I live in the United States of America. In this country, getting licensed to drive is a rite of passage, the rare cultural institution that all young people anticipate and partake in regardless of race, creed, or gender. There was even an Olsen twins movie about it, just in case you had any doubt about driving being a Big Deal here.
Getting a driver’s license is a pretty straightforward process that can teach you quite a bit about this country if you’re not too caught up thinking about how much the whole process sucks (and since you’re about sixteen years old when you start this process, you probably are). The DMV system is a marvel of bureaucracy, a sculpture made of red tape designed to sort people like pop stars sort M&Ms. Except it’s not very fun/tasty/colorful. Especially when something goes wrong.
Although your local Department of Motor Vehicles (or Motor Vehicle Commission in some states) is staffed with living, breathing, human beings, the way branches are structured make the whole experience more like dealing with an automated phone operator. You know, the robots you speak to when you call most customer service numbers? If you want to do this, press one. If you want to do that, press 2. If you want to do things in Spanish, oprima tres.
The DMV functions in much the same way. You want to renew your registration? Get in this line. Get a permit? Go to that one. Fill out this card first though. And make sure you have seven ways to prove your identity.
This is a great way to deal with a high volume of people who need to do specific things, but it’s an absolutely terrible way to help people solve problems. The second you reveal yourself as a square peg that doesn’t quite fit into any of the available holes, no one has any idea what to do with you.
It took me five years to get a driver’s license. Usually when I tell people that, they contort their face in such a way that says “gee, you must really suck at something.” The truth is, I’m kind of a pro at applying for driver’s licenses, I just keep getting a level of scrutiny that’s normally reserved for photos of Bigfoot every time I walk into a DMV.
In the interest of time, I’m going to reduce my experience to a series of bullet points before bringing it all home with some tips on How My Story Can Help You.
ACT 1: THE KID BECOMES A MAN
- I acquire a permit at the age of 17. Later than most of my friends, but it’s still kind of nice.
- I acquire a summer job at a school for the handicapped. This requires a criminal background check, which you cannot get done without a state ID.
- I return to the DMV to get a non-driver ID. The woman at the counter tells me to get one, I have to forfeit my permit. Since money is nice and I didn’t have a car, I comply. Five years later, every DMV employee I’ve spoken to says this makes no sense.
ACT 2: ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT
- Once more I’m off to the DMV to get a new permit—but it never gets validated. I find out that it’s because there is someone else in my state with my name and most of the same traits that my state uses to generate license numbers. Which means no one knows what to do with me.
- You should know that it took me many weeks and DMV visits to find out that last bullet point that you probably read in five seconds.
- I go to college and kinda don’t give a crap anymore.
ACT 3: DON’T STOP BELIEVIN
- I find out that the only way to solve my problem is by going to the DMV office in my state capital—almost two hours away. I don’t want to do this (See: last bullet point)
- I graduate and get a job in The City which has great public transportation that’s cheaper than a car and I kinda don’t give a crap anymore.
- Not having a license finally becomes extremely inconvenient, and I travel nearly two hours by train to clear my identity with the powers that be.
Now that I’ve established my credentials as a DMV/MVC Guru, allow me to share this tiny tidbit of wisdom: if you ever find yourself lost in Motor Vehicle Purgatory, do yourself a favor and just leave the country.
Image by: Aidan-Sally/Flickr