12 May 2009

A Very Bad day

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?


  1. OMG, doesn't that drive you insane?? Stupid things that you have to do just "because". No explanation why, no logical reason for it, just because somewhere in their handbook, it says that they have to make you do it. No free thinking at all, no being reasonable about things.

    Reminds me of the passport nightmare I went through a couple of years ago... nothing like having to wait till 21 hours before you leave on your first-ever trip to Europe for Christmas to FINALLY have your passport in your hands....

    Sorry you wasted so much of your day sorting everything out. Whatever you do, don't ever misplace your license!!!


  2. Well that's what was so enraging Kelly, I hadn't misplaced anything. I showed up in response to a letter I got from the DMV telling me that I had to renew the one I had. I had to show the yahoo behind the counter my actual, current, valid driver's license in order to take my test. Grrrrrrrr.

    My passport's up for renewal next year (we renew them every ten years in the US) I hope I have a better experience with my passport than you did!

  3. oy - what a disaster - at least you get to make appts. once I let my license lapse dreading the hours long wait and had to retake the driving test - which i failed!!! but the woman felt so sorry for me so let me go. what a joke. uggh james dobson! what??!?!??!? i loathe that guy!!!!! and I don't care who knows it. he is such a bigot.

  4. Oy indeed. The appointment thing usually works out well. But when it doesn't, it fails miserably. Suffering at the hands of the DMV is bad enough. Being poked with a stick while standing in line was just too much yesterday though.

  5. This is really hysterical, once you give it a few days to let go & gain perspective (I mean hysterically funny). What is really so so hard is remaining calm & decent to the folks typing your info into a database. That's why I'm painfully- yes- painfully sweet to anyone working at one of these joints. They have to deal with explosive types (this time- you!) as the rule, not the exception. I've found they're much more likely to forgive or bend rules as they type your info into that database, if you're courteous to them. Folks in most other civilized countries still have to wait in long lines & don't get their way all the time. Just my opinion. Thanks for sharing your story,

  6. Shuddleston, thanks. Ordinarily, I'm an adherent of the Charm the Little Guy school of bureaucratic interactions. I rarely lose my cool and I did yesterday, which of course made the whole thing worse.

    I remember standing in a block-long line to mail a letter in Colombia about ten years ago. Block-long lines to mail a letter aren't unheard of in Colombia, and the line standers made a real social event out of it. Since everybody was in the same boat and there wasn't anything to do to make the situation go away, they decided to have some fun. People sang and told jokes and asked the lone gringo in their midst how he came to be standing in a line in Colombia.

    I try to keep experiences like that with me to temper some of my expectations. And sometimes I lose sight of them. Like yesterday at the DMV.

  7. Just reading this Paul, and I have to tell you a quip my late aunt made once(when referring to idiots who hold down jobs) that I never forgot. "In Virginia, if nobody will hire you, go to the DMV. If they won't hire you, then go to Blue Cross/Blue Shield." She was in the insurance business.

  8. Thanks Sara. Sometimes I am really grateful to have a blog where I can vent this stuff and just let it go after I hit the publish button. I never imagined that this writing exercise could become the great catharsis it is.


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