The DMV vs. France

Harper's CornerDMV vs France
By Jessica Harper
March 2014

"In which I am reassured that, per their reputation, employees of the DMV are maintaining the highest standards of irritability..."

One day recently I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to surrender my driver’s license. This was not because I had one too many DUIs but because, in the ten years since I was last required to renew in person, my vision had declined to illegal status. I knew there was no way I’d pass the vision test; I was DMV toast.

In fact I hadn’t driven in a long time. I kept the license updated for ID, or for potential emergencies such as, say, escaping death by wildfire. (I could drive to safety if I had to, although not without imperiling other vehicles on my route.)  Still, it felt sadly final, giving up that little rectangle and the privileges it had entitled me to for forty years. It was in this wistful mood that I entered the jaws of the DMV.

As you know, DMV workers are kind of like the French in that they are notoriously irritable. The French have no excuse: they get to live in France, for God’s sake. The DMV workers do have to sit under fluorescent lighting in an unattractive space for several hours a day.  But hey, so do most people, and most people are NOT as crabby as the lady who was delivering information at the Hollywood DMV on that day.

I told her I wanted an ID, not a license renewal, and I explained why. She was almost barking when she gave me a form to fill out and instructed me to “return to the red carpet” when it was complete. As a veteran of many Hollywood award events, these instructions were momentarily confusing. Clarity came when I noticed I was standing on a filthy maroon square of rug.

“Will do,” I perkily told the woman whom I had mentally nicknamed Miss Gulch. (I think that was the first time I have ever said that to anyone outside of an e-mail.)

Finding myself too impaired to fill out paperwork stating that I was too impaired to drive, I pulled a device from my bag that is both magnifier and flashlight in one.  Even with this friendly tool visual tasks are slow: it took me twenty minutes to get back to the red(ish) carpet, time Miss Gulch used to ratchet up her impatience considerably.

“So, on the voter registration question,” I started to ask Miss Gulch, ”I already am…”

“Just say NO on line 18, “ she said, her tone suggesting that the top of her head was preparing for lift-off. Rather than test her patience further by searching for my reading device and then for line 18, I gave up on the voter thing.

“Now go sit down,” Miss G. said.

“I have an appointment…”

“Yes we KNOW. Go sit DOWN,” she said, at which point she lifted her hands and her gaze heavenward as in, “God save me from the cretins.”

My next stop was window 13, which was manned by a guy who had also been trained at the DMV School of $%#@' ‘Em. Speaking in the most unctuous tone I could muster, I told him I needed an ID only, as my vision had nose-dived. He checked my papers and informed me I’d put my date of birth on the wrong line.

“Oh, sorry. Where’s the correct line?”

“Top right.”

Without my device, I was lost. “Sorry, where?”

He dropped his head, cradling it in his hands, apparently praying for mercy. (These DMVers talk to God a lot.) Then he took the paper, held it up a couple inches from my face, tapping his finger fiercely on the appropriate spot.

When I had written my DOB close enough to where it was supposed be, he said, “Okay. That’s it. Go to the camera. You’re done.”


“TO THE CAMERA. Window 23. OVER THERE.” Poor guy. Only 11a.m. and I’d already given him cause to up his meds.

I just got my new ID in the mail. In the picture, I am smiling like I just won the lottery. That is because, on that day at the DMV, I knew that in three weeks time I was going to be in France, a place where the people are much nicer.

A couple days after my visit to the DMV, I went to my doctor for another injection in my left eye. The technician checked my pressure, had me read the charts, asked me the usual questions, and went to get the man himself.

“Hello, show-off!” Dr. Schwartz said as he bounced into the room. “You are doing great!”

Thanks to the recent injections of the new drug, Eylea, I was indeed doing great. The vision in my left eye had improved to 20/40, for the first time in years. The drug was rockin’ it!

The irony is, this achievement made me technically legal to drive again. I could march right back to that DMV red carpet lady and her sidekick at window 13 and demand an upgrade. I was already dining out on my tale of their gnarly impatience. It might be fun to go back and see how far I could push these people before they just, you know, shot me.

But I knew that, although legal, I wasn’t road-ready. Even with the left eye’s 20/40, the blind spots and distortion in my vision would make me a menace on my cul-de-sac, let alone on the 405. In spite of the good news, I had to accept that my driving days really were behind me.

But hey, the good news is that my left eye is better, and that’s a whole lot better than worse. And the other good news is, I don’t have to go back to the red carpet.


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