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Article posted Jul 06 2012, 2:46 AM Category: Commentary Source: Scott Clifton Print

Here Not To Serve You

by Scott Clifton

Thereís no way around it: I have to go through waterboarding. Actually, my daughter and I have to go to the local Department of Motor Vehicles to get her learnerís permit. Weíre excited, but bummed about the prospect of waiting in one of those DMV lines. But wait Ė isnít this the computer age? Itís been years since Iíve been in one of those buildings; maybe today things will be different!

1:15 Ė We arrive at the DMV. Office hours are posted: Monday through Friday 8:00-4:30, closed on Saturday. Hmmm. Isnít Saturday the day most people could come in and renew their license without missing work? The left door of the double entrance doors is locked for no discernible purpose, so I try the other one. Success! This is a good sign.

About 15 people are lined up in a hall outside the door of a waiting room, and about 15 more sit inside the room. We get in the hall line and stand there for a few minutes before someone in line tells us, "You have to register inside first." I look around for a sign that points out this somewhat important detail. There is none. But in the hall on a door that looks like a restroom door I see a plaque that has on it this exact word: "Mens." This is a not a good sign.

1:21 Ė "Hello!" I say to the guy at the counter in the most friendly way I can think of. "Yes?" he replies, with the same cheerful, glad-to-see-ya expression a person might use while facing a mugger. "Weíre here to get a learnerís permit for my daughter!" I tell him. Counter Guy takes all our forms and scrutinizes them, regularly delivering the approximate same grunting sounds someone makes when heís having his teeth scraped. "I canít do anything with this Ė you were supposed to have this form signed! Itís not signed! Youíll have to come back when this is signed!" he barks. Gritting my teeth into what I hope is still a smile, I answer, "Well, Iíll sign the form right now for you," a declaration that has the same effect on Counter Guy as though I had announced it to a fire hydrant. "Sheís homeschooled," I explain, "so Iíll just sign the form as a school official right now." Counter Guyís head turns a reddish-purple as he slaps a ticket with our number (B237) on the counter and tells us to wait: "Itíll be about an hour."

1:25 Ė Off for a late lunch with my daughter; why wait at the DMV? Weíll come back at 2:00 and have only about 30 minutes to wait Ė maybe even less, if weíre lucky.

1:57 Ė We arrive back at the DMV, remembering to use the right door this time. A few minutes later the left door rattles loudly as a woman tries to open it; she opens the right door and enters, looking quizzically behind her. Me too, lady! "B233," says an electronic voice over the speaker. Weíre getting close to B237! Peeping into the waiting room, I notice that much progress has been made Ė if "progress" means "14 of the same 15 people are sitting there, but looking even more bored." There are a few empty seats, but not two together, so back to the hall we go.

2:01 Ė A woman with her 15-year-old son strikes up a conversation about how long theyíve waited, how poorly the DMV is run, and government inefficiency in general. "Well, thatís to be expected," I say. "Why should the DMV be efficient or friendly? Thereís no competition! Thatís why we avoid dealing with government as much as possible. And, anyway, why should a free person have to ask the governmentís permission to drive?" This last one is a new idea to her, and she thinks for several seconds. "Hmm...that never occurred to me," she says, "but youíre right about how bad the government does things, for sure. And donít get me started, especially after that Supreme Court thing on Obamacare. Government doesnít do anything right; we avoid dealing with them as much as we can, too." "Oh, so you homeschool?" I ask. "Well, no," she says, "but our kids go to McGlukster High (not the real name), and itís pretty good." My daughter looks at me; she understands. I take a deep breath, reach out, take the ladyís collar in my hand, and shake her. "What in the world are you thinking?" I ask. Actually I just take a deep breath, look away, and sigh the worldís loudest sigh that only my daughter and I can hear.

2:26 Ė Still not much movement in the line. I notice that there are "A" numbers and "C" numbers being called, in addition to ones like our B237. For about the fifth time, another unsuspecting person grabs the left door handle to open the door, which still doesnít budge. Okay, thatís it. I walk over to the left door and snap open the flush bolts so both doors can be used to enter or exit. There we go, folks! "Thank you! Thanks a lot! Why was that stupid door locked?" say several persons waiting in the hall. Actually, no one says a word. Instead, several inmates look surprised that anyone should attempt such a dangerously subversive maneuver and involuntarily lean away from me, in case a cop comes to arrest me and thinks weíre together. "B234," says the electronic voice over the speaker. Open the pod bay doors, please, HAL.

2:43 Ė There are now two seats together in the waiting room, so my daughter and I sit. Fellow wretches fill the seats; everyone is bored, listless, resigned to the heavy hand of DMV Fate. The room, like the rest of the building, is gray, cold, ugly. Thereís probably a government manual on how to decorate buildings to look their dreariest. Chapter 26: Submission Through Drabness. An image flashes in my mind of a scratchy old film clip I saw once of a Soviet Union bread line.

