For many months I put off the inevitable trip to the California DMV. According to my sources, California government is slow, expensive, and painful to endure. ...HA! I see your DMV and raise you mine. California, BTW, is a model of efficiency: I was able to make an appointment. I was told which documents I needed. They got my address right. And no one referred to me as a "skinny white bitch."
Perhaps you already know the motto that graces the license plates for the District of Columbia: TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. (...we all thought about the "My Mayor is a Crackhead" motto, but opted no). Yes, despite the Revolutionary War, all DC residents pay federal taxes without a voting member in Congress. (...and no one's bitter). But in addition, our public services in the nation's capital -- all of them -- water, electric, police, courts, schools, meter maids, and ESPECIALLY the DMV -- absolutely suck.
Until a few years ago, there was only one DMV location in all of Washington-- and there is still only one location for all residents to have their car inspected. ONE. For everybody. I (and others because I was never there alone) would get up at 4:30 AM in order to be in line by 5 AM in anticipation of the inspection station's 5:30 AM open. (This reduces wait time from all day to two hours..for a ten minute inspection.) The employees are bitter and mean. They did everything they could to fuck you. ...and we all know damn well that you don't need anybody working against you at the DVM.
The worst car inspection I ever experienced was (and I would like to distinguish this from the "worst driver's license renewal" story) during the summer of 2007. Because I am one with the Irish, and Murphy's Law is always present in my life, I was the victim of a hit-and-run about two weeks before our renewal was up. I was making a left off Rock Creek Parkway by the Watergate and the light turned yellow. So I stopped. The guy behind me did not. He must have been going fairly fast, as the impact knocked all the change out of my cupholder and gave me whiplash. Once the light changed again, I went through it and pulled into the Exxon on the corner...and watched the asshole in his 1989 civic shitbox peel on down the road. I checked the back of my car ...and honestly I could not tell that I had been hit. At the time, I drove a Jetta, and believe me, she was a city car. The Jetta had been parked on the DC streets around my crowded neighborhood, where you had to compete for parking. And one of the tricks I learned as a DC resident was the art of parallel parking. If you gave me enough time, I could squeeze a six-foot car into a five-foot spot. Of course, to make an omelet you've got to break some eggs, and bumpers were tweaked along the way. But hey -- rubbin's racin'.
Because the bumper already looked like an art deco tile compilation of chipped paint, I just went about my day and forgot about the accident... other than bitching to a friend here or there. Fast forward to the weekend. My husband opens the trunk of the car, and it expels a very loud popping noise (...yeah, that's probably never good). Apparently the damage - on the passenger's side to my defense - was quite extensive. The impact had crunched the body of the vehicle and a metal clump formed over the rear passenger tire weld. It was so bad, we couldn't get the trunk closed again...so bad, that the insurance company declared it a total loss. But unfortunately, we were not in car-buying mode. I mean, seriously -- why would I buy a new car and park it on the street? So it can be side-swiped? No thanks.
We opted to fix the car on our own, and a mechanic was able to restore the body to a reasonable degree. However (and this is a big "however"), we still needed to make it through DMV inspection. (At the one inspection station. For all residents.) This would be tough; inspectors were known to fail your vehicle for the most minor of infraction. But, praise be to Allah, we received a "pass" from our inspector. We were completing paperwork, when another employee made a point to cross the room and point out some minor damage to the passenger side mirror. He turned to our inspector and said, "You can fail them for that." ...My husband came ungodly close to hitting him (as did I).
Obtaining a DC license is equally fun. I was issued my previous driver's license in 2002, immediately following the bar exam. ...I don't know why that fact is relevant, other than to interject that I was absolutely fucking exhausted...and no longer able to focus on details. So when the DMV cut this license, they cut it wrong -- and under the "expiration date," one could not make out the "7" in 2007. No one - including myself - noticed this until about a year later. I was walking into a bar in Adams Morgan, when the bouncer pointed it out to me. He let me pass, as he was also a DC resident and had seen this mistake quite frequently. I incorrectly made the assumption that I would get the same "pass" elsewhere. I was wrong.
As panic of 9/11 tightened its grip (this was circa 2002), and security was stepped up in full force around the country, I was stopped everywhere. At airport security (never in DC...just when I tried to return to DC), in bars, and even at concerts. My husband became increasingly annoyed and begged me to just go to the DMV and get a new license. ....instead, I began carrying my passport. I simply refused to go to the DMV -- it was the last item on my list of choices. ...stranded in Phoenix International Airport....trip to the DMV. I'll take "stranded in Phoenix" for a thousand, Alex.
When the license inevitably did expire, I thought I would take advantage of the new DMV branch that had recently opened in Georgetown. I assumed that the upscale location would be less crowded, more efficient, and easier overall. Again, I was proven very wrong. I stood in line for seven -- count them with me - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, SEVEN -- hours. Within those seven hours, I asked two things of the DMV: 1) renew the license (hopefully so all could read the expiration date); and 2) change my address. And I possessed accompanying documents to verify the address change.
By the time I left seven hours later, I was exhausted, had low blood sugar, and all but ran screaming from the place. I checked to make sure you could see the expiration date, walked to my car (where I had naturally received a parking ticket) and drove home. Then and only then did I realized that the new license still had my old address. ...I have never felt so defeated in my entire life. I debated living with the mistake, but then my resolve kicked in. I had done everything right, dammit! I had the right documents, I filled out the correct paperwork, and they were going to change my goddamn license!
The next morning, I returned to Georgetown and to my relief the line was much shorter. (Of course, so was my temperament.) When I made it to the counter and explained the situation, the clerk looked at me as though I was not speaking English, and referred me to some random place in the cube-farm near the back. The woman who occupied said cube was on the phone with a girlfriend and none too excited to see me. I definitely was bothering her. And as a result, she was determined not to help me. I explained the situation - I had been here yesterday to renew the license and change the address, and the latter change had not been instated. Selma informed me that wasn't her problem. I would need to get a number in order to repeat yesterday's process, and I would also need to pay the license fee again. "No. I need to speak with a manager," I replied. After a sigh, an eye roll and a "skinny white bitch" under her breath, she referred me back to the counter into the arms of English-As-A-Second-Language.
Clearly, this was unacceptable. I was either going to start screaming or cut somebody. So I opted for the former. I quickly buckled down into fight-or-flight mode and started waiving my arms at the only competent looking human behind the counter. "Excuse me!" I yelled to a larger man directing things. Luckily, I had found the problem-solver. Hallelujah! After a few minutes, the address was updated, sans fees. I stood in line to have a license remade, and when I got to the front, the employee -- ironically -- could not have been more pleasant. "Would you like to have your picture retaken?" he asked.
"No. I don't need anything to help me remember this day."