I knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time.
We've all been there; for most of us it only happens every two to three years. For others, it is a biannual event. But sooner or later we all crumble beneath that Sword of Damocles that hangs o'er our heads.
It happened to me last month in the form of a simple envelope. Just another piece of mail, hidden between the Trader Joe's flyer and the cable bill informing me that my car registration tags were expiring. I gasped in horror as I knew that meant just one thing: I had to go to the DMV.
Now, although I am a card-carrying Republican, I am not a fan of bureaucracy in any way, shape, or form, and in my opinion the DMV has mastered bureaucracy with a capital-B-that-rhymes-with-P, and that stands for Purgatory. People walk in there with hope and idealism and come out more pissed off than Bobby Knight at an NBA playoff game. First you must navigate the lines. One to check in, one to show your ID, one for any testing, one to fill out forms in triplicate, one to recite "The Jabberwocky" while performing an interpretive dance to "Who Let the Dogs Out?", and one to wait in only to be told that clerk is taking her smoke break so you'll have to come back in ten minutes. After spending enough time wading through a fetid stream of DMV bullshit over the past two years, it was understandable that the thought of returning to that Hunger Games arena filled me with a Tyler Durdin-like sense of rage and loathing.*
*I am Jen's seething hatred.
Fortunately, I have a DMV in my neighborhood that it. . .well, actually rather pleasant. Located in my lily white enclave of Southwest Portland, it is always impeccably clean, has shorter waiting times, and most of its denizens appear to have all of their teeth. If the DMV was high school, my DMV would be the prom queen: bright, sparkling, and open for business. Unfortunately, the one day I had free to bring in my paperwork and rectify this registration dickery, my Pleasantville DMV was closed. But that’s fine. No problem. I can handle this like a mature adult. So, I stamped my feet, cursed like a trucker with Tourette’s Syndrome and proceeded to yell at the locked doors of the DMV.
“You think you’re so special, with your swivel chairs and copies of Vanity Fair? Ha! You aren't the only DMV in town! There are plenty of other places I can go to renew my tags. Puh-LENTY! You can just SUCK it, Mountain Park DMV!”*
*OK, maybe “mature adult” was a bit of a stretch for me. Baby steps. . .
Of course, while I knew there were in fact other DMV's in the Portland Metro area I was not, in fact, aware of where any of them were. I located one not far from home and was immediately distressed by what I saw. You see, I was somewhat jaded, as my neighborhood DMV is not your typical DMV.*
*Typical DMV = Ensconced in a strip mall of shame and degradation between a pawn shop ("Su Habla Espanol!") and a methadone clinic.
My neighborhood DMV is bright and cheery. The employees look like school nurses and are always calling you "Sweetie" and "Honey" and commenting on the weather, and as it is conveniently located between an upscale organic grocery store and a Starbucks, it always smells like coffee and freshly baked bread. This DMV, however, was conveniently located between a liquor store and a check cashing place which basically made it a Mecca for tweakers and drunks.*
*And no, the irony of them selling alcohol directly adjacent to the place that issues freaking DRIVER'S licenses was not entirely lost on me either.
The moment we pulled into the lot and parked between bumper stickers reading "Your Boyfriend Thinks I'm Hot" and "Cash, Ass, or Grass: Nobody Rides for Free" I knew that the odds of making it out of there without losing my shit were about as slim as an Olsen twin on crystal meth (which is to say, an Olsen twin), but with steely resolve and grim determination, we forged ahead. Upon entering, I found myself surrounded by a group of individuals who had obviously been unemployed for so long that they had lost all concept of the words "schedule" and "time" and were therefore content to mold their sweaty, nicotine-stained bodies into the mustard yellow plastic chairs for perpetuity. I'm not sure how many people have committed grievous acts of violence in this joint, but I'm sure the body count is not insignificant. I did a quick roll call. Overweight woman with neck tattoo? Check. Overweight woman with neck tattoo and baby? Check. Overweight man with neck tattoo and more b-bling-bling than a Snoop Dogg video? Check. Overweight man with neck tattoo at the door staggering around like Lurch and telling everybody "bye, bye, bye, bye..." like a stockbroker on Adderall? Check.