2:52 Ė "Iíve been waitiní two hours to get this thing renewed Ė just renewed!" a 60-something man next to me says, waving his license. "And people want these guys to run health care," I joke. A late-30s to early-40s guy sits with his two daughters, both around six or seven years old. "Yeah, these two are pretty wild," he announces, "but itís my two-year-old who wonít listen to nothiní I tell her." I suddenly notice that he sports a Mickey Mouse t-shirt that reads "Kickiní It Old School" and "gangsta" shorts down to his shins. I am a teetotaler, but decide that if I ever get out of this building, I will begin drinking regularly and heavily. "B235," says HAL over the loudspeaker. Iím sorry, Dave Ė Iím afraid I canít do that.

2:58 Ė It finally registers to me that the waiting room TV screen has been playing the same three-minute loop of Hollywood trivia scraps and "educational" information over and over, like the ones in a movie theater. Many rich golden nuggets of multimedia counsel are offered, though: Children Shouldnít Smoke, and Donít Mow Down Construction Workers While Driving, and For Best Results In Growing Flowers And Vegetables, Water Them. These profundities are packed with frequent spelling and punctuation errors; somehow this seems to fit perfectly. "B236," says HAL, and my daughterís eyes widen. Sheís next!

3:19 Ė While glancing around, it occurs to me that if I squint a little to blur the figures in the room, it looks and sounds like a debtorsí prison Ė ugly, gray walls; the sighs and groans of suffering inmates; pictures of Our State Government Leader on the wall mocking us with a plastic smile: "Thank you for coming today! Doesnít this visit remind you of whoís really in control of your life?" When HAL drones "B237," my daughter is ready. To the testing room she goes!

3:24 Ė While sheís back taking her test, I joke about the infoscreen to the guy next to me. Other detainees join in the fun ("Donít they have a spell check?" "Iím boycotting every company that advertises with this place!" "Iíll never let my four-year-old smoke again!") until there is rollicking laughter every 30 seconds or so. "Please be QUIET!" hisses Counter Guy, who has materialized like a ghost. I look at him and realize that at his desk he has been pushing unsharpened pencils all the way through his hand and pulling them out the other side. At least thatís what I think heís been doing; I canít think of anything else that could cause his face to twist up like it is. "There are people TESTING in here!" he adds, taking off one shoe and banging it down on the counter, Khrushchev-style. Actually, it just seems like he banged his shoe, but he only stomps back to his desk. Thereís no door between the waiting room and the testing cubicles for privacy or quiet, see.

3:41 Ė "I passed!" says my daughter as she waltzes into the waiting room, and I go back to finish up with her. A guy in a shaved head and goatee (donít a lot of cops look like that too?), in a stentorian drill sergeant tone, rattles off rules for first-time drivers Ė way more rules and steps than I remember when I got my permit. I ask a minor question or two, which agitates him, like itís spoiling his lecture.

3:43 Ė Drill Sergeant hands my daughter a mileage sheet. "You have to log your first 60 hours of driving here. Donít lose this piece of paper, or youíll have to start all over with the 60 hours of driving to move to the next step."

"Wait," I stop him. "Can I download one of these forms from your web site in case she loses it, so she doesnít have to start all over?"

"No. This is an official document you can only get at this office."

"Youíre kidding!? Canít I just make a copy of this before she fills it out, in case this gets wet or torn or lost?"

"No, you canít. This is an official DMV document, and if you lose it youíll have to come down here to get a replacement and start over."

"Can you just give me an extra one now in case something happens to this one?"

"No, I canít do that."

"Why canít a person just make a copy and hand it in, or get an extra copy now? What if I just made a copy at home and filled it out if the original got lost or wet or something?"

"Then we would consider that a fraudulent document, and it would not count toward her driving hours."

"Fraudulent? Doesnít that seem ridiculous to you?"

"You can talk to the governor if you donít like it."

3:51 Ė After taking my daughterís picture, apparently Drill Sergeant has thought it over and graciously changed his mind: "Do you have a copy machine that you could use to copy the front and back sides of the mileage form?" he asks. "Of course!" I reply. "I know five-year-old children that can run a copy machine or scanner. Are you aware that personal computers, printers, scanners, iceboxes, and air conditioning are items that most people have access to at this point in human history?" At this point Iíve had enough: I throw my head back and scream as loudly as I can and dash around the office, grabbing huge stacks of mileage forms and stuffing them in my shirt and down the front of my shorts.

Actually, I just say, "Yes, I have a scanner," mentally note to scan the form when I get home, and leave.

Afterwards, my daughter says, "I could hear you guys out there laughing when I was taking my test."

I donít doubt it.
Scott Clifton [send him mail] is a small business owner who writes from North Carolina.

Copyright © 2012 by

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