V.R.P. at the D.M.V.

Written by Jim Knipfel on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.



It’s
stated quite clearly on the New York State Dept. of Motor Vehicles’ website.
Regardless what you’re there to take care of–driver’s license,
plates, fines–if you want to get in and out of the DMV as quickly as possible,
you should avoid it at the following three times: (1) At the beginning of the
month; (2) at the end of the month; and (3) around lunch time. It’s all
right there on the page.



Which, I
guess helps explain why I chose to stop by the DMV at 12:30 on Friday, May 31.


It was my
own damn fault. When it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to
simply renew my driver’s license through the mail–or even renew my
driver’s license at all–I was told that I’d need to stop by the
DMV before my old license expired to exchange it for a (reasonably useless)
non-driver’s ID. I wouldn’t be able to do that through the mail.


Regardless
of the fact that I found all this out weeks in advance, and though I’m
generally not a procrastinating type, one thing after another came up, until
I had one day left to take care of things.


So, as I
clutched tightly to Morgan’s arm, she led me up to the eighth-floor office
above a shopping mall at 33rd and Broadway. Things didn’t seem so bad when
we first walked in. Only about 10 people stood in line in front of us, waiting
to get instructions from the guy at the information window. This was going to
be a piece of cake–something one of us noted aloud.


"Oh,
this is just the beginning," the West Indian woman in front of us said,
turning around. She’d clearly been through this recently. "You still
have that line over there to deal with, too." She pointed across
the room through an open doorway. Through that doorway, at least 200 people
(and quite possibly many more) were milling about, or sitting on uncomfortable-looking
benches, all of them waiting.


"It’s
going to take a very long time," she added.


"Oh."


The line
we were in slowly moved forward.


I pulled
all the requisite forms and documents I was told I’d need out of my bag
and rearranged them before we reached the window, bound and determined to make
this as easy as possible on everybody. When we reached the front of the line,
I handed everything to the small man with the mustache who was sitting behind
the counter.


"Replacing
a license?" he asked, as he glanced through things quickly.


"No,
not exactly, uhh…" I told him. "I’m here to replace my license
with a non-driver ID."


He looked
from me to Morgan. Then back at me, and then back at Morgan. It had apparently
struck him that something was wrong with me. Maybe it was the way I was clinging
to her sleeve.


"Okay,
then," he said, pulling out yet another form and handing it to Morgan,
"have him fill these out, then get in line for photos over there–no,
wait–fill these out, then tell a guard. He’ll help you out."


"Oh…okay.
Thanks."


We were
on our way over to a counter to fill out the new forms before I finally recognized
that shift he’d made to the third person.


"What,
does he think I’m deaf or retarded?" I had long suspected that people
who don’t know what the deal was might mistake me for being either a retard
or a drunk, depending on the circumstances. For some reason–maybe because
they already know I’m the latter–I’m especially convinced that
bartenders mistake me for a retarded person. That, too, is my own damn fault,
given my continuing reluctance to use the cane when I probably should.


After filling
out the forms (and finally admitting to all the medical conditions I’d
neglected to mention when applying for previous driver’s licenses) we went
looking for a guard.


"Excuse
me," Morgan said to the uniformed man leaning against a post, "the
man at the window said that when we were all set, we should ask you to help
us."


Again he
looked from Morgan, to me, back to Morgan. "Sure, come this way."
He reached out and started to take my arm, but stopped, his hand snapping away
as if I’d given him a terrible electric shock. I find that sort of thing
happening a lot, too–with men especially. I’m always tempted to tell
people that they aren’t going to catch anything, then I figure why bother.


Instead,
as he walked on ahead, I took hold of Morgan’s arm again and we followed
him. He led us around a corner, where some 25 or 30 people were standing in
a second line, waiting to have their picture taken. Much to my surprise, he
led us past them all, straight to the head of the line.


"Hello?"
a woman at the end of the line shrieked at us as we passed her. "Hello?
Hey–"


Unaccustomed
to this sort of treatment, I was tempted to gloat a little bit–but before
I could begin, I tripped on the rope barricade, nearly pulling the whole thing
over, doing nothing in the process to convince anyone that I wasn’t retarded.


The guard
took us straight to one of the windows, and told the man there to do me next.


"Have
him sign this," the man behind the camera said, handing a card to Morgan.


Was there
some sort of secret hand gesture or eye signal that I wasn’t catching here?
Had some sort of message been passed along already?


She placed
the card in front of me, and I set to the job of trying to figure out where,
exactly, to sign. That’s always a bit of a problem.


"Can
he see anything at all?" the guard asked, moving in close again and making
a furtive effort to direct my hand to the right spot. Then he snapped his fingers
away once more, and told Morgan to do it. She pointed, and I signed.


"Now
tell him to stand over there and look at the camera."


It would
have been very easy for me to simply speak up at any point here, I imagine,
immediately making everyone more comfortable. Sometimes I don’t know why
I don’t do that.


Sometimes
I do.


After the
man snapped my picture, he handed Morgan a card with a number on it, and we
were told to have a seat in the next room until that number was called.
We went and took a seat. The uncomfortable-looking benches we had seen earlier
were, indeed, uncomfortable.


"It
was very nice of them to shove us through like that," I said, "even
if they were afraid to touch me, and could only talk about me in the third person…I
guess they all think I’m retarded."


"You’re
special," she corrected. "You’re a regular V.R.P."


I was beginning
to think that being retarded had its advantages–though we still had to
sit on that bench and wait for an hour with the rest of the suckers.


"I
guess they figure I can’t do too much damage sitting quietly on a bench."


The room
was packed with people waiting for their number to come up. More than we could
have guessed at first. This was the last step, though. Most of them read newspapers
or stared at the floor. A pair of young twin girls ran around, while their father
kept an eye on them from a distance. A man wearing an Izod shirt with the collar
flipped up paced while apparently discussing fashion sense on his cellphone.
Another man, whose number had been called, stood at a window, chatting with
a clerk while scratching furiously at a couple of enormous tumors on the back
of his neck.


An hour
and 10 minutes later, my number began to flash on the giant electric board at
the front of the room. We gathered our things together, I grabbed Morgan’s
sleeve again and she led me to the window, where I laid everything down in front
of the clerk.


She glanced
through the forms quickly, then turned to Morgan and asked, a bit incredulously,
"Is he renewing his license?"


..