12 Oct. 2006
SETI League
PriUPS Project

The Dog Days of the DMV

Tuesday came the day of dread.  It had been approaching for several years; I knew it would when I read the announcement that my home state of New Jersey was instituting a "digital driver's license."  When I moved to this state a couple of decades ago, I of course had to get a new license, although why the "of course" is the usual governmental mystery.  However I was pleased and delighted by the fact that all my interactions with the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission after this initial experience could and would be by post.  They offered the option of going to the DMV to obtain a photo license, or renewal by mail, which yielded a flimsy cardboard document.  I considered it unlikely that anyone would want to pretend to be me, and was never concerned that I didn't have a photo license.

Then came the terrorists and the terror of same.  Never mind that I don't look like a terrorist, or that after a moment's babble with me (listen to any of the MP3 files) it's clear that I don't sound like one, either.  (What I do sound like is another story.)  Mustn't discriminate!  Everybody needs a forgery-proof, photo license.  Have to go to the DMV to get one.  If that isn't terror, what is?

I assembled my documents:  Passport (4 points), FAA pilot's license (2 points).  Tellingly, my actual driver's license, the one issued by the State of NJ, counts for zero points.  I also had a letter, mailed to me by the DMV, that I was told to bring to the Ordeal.  It seems you need a document with your address on it along with the identity documents. 

I arrived at the DMV.  I knew this was going to be hell when I got to the parking lot and couldn't find an empty space until I had driven almost one third the length of the whole building, a distance of easily 100 feet from the front door.

I entered the building and immediately was faced by the receptionist.  Immediately is an exaggeration, of course.  There was someone ahead of me in line, and I had to wait almost twenty seconds before she got to me.  I told her I was there to "renew and get a digital license."  She cast a pitying glance at me, reached into a cubbyhole, and transferred to me a small slip of paper with the fateful digits "229" limned in yellow highlighter.  I was directed to take a seat in a large pen of row after row of metal chairs.

"222" I heard a woman call out.  I sighed and unlimbered the newspaper, realizing that I would be stuck in that seat for a whole story, or at least many column inches.  Sure enough 223, 224, 225 went by with agonizing slowness.  They didn't reach 229 for almost three minutes, an eternity when you're sitting in a nasty metal chair in a government office.  Finally, my number was called...

"Me me me!" I asserted, and a government employee took a seat next to me.  With steely eyes and the weight of bureaucracy, she demanded my ID documents.  I handed them to her, and she took them over to a desk for consultation.  I immediately knew there was Something Wrong.  She came back bearing the paper that the DMV itself sent me:  "This has no date on it," she asserted.  While watching my life flash before me, I mustered what insouciance I could and told her that the paper in question was what I was told, specifically, by the very same bureaucracy, to fetch.  "Don't you have a letter with a date on it?"  But of course I didn't, because I was told that what I did have would suffice.  Finally, after another interminable consultation with the Desk People, I was permitted to substitute an insurance card.  My documents were in order.

Sit on the other side now, I was ordered.  Wait for your number to be called.  Another interminable minute passed before I was directed to a line.  No seat this time.  Not only did I have to stand, there were people ahead of me, and I could see the line was crawling.  It took longeranother two minutes this timeto reach the front of the line.  And despite being forced to stand in what felt like 72 degree (F) heat, there were no refreshments offered or even in sight.

Finally, at the front of the line, I was pressed to deliver money to another bureaucrat.  Fortunately I had exact change, or who knows what might have happened.  "Stand there!  Look here!"  FLASH!  I was assaulted by a light so bright that it was milliseconds before I was able to see normally again.  "Go stand by the side."  By then my spirit was flagging, for I knew I would have to wait yet again before I would be able to leave this cavernous edifice.  A minute passed...

My name was called!  I was handed my precious documents!  I could drive!  I could leave the country!  I could fly an airplane!  I could discard the stupid undated letter!  I was a Free Motorist! But as I emerged from the Agency of Doom into the welcoming New Jersey sunlight, I was faced by the final indignity:  I looked at the photograph on my new "digital" license as I put it in my wallet.  Yes:  The photograph, the one that I will be showing for the next six years, tragically looks just like me.

Richard Factor

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