A regular day at the DMV

By L.A. Smith

It was the last day of the decade and a lone Christmas tree covered in miniature license plates sat in the corner of the theater sized waiting area of the DMV, Anchorage. It was filled to a capacity that threatened to alarm the local Fire Marshall at any minute. The waiting line was out the door. Apparently the entire population of Anchorage had work off today and required service from the DMV.

Who knew this was the place to be today? Sometimes when I am so bogged down in waiting lines and crowds, I think to myself, “Look at you girl! You picked the most popular place in the state to be this morning! Who says you are old? Who says you ain’t hip? You still got it going on.” Yeah, its crap, but the alternative option of just plain griping and bitching and recognizing that I’m just one more older person standing in a really long line waiting for service doesn’t help one bit.

The guy in front of me (my line mate, I’ll call him) is fairly well dressed, looks respectable by business standards, and had the same incredulous look on his face that I wore when I first walked into this mess. “Holy Cow! Half of Anchorage must be here today!” I scanned the room while he nodded in confirmation.

He asked for the same thing as me, Real ID. As if my prior license was a complete and total fake. How odd! Actually, I Iost my driver’s license the week before Christmas buying spirits at the liquor store. Imagine that. Since I found myself in need of a new license anyway, I figured now would be as good a time as any to get the new required for travel, Real ID.

Looking around the room of waiters — people waiting — not serving, I note there is pretty much every walk of life here at the DMV. Most of the people here are not in my inner circle of friends, and I am not in theirs. That is not a bad thing, just notable. For example, my initial point of contact after my line mate, and after having obtained the appropriate paperwork and my precious call number, was a man unfamiliar with bathing. The only open seat in the waiting room that I quickly procured was not the luck I thought it was.

His clothing pretty much wore him – with authority. My sense of smell did not acclimate, as is the norm when fragrantly assaulted. Nope. Each new inhalation was a repeat of amazement and an opportunity to try to locate and describe just when and where in this lifetime I ever encountered such aromas. Just about the time I thought I might have an idea that related to a natural human motion, his number was called.

More stunning than the aroma, I discovered that he was here with a rather tidy looking woman of age similar to his, whom I took to be his wife or significant other. They both moved to station 2 in unison. She must have found a way to overcome/adapt the aroma. Or, perhaps she liked it? Like I said, all sorts of people at the DMV.

I noted according to the TV screen that kept a running record of open service stations and numbers, the aromatic couple must have been lucky number nineteen. I was forty eight. I shit you not. I had a ways to go in the swirling mix of humanity. I looked around trying to expand my inner circle of friends.

No sooner had Mr. Nature moved from his seat then a much tidier woman filled his spot. She was glued to her phone as if it held the answers to the mysteries of life. Still one remaining seat was open where Mrs. Nature had sat. A young African American gentleman, who had been sitting immediately across from the seat, stood, pivoted and plopped his behind into the seat. Hmm. Interesting. He switched seats, I noted and wondered immediately, why did he move?

It took little more than a brief accounting of his prior seat to realize why he had made the switch. It was what I call the ‘airplane phenomena’. You know what I’m talking about if you’ve flown on an airline in the past decade. It’s that thing where you pay an ungodly amount of money for a seat with a thin cushion to take you from one location to another while you sit trapped within the space for anywhere from one to six hours, as a general rule.

Meanwhile, the Real ID lines have been moving. I suspect the rapid succession of numbers is due to the fact that many people have simply given up on the waiting and exited the building long ago. We have jumped from 19 to 40 in quick order. I’ve got seven numbers to go before mine is called. I get excited and re-examine my bag of identifiers (yes, it requires a bag lest I drop an item or leave it behind and have to go through this amazing experience all over again). Do I have everything I need?

Jeez, you need a lot of stuff to prove that you are who you say you are. Some sort of driver’s license, which I mentioned that I don’t have. I brought a passport instead – up to date. I also brought my tax returns since I have no idea where my social security card might be (probably in my file marked personal stuff – that contains my will. That’s about how often I need my social security card). I also brought several bills that have my name and address that corresponds to my passport, thank God.

I realize that there is a lot of identity theft opportunities in this little bag. It worries me a bit more than I’d like to admit. In my excitement I lose control of the bag and it flings itself off the chair and onto the floor, spilling its private contents out for all to see and observe. Terrific. I’m not so hip after all. When you get older, that point may be immediately clear to most people around you, but it dawns on you much later in the encounter.

The waiting line is no longer out the door. That’s an improvement. The guy who was in line in front of me when I first arrived, my line mate, is called to a service station. Sure enough, they jumped to 47. I am excited now and clutching my bag, sure that I have every conceivable item they may ask for. I put my phone away and keep looking at the overhead TV screen willing it to call my number. Any minute now…

I observe my line mate pulling out all sorts of paperwork and presenting each piece to the woman at the counter. I wonder for the 10th time if I’ve forgotten anything. Older people forget shit all the time. I just don’t want to be that person, not yet. I overcompensate.

Nearly every person in the room has their face buried in a phone screen. Many are tapping wildly like me; probably to friends. I’m just tapping to myself talking about some of you – how petty, but interesting.

When I look around, I find that I am very grateful overall. I have a really expensive phone that could have landed Neil Armstrong on the moon in the sixties. I’m also glad that English is my primary language because this place is daunting enough. Many of the patrons here do not have that luxury. I’m also glad I have warm clothing and a place with running water and soap.

I have a lot of things. I do not have extra-long nails like the woman a few seats down and across from me. Even in the noise of the moment, I can hear them clicking loudly as she taps away at her phone. I also don’t have a parent hovering over me, throwing last minute quiz questions at me before I take my driver’s test. I don’t have a partner that ignores me or turns away from me when I ask a question.

I have a good life. My number is called. I go to my window where a very pleasant woman waits for me. She is patient and kind. I explain what I want and she already knows. Yes. I did complete my paperwork and here is my passport.

I hand over one item after another. They are all acceptable. I sigh with relief. I take a vision test and pass. Another hurdle cleared. She is tapping away on a computer inputting my very private data that I fear risks a hack at any moment. I clutch my bag overfilled with even more personal data, as if that will protect me. I look to my right where my line mate is still standing at his counter space waiting, and speaking in hushed irritated tones with his person at her desk.

He looks worried and red in the face, a little angry now. I’m worried for him a little. He may not get his Real ID. Who would he be then? I look to my DMV employee and wonder how she deals with this endless stream of humanity all day every day. This is no easy job, I admit to myself. I send her a smile when she looks up. “You just need to go to the photo booth now and get your picture taken for your new ID,” she informs me pleasantly.

I see my line mate is not moving on with his process and he is in fact, now openly angry. He is not very nice to his service person. I move from worry to shame for him and worry for his service person. This job must suck a great deal of the time. It’s a hard way to make a living. I certainly wouldn’t want to do it even though I too work with the public every day of my work life.

I look back to the gracious young woman who is helping me. “I’m done?” I’m stunned and look once more at the guy who is now openly arguing with his DMV gatekeeper. I think I can see security beginning to move in his direction.

“Yes. You are all done except for the photo part.” She points over my shoulder across the room.

“The booth that says photo, I suspect?” I inquire with a reasonable degree of certainty.

“That’s it!” Her job is done. My job with her is done.

“Thank you very much for your help. Have a terrific day. And, Happy New Year!”

Soon, I will be a real person again.

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