As we waited for our number to be called, I passed the time by eavesdropping on my fellow patrons as they approached the desk; in small part because my reading materials were limited to the Oregon State Driver's Manual and a Spanish version of "Watchtower", and in larger part because I am a nosy bastard.
The first woman to wend her way to the Counter of Doom was pushing an oxygen tank and sweating harder than Humbert Humbert at a Girl Scout jamboree. As I listened to her tales of woe I was astounded by how frequently her speech was peppered with derivations of the verb "to fuck". Now I consider myself something of a connoisseur of profanity, but even I recognize that it should be used sparingly, like nutmeg in a creamy Alfredo sauce. It should not, however, be used no less than 37 times in a single conversation with (a) an individual you do not know, (b) an individual who mandates your mode of transportation, or in this woman's case (c) all of the above.
Next up was a young man with a. . .wait for it. . .neck tattoo attempting to apply for a hardship license after his third DUI. Now, color me reactionary, but isn't a third DUI Darwin's way of telling you that you are not evolved enough to be put behind the wheel of a 3,000 pound flammable box of death? I'm not throwing stones (yes I am) because I have had a DUI as well. But guess what? After a night in the pokey, three months of public transportation, and spending upwards of $10,000 on court-mandated diversion classes that consisted of watching shitty movies like "Clean and Sober" and "When a Man Loves a Woman" I made the educated decision that perhaps drinking and driving was no longer prudent. It was with no small amount of glee that I heard the woman behind the counter inform Ted Kennedy that the only ID he'd be flashing these days would be his Red Robin Rewards card. Huzzah!
Contestant #3 was a woman in an Ed Hardy T-shirt who spent a greater portion of the morning making the ground-breaking decision between the Oregon Trail themed license plate and the Save the Salmon themed license plate. Now, I understand that the decision whether to adorn your hoopty ride with either a Conestoga wagon or a speckled fish is fraught with anxieties, but make the fucking call, Sophie’s Choice! I swear to God, less thought went into the Treaty of Versailles and I can guarantee that their conversation didn’t wrap up with the phrase: "Can I make my check out for ten bucks more and get the cash back? The liquor store next door don't take checks."
As I made my way to the counter with the short people, I made a point of craning my neck in an effort to display its lack of ink. The clerk shoved forms at me and muttered in a monotone only acquired from years of civil servitude. As she did, I noticed her ring.
“That’s beautiful” I said. “is the opal your birthstone?”
She glanced at me warily. “Yes.”
I smiled in return. “Mine too. I’ve always loved them. Thank you so much for your help and I hope you get out to enjoy the sunshine.”
She paused for a moment, and then her mouth twitched up at the corners. “Thank you” she said “it sure is nice to hear a kind word.”
It was at that moment that I swore to never again speak ill of our fine civil servants again. Let’s face it, while we may rant and rave about the bureaucratic bullshit that surrounds us in our day to day lives, there is actually something oddly comforting about surrendering that onus of control to a higher power. Sometimes it’s easier to just close your eyes and dive headlong into the Heironymus Bosch-esque world of lines and paperwork and forms in triplicate and trust that these fine men and women will hold your hand and guide you through the maze. These civil servants are to be treated with kindness and respect as you can be assured that if I had to deal with mouth-breathing yokels like the douchenozzles I saw patronizing the DMV that day, I would be crushing their skulls with a ball peen hammer like some Tarantino version of Whack-a-Mole.
As we walked through the smudged glass doors with my freshly minted stickers in hand my son M beamed at me with joy. "Mommy, someday can I get a salmon license plate with my name on it?”
I gazed down at his cherubic face with love. "Oh, Sweetie, absolutely. But if you ever come home with an Ed Hardy shirt or a neck tattoo I’ll beat you up myself.