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


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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?"


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