction or two.

I started writing this column in my mind and decided that, if there are any disgruntled DMV workers who are angered by it, they can track me down in my old '53 Ford pickup with the "Mr. SCV" license plate. My column picture looks nothing like me, and sometimes I answer if you call me "John."

What a wonderful walk in the park this was, my sojourn to the DMV office. And yes. I made an illegal left turn on the way out.

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