Wednesday, September 9, 2009


It was time to change from being a California driver to being a driver in New York.

The red tape ladies who answer the phone at the California Department of Motor Vehicles are real people, cordial, California sunshine friendly. Even sympathetic when you're, adjusting to bad news -- "I'm sorry, ma'am -- I'm afraid you can't renew by mail. Next time you come to L.A., give us a call, and we'll set up an appointment for you."

The red tape guys who answer the phone at the New York DMV are brusque, bored, unfriendly. They talk fast -- list what ID you'll need. "Go to the DMV at Herald Square, 9 a.m til 9 pm, first come first served."

I downloaded (from a huge, confusing list) the 44-1 application; wearing glasses on top of my contact lenses, filled it out in pencil before re-doing it, carefully, in ink.

Using my best brain, (the noggin of Em who can comprehend and conquer computer software instruction books), I assembled the required proofs plus 4 extra proofs, just in case.

At the entrance to the DMV office, below a sign saying "Applications,"there were two lines at 9:15 a.m.-- (36 people) waiting for the man at the desk.

Just beyond him was a line behind ropes, like a bank on pay day. Just about everyone was clutching 44-1 application. The sign overhead " Driver Licenses."

I stood. I picked out a man in a yellow T, who was approximately 55 bodies ahead of me, with about 80 bodies ahead of him and the desk where people got their photos taken. For two endless minutes nobody moved. (135 people, 2 minutes per person means 3 hours, I was thinking, when we moved again, and started moving a little every minute or so.

Trying not think about my aching back, checking my watch -- mentally reviewing my Thomas Tallis Dance, counting how many people dropped out, watching yellow T till he disappeared, two hours and seventeen minutes later, I was 5 bodies away from having my picture taken.

I dug for my hand mirror, didn't take it out -- I was too tired to do anything but smooth my hair with my hands.

After I handed the picture guy my papers, he scolded me. I mean scolded -- "You didn't sign this? What are you doing in this line?" (I tried to explain that I'd been told not to sign legal papers without an official seeing me sign.) "No, no! he snarled, and shoved a pen at me. While I signed he ruffled through my proofs. "No no, this isn't proof. No no, this is no good. No no, we can't accept a copy of a bill -- it's gotta be an original. No no, this envelope isn't proof. (It was an un-opened envelope with my name and address.) No no ... none of this stuff!"

I managed to say, "You mean, I have to get more proofs and stand in this line again?"

"Gotta have proof, lady -- you don't have proof, like a credit card?"

I handed it to him. Trembling (the card doesn't have my address on it), I watched him slide it through a charge machine. He started shoving my papers into a transparent plastic sock. He made a brush off gesture, and pointed -- "Go on, get back there!"

Glory be -- he was going to take my picture! I backed against the wall, stood on the mark on the floor, a light flashed. He handed me the plastic sock. "Sit over there, lady. Wait for your number to be called."

There were 5 wooden pews where people who'd been in line and the yellow T shirt guy were sitting. Looking up, they were watching the large electrified bulletin board that was flashing red numbers.

I'd stood in front of the picture guy for 12 minutes. It was great to be sitting while I waited 47 minutes for my number.

I had plenty of time to figure out that applicants had to proceed to the huge desk (it was fifty feet long), behind which stood an official person, with your number flashing above his desk.
I was aching, nervous, too tired to be angry or think about finding a rest-room. My number was flashing at the desk of a Latino woman who was sitting in a wheelchair. I put my papers down on the desk and pushed them forward. .

"No! Stay back!" She ordered me, not friendly, not smiling.

Frozen in front of her, I watched her take each paper from the plastic sock, and check it. She used a magnifier. She studied both sides of each paper. (Birth certificate, eye exam, application 44-1, a note stapled to it from the picture guy, my credit card, the top page of our 2005 tax return that I'd brought along "just in case."

Six items. With bated breath, I stood there watching, waiting for ten endless minutes for her life or death decree.

She had trouble sliding my credit card into her machine. (What's she checking? Oh my God, she's using it, charging me -- for what?)

She hit the machine. A paper typed out. She pushed a page and a pen toward me and pointed to a line. I signed. She handed me the typed paper.


"Oh thank you, thanks, thanks a lot," I gushed.

She nodded, and a teeny, tiny smile appeared on her mouth.

206 minutes of agony -- 3 ¾ hours -- if we were shooting a movie, you'd have noticed my hair turning grey, my face aging not 3 years.-- 30 years.

1 comment:

Carola said...

What an inhuman experience!!
In Olympia, the guys are kind of brusque, but they take pride in taking a good picture of you--so they work at it. Must be a little game for them to keep their work interesting.