Wednesday, April 17, 2013


A few weeks ago, I received one of the most dreaded pieces of mail an American can receive. I was being summoned to the DMV. My driver’s license was about to expire, and if I wanted to continue to operate motor vehicles legally, I was required to actually go to a DMV location to take a vision test, take a new picture, and most importantly, I suspect, pay $32.00.

My immediate reaction was, “Nooooo! Not the DMV!!! Why do I have to get a new license, anyway? I’ve only had this one a few years. Nothing has changed!” My wife then pointed out that I had a full head of hair in the picture, so it had obviously been a few more than a few years. She might have a point. As I was admiring my hair in the photo, a thought occurred to me. “Man, I was good looking with hair…” Just kidding, that’s not what I thought… What I thought was, “Why am I smiling in this picture?”

Only two groups of people ever see your driver’s license. People you are buying something from, and police officers. I couldn’t care less what the Safeway clerk and the bartender think of my picture, and I really don’t care what the cops think of it either, but if I were to get pulled over by a patrolman, I don’t think I want him looking at a jovial smiling idiot picture of me. I want the picture to be useful to me in some way. I will no doubt be trying to talk my way out of whatever traffic violation he has me dead to rights on, so I want that picture to be helping my case.

But, what look should I go for in the new picture?

Sad and pathetic? Never good.

Surprised? Like, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that! That is literally the first stop sign I have ever rolled in my whole life. I don’t know what came over me!” Probably not.

What about tired? No… exhausted! That’s the ticket. Or should I say, my ticket to no ticket. My story will be this: With the seven little mouths to feed at home, I am forced to work three jobs (due to the economy and so forth) just to make ends meet. Meat. There’s something we haven’t had in a while. Things are tough, but we don’t complain. We have our health, for the most part, although, momma’s cough is getting worse. How much do these tickets normally run, anyway? I guess we could take it down to one meal a day for a while to pay for the ticket, but with junior being as skinny as he is now, I sure hope it doesn’t take too long to pay off. I know I broke the law, and I hate to be a pain, but I’m almost late for my shift at the manure factory, and I really can’t afford to lose that job, due to all the aforementioned reasons… Yes, exhausted it is!

The letter I received in the mail strongly suggested that I make an appointment at my local DMV branch. Based on my past DMV waiting room experiences, I thought an appointment sounded like a really good idea, so I went on the DMV’s handy website and used their appointment system. I clicked on the DMV branch in my town and they gave me an appointment time for three weeks later on a Thursday at 9:10 A.M. Now, normally I’m working on Thursdays at 9:10 A.M., but I took it, no questions asked. I had the option to pass on that one and see what else was available, but that option scared me to death. We’re talking about the DMV here. If I tried for something else, it was surely going to be worse, and there would be no going back. The next available appointment was probably ten weeks after my license would expire. Thursday at 9:10 A.M. it is!

I walked into the brightly-lit, modern-looking DMV office at 9:05 A.M. There were about 8 or 9 DMV employees behind the counters, and no less than 75 people sitting forlornly in the waiting area that consisted of two large banks of plastic chairs on either side of the spacious facility. There they sat, dead silent, staring straight ahead, each holding a paper ticket with a letter and a number. A woman holding A32 was sitting next to a man with G14. Holy crap, I’m going to be here all day! What was the point of the appointment?

I stood in the three-person line at the ticket dispensing lady, and when I got to the counter, she asked if I had an appointment. I said, “Yes!” with a non-DMV-ish level of hopefulness in my voice. She smirked and gave me ticket H42 and told me to have a seat. I walked to the waiting area with the proper DMV-ish level of dejectedness. I will be here well past dinner time.

My butt was not in the molded plastic seat for more than 15 seconds when “H42. Now serving number H42 at window 12,” could be heard echoing through the facility. H42! That’s me! I sprang out of my seat with renewed non-DMV-ish vigor, and stepped quickly away from the waiting hordes over to window 12.

The lady behind window 12 asked me a few questions and had me sign my form