1 A Trip to the DMV | The Billfold

A Trip to the DMV

Mike: Logan, when is the last time you visited the DMV?

Logan: Ha, umm. Hmm. Let me consider this. I think it was in Virginia when I changed the title on my car, when I had a car, three years ago? I don’t remember. I tend to block out unpleasant experiences. And you?

Mike: A few days ago! So, the thing is I know everyone says that going to the DMV is an unpleasant experience, and I’ve been a few times and it was never that bad, but the experience I had a few days ago was bad. Superbad. Superbad: The Sequel. I had to renew my license because I’ll be driving around the holidays, and I also had to have a vision test. I filled out the forms in advance and mentally prepared myself for two hours of waiting, which I estimated based on reading tons of Yelp reviews of the DMV I went to. It ended up being four hours.

Logan: Oh dear. Merry Christmas!

Mike: I was given a ticket with a letter and some numbers on it, and told to watch a screen for my number to come up. On Yelp, people suggested bringing reading material because the wait can take a long time, but you also don’t want to miss your number, so you’re constantly checking the screen, which makes reading anything difficult. My number popped up after an hour, and it took maybe five minutes to take the vision test and for the DMV agent to look over my paperwork. Then I was told to sit down and wait again for my number to pop up so that I could pay and have someone issue me a temporary license.

After about two hours, I noticed something strange was happening, which was that sometimes a number would pop up on the screen, but it didn’t match the number at the corresponding counter you were supposed to go to. I asked someone at the DMV why that was and she told me, “Sometimes the number on the screen is wrong, and you’re supposed to double check at the counter just in case.” Which—how was I or anyone else supposed to know that!? So I got up to tell the ticketing person what happened, and she issued me a new ticket, and said, “Sorry, you’ll be next.” I wasn’t next. I was called up an hour later. I then ran out of there as fast as I could when I was finished. My right eye was twitching by the end of it.

Logan: This. Sounds. Terrible. Was there any point when you considered taking your own life? Or, um, leaving?

Mike: I thought about it for a second, but realized that if I left, I would have to come back and the nightmare would start all over again. So: It was now or never legally drive again. I’ve never had an “Oh my god, the DMV is hell on earth” story, but I guess this will be my story—the terrible lighting, the holiday music on loop, the public service announcements and the weird “trivia game” that would pop up on the screen next to the numbers being displayed.

Logan: I mainly don’t like going to the DMV because I’m afraid they’ll make me take the driver’s ed written test again and I’ll fail, like I did when I took it the first time when I was 16. I can still remember that. Shivers. So what’s the moral here. Bureacracy is terrible? Maybe the DMV is a secret scheme to get us all to give up our licenses and make the country go green? But also, I can’t believe you worked after that. I definitely would have not worked after that. I would have called in. I would have sent an email saying, DMV terror, dying, going to bed, no me today. How did you do it!?

Mike: I guess I’m good at compartmentalization? I complained about it for a good half hour to anyone who would listen to me, and then was like, “Ok! Putting it behind me. Hopefully I won’t have to visit that place for a long time.” I feel like the DMV would have stressed you out even more if you went when I did because one of the public service announcements that kept popping up was, “Have you done your taxes? Have you paid your taxes? If you haven’t paid your taxes: DO NOT IGNORE IT. There are places you can go to seek help!” And then a list of places. Servicey.

Also, the trivia questions: “Which actress…” And even before I finished reading the question, I was like, “Jennifer Aniston” because the answer is always “Jennifer Aniston” and, sure enough, the answer was “Jennifer Aniston.” Also, a fun fact I learned at the DMV: Before erasers existed, we used to use white bread to erase pencil markings.

Logan: OMG you’re right the answer always IS Jennifer Aniston!!!!!! Why is that??!?! Also white bread is just another way to say Jennifer Aniston. And yes, that tax shit would have made me walk out the door. Maybe next time you could like, take a train to a pretty suburb and go to their DMV there. I bet it would be a totally different experience.

Mike: I’m just hoping I’ll never have to go again. When I got back to the office, I asked Alex Balk when the last time he went to the DMV was, and he said, “Eight years ago.” So I’ve got at least eight years! Also: Jennifer Aniston.


17 Comments / Post A Comment

echolikebells (#3,272)

I used to get very confused because we have BMVs in Ohio, and every time I would hear someone say DMV I would become terribly anxious that I’d been saying it wrong the entire time and that people just were being kind by not saying anything to me about it, meanwhile thinking that I was stupid. Then I got my license at 18 and knew Ohio had BMVs, and thought I had misheard everyone saying DMV! I was a fun kid and teenager is what I’m trying to say.

(Also I have a somewhat complicated title bureau + BMV trip in my future and I’m trying to pretend it isn’t happening so this didn’t really help. That being said– I’m hurting just thinking about what Mike sat through. Stronger than I am.)

Ellie (#62)

@echolikebells We have RMVs here.

@echolikebells I’m from Ohio too but for whatever reason, I ALWAYS said DMV until I had to do something with the title of one of my old cars and was very confused why I couldn’t find the department of motor vehicles in the phone book.

(This was not pre-Google days but pre-realizing-that-the-internet-has-search-engines-that-can-help-you-find-things days.)

@echolikebells I lived in Columbus for 4 years and let me tell you- the BMV on Broad Street downtown is the holy grail of all such places. Clean, (usually) friendly, organized. I’ve lived in Michigan most of my life and I thought I was dreaming the first time I stepped into that place!

I consider it a win if the only problem at the DMV is waiting a long time. I once had to get my car re-inspected because the first inspector never checked off if my odometer was digital or analog. One check box cost me at least 3 hours!

Although, the second inspection took place while I watched a (new?) immigrant and his companion argue with the test taker about whether or not the immigrant needed to speak English to take the driving test. It was kind of thought provoking: no, we have no “official” language, but the driver does need to be able to understand street signs/notices.

The main reason for the argument, though, was that the companion wasn’t allowed to be in the car to translate (might give the test-taker “tips,” etc etc), but then if there wasn’t a Chinese (making assumptions, I’m sorry) speaking test-giver what were they supposed to do? Is the DMV obligated to have a multilingual staff for driving tests if the road signs are not multilingual? SHOULD WE HAVE MULTILINGUAL ROAD SIGNS????

I ended up down quite the America’s-issues-with-NonEnglish-languages rabbit hole that afternoon.

fake coffee snob (#2,227)

@polka dots vs stripes In my state, you can request a test in a number of languages, I believe! Makes sense, because you should be able to get the test directions in your language but then they won’t tell you what the signs say.

I would think that generally if you know arabic numerals, most signs should be comprehensible, though.

readyornot (#816)

Oh jeez. This chat was stressful! But cathartic and kind of fun. I have three miserable DMV experiences.
Number 1, DC, just moved, was just an eight hour blur in terror of rules about acceptable forms of identity verification not made clear on the website (though that eight hours was actually spread out running all over town, only four hours spent in the office itself).
Number 2, Connecticut, involved unsympathetic policing of emissions check lines and certain personnel taking their job way too seriously.
Number 3, California, involved retaking the written test and being called four hours after a timed appointment I had made online because it was the height of the budget crisis and staffing was way too lean.

But I think it’s actually easier on me psychologically after a harrowing experience like that to do work! I can’t relax into a TV show or book, for example.

MissMushkila (#1,044)

I went to the DMV on Wednesday, during a snowstorm. It was the worst white-knuckle drive ever to get there, but the benefit was no one else was foolish enough to try to travel in the weather so I was the only person. They were still really brusque and rude at the counter though.

Eric18 (#4,486)

I’ve used both DC and Virginia and they have both been surprisingly efficient.

Nibbler (#5,331)

Yes, NYC DMVs are fun fun fun. I tried to figure out the numbering system when I was there last (Is A235 better than C33?) but I was still baffled even after being there two hours. Also the employees will straight up lie to you about what line you are supposed to stand in, or what number you are supposed to take, or what screen you are supposed to look at. Sorry it took you four hours, that seems excessive even by DMV standards.

The key to NYC DMVs is to go first thing in the morning when the lines aren’t terrible and the employees aren’t completely exhausted/frustrated from a full day of dealing with people like us who don’t want to be there. I went in once about two years ago to trade in my expiring out of state license for a shiny (well, matte, actually) new NY license. I didn’t have to retake any tests but they did have to snap my picture. I was prepared for a good two hour experience, but I was in and out in about 40 minutes, which seemed fairly reasonable given the number of steps involved and different desks I had been shuffled to. I think I even ended up getting into work early that day.

sea ermine (#122)

@TheLifestyleCreep That’s the opposite for the Harlem DMV though, because everyone goes as soon as it opens and then there’s a line oit the door. In my experience the best is so go to the Jamaica DMV (they’re the most efficient) and go at 2:30pm. It’s after the lunch rush but before all the people leaving work early get there and you’re in and out in 20 minutes.

Beaks (#3,488)

The downtown Seattle DMV had the most pleasant staff of any DMV in multiple states that I’ve been to. The guy even offered to let me retake my picture if I wanted to! I asked around to confirm I wasn’t the only one, but yep, they’re just super nice there.

Wait times are what you’d expect at a downtown DMV (i.e. pretty long), no I have idea why the staff is so pleasant- something in the water or something.

My last DMV experience was at a brand new “supercenter” which had tons of technology and staff and was basically as fast at it could possibly be considering the amount of paperwork involved.

qwer1234 (#4,140)

Ughhhh DMVs. They’re not much better out in the suburbs of New York. Same inexplicable letter/number system. I had to go TWICE this year. Once because I needed to switch my license because I no longer have a NJ* address, and once because I needed to get an enhanced license because I waited too long to get a passport for a trip to Canada.

DMV PRO TIP: If you have access to any sedatives or beta blockers, it really helps to take some before you go. Because then you’re like, “It’s cool, this is just what I’m doing right now. I’m waiting and it’s okay. Everything is okay. Oh look, they called my letternumber!” It works, I promise.

*If you live in NJ, the Warren County (Washington) DMV is the best kept secret in the state! I was in and out of there in 30 minutes with a brand new license, in and out in 20 for a title switch. It’s cow country, no one lives there, totally worth going out of your way for.

Score one for sunny South Dakota: last time I went for license renewal, there was exactly one other person in the office. I was in & out in about 8 minutes. Plus, I had a nice chat with the lady at the desk, who it turned out was a high school classmate of my dad’s.

needsmoresalt (#3,501)

If you live in Austin and you have a car, you should really only ever go to the Pflugerville DMV (or maybe it’s called the DPS). It is ridiculous how easy it is to get in and out of there. Even though it means driving to Pflugerville, it’s still going to take less time to drive there and wait than it would to go to the central one. I recently had to go there to take the written exam for my class M license, and I probably waited about 5 minutes total. And you can sign up to wait online.

allreb (#502)

I don’t have a DMV horror story, but I spent about three hours waiting at a social security office once because I needed a new social security card. When I’d been there for about an hour, they had an all-staff meeting. And I do me all-staff: they shut down every single window and every person working there disappeared into the back for 25 minutes. So roughly a DMV-quality experience.

(Somehow, renewing my license by mail turned out to be a pretty annoying pain in the butt, too, but I didn’t have to do anything in person at the DMV and now won’t for about eight years, thankfully.)

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