I received a noticed in the mail the other week from the Florida Department of Motor Vehicles. I've had my current driver's license for ten years and it was time for me to go in and get a new photo taken.
In Florida, we have the option to make an appointment with the DMV to get things like this taken care of. It's a pretty great idea actually and it's always worked without a hitch for me. Until today that is.
I had an appointment set for this morning at the start of a pretty full day. I figured I'd get my photo taken, get a new license and be on my way in fifteen minutes. What's that saying about the best laid plans again?
I arrived five minutes before my appointment and walked into the DMV. I checked in at the front desk and presented the guy behind said desk with my old license, my passport and a copy of an electric bill. On the DMV's website, there's a list of about 40 kinds of documents a Floridian can use to prove to the DMV that he or she's a Florida driver, a US citizen, and a resident at the address the DMV has on file. I figured I had it covered. Mr. Customer Service at the front desk wasn't having though. Buried on that website somewhere is the requirement that I present my Social Security card in addition to the rest of the paperwork they "need." I never carry my Social Security card. Ever. Since you can't get a US Passport with a Social Security card, I figured ownership of a passport would imply that I did in fact have a Social Security card and was in fact a US citizen.
The front desk people at the DMV must go to the TSA for their training, because this guy was an absolute ass about my not having my "paperwork in order." After a lot of strident point making on my part, he relented. "Just this once," he growled. I then got to stand in line.
As soon as I assumed my place in line, all six of he DMV counter people who were working this morning jumped up and held a huddle. Five of them walked away from their stations to go do pressing DMV business and they left one guy behind to deal with a gathering crowd of Floridians in need of pressing DMV business.
Since I had an appointment, I was allowed to go to the head of the line. As I stood there, I noticed that there were signs all over the counters asking me to donate a dollar to something called "Families First." My blood pressure started to rise. Under the logo for Families First was their tag line, "Making families stronger!" If you don't know, Families First is a political lobbying organization masquerading as a social service agency in Florida. They have strong ties to James Dobson's Focus on the Family and their mandate to "Make families stronger" consists of programs to disenfranchise gay people. Now if disenfranchising gay people is your thing, hurray for you. Believe and do anything you want. So long as it's on your time and with your money, talk yourself blue in the face I don't care. However, when the state where I pay taxes allows this or any political group to solicit donations to a captive audience in a state facility, that state has crossed a line. It's ridiculous, it's enraging and it's WRONG.
Florida's a weird place. Fornication and sanctimony duke it out for first place in the list of most favored activities. Where else in the US can you stop and get a lap dance on your way to a drive through mega-church? Where else can you can you go to a two-for-one happy hour at eight in the morning? And where else can you make a donation to a rabidly anti-gay political organization while getting your license renewed? Ridiculous.
Anyhow, as I stood there fuming, the clock ticked on. 20 minutes... 30 minutes... 40 minutes... There was still only one guy behind the counter and at 40 minutes he called my name. I composed myself as I walked over to his desk. "This guy isn't responsible for the DMV and being mean to him is not the way to get him to speed this up," I was telling myself.
I handed him my license and he sat there, looking at me. "Why are you here?" he asked. "I'm here to get a new license," I told him. "Why do you need a new license? Did you lose you old one?" he asked me. Now mind you, he was holding my license as he asked me if I'd lost mine. Idiot. All of my composure went out the window. I yelled about there being no one working, I yelled about already being there for 40 minutes, I yelled about his not knowing I was there in response to a notice from the agency where he works. I yelled and he got defensive. I knew that's what would happen if I lost my cool and I still lost my cool. I don't know who I was more irritated with at that point, him or me.
Anyhow, hearing the ruckus I was causing was enough to draw a couple DMVers from the area offstage where they were engaged in pressing DMV business. A woman took her space at the cubicle next to the guy I was dealing with. She wasn't really doing anything though, so I assumed she was some kind of an observer sent there to keep an eye on things.
My guy entered my name into his computer and told me I needed to take a driver's test. "What?! Why is this the first I'm hearing this?! A driver's test? I haven't taken a driver's test since I was 16-years-old! A driver's test?! I have never had so much as a speeding ticket, why on earth do I need to take a driver's test?!" He couldn't tell me why, but my file had been flagged and sure enough, I needed to re-take my driver's test.
This was growing increasingly absurd and I calmed myself down again and apologized for my outburst. I was telling my guy that I didn't understand why I needed to re-take a driver's test and he assured me that he didn't know either. I asked him why the DMV hadn't sent me a notice telling me this and he just shrugged.
Just then, the observer poked her head over the divider and opined, "Sometimes, our past catches up with us." I flipped out anew.
"What past? Who are you talking about?! I don't have a past! I've never had so much as a speeding ticket!" Blah blah blah.
By now I was an hour into this and I calmed myself back down. "Just take their damn test" I told myself, "take the test and get out of here."
So I did. I took and passed the Florida driver's exam. No one I talked to had any idea why I was being required to re-take this test to begin with, but the computer said I had to, so by gum, I had to.
What an absolute waste of half a day. "Sometimes, out past catches up with us." Indeed.
I still want to know what's on my driving record and that information lives in Tallahassee. Why do I think that this is going to another ordeal to get to the bottom of this?