The DMV is to Disneyland what a vegan diet is to a cruise ship buffet.
It’s just not anybody’s happy place.
I do everything possible with the DMV online. Don’t try to phone them. There are people who have been lost in that maze since 1951. The website is only slightly less confusing.
I had to get my license renewed and for once I had to show up in person. I would have mailed them any amount of money to not go in person. Their loss.
I made an appointment online.
For two months away.
In a DMV 50 minutes away.
When my sister found out where I was heading, she immediately sat me down for an impromptu coaching session.
“Arrive at least an hour early,” she started.
“But I have an appointment.”
“This DMV takes forever just to find a parking spot. Everyone parks on the red curbs. Even the cops. Do what you have to do. Just park.”
I raised an eyebrow. She continued.
“When you get there, the line of sweating, sunburning people will be around the building. Don’t get in line. Go up to the doorway and tell the security guard you have an appointment. He will escort you to the right place, and no one will mob you for cutting the line.”
So I did.
And it worked.
These lines were exactly like Disneyland. You think you’re getting somewhere when you finally cross the threshold, and there’s another whole line snaking around inside.
This DMV was the worst one I’ve ever been in. They had maybe 300 people in a 1,000 square foot room. One quarter of that area was partitioned off so people could stand and take computerized driving tests. Mathematically, the big orange bag I brought along was a mistake.
Every plastic chair was taken. Standing room only, and beer-bellied unshaven tattoo artists were politely allowing me into their personal space. I stood there clutching my bag, waiting for my number to be called with laser beam focus. Who knows how long everyone had been in here.
There wasn’t a smile in the building.
Suddenly over the droning white noise, there rose a petulant shriek from aisle B, seat 25.
We all looked over at a young disheveled mother, wrestling with an 18 month old who was melting down into the filthy green linoleum. The little girl had had enough, and was voicing in decibels what the rest of us were thinking.
You tell em, kid.
After a moment or two, it was obvious the mom was losing the battle. We all shifted uncomfortably in our two inches of airspace. The security guard moved into the huddled chairs and motioned for the mother to take the child outside.
That’s when the large woman sitting next to her got involved.
“What are you saying?” she stood up and hollered at him. “Why should she have to give up her seat after all this time? It took us two hours to park! The kid’s just tired! She can cry if she wants to! Go back to your doorway and leave us alone!”
She had the attention of the entire DMV, the line outside, and the cars circling in the lot.
The security guard was at a loss. I felt sorry for him, too, since he had recently saved my life.
It took me a minute to realize that I had the power to save his in return.
I apologized my way through the crowd, and wormed my way into the standoff.
I rummaged into the bottom of my big orange bag and brought out: a plastic bunny rabbit.
It was part of the stash I carry when I watch my little 18 month old charge.
“Here,” I said, handing it over to the limp mama, “Will this help?”
The look on her face was priceless.
I rummaged some more while the large woman sat down and said, “Well, isn’t that nice! Isn’t that just so sweet? What a nice thing to do!”
The security guard disappeared into the masses and the little girl became silent as the new distraction appeared. I handed the mom a backup (because, you know, I know about 18 month olds): three puff balls.
Never underestimate a little colored ball of fluff.
“The pink one’s the favorite,” I told her, as my number was called.
I walked up to window 12 and gave them my thumbprint.
The lady there was all smiles and the silent room behind me went back into quiet buzzing.
When I left fifteen minutes later, you could feel the changed atmosphere.
Maybe not Disneyland.
But a little happier place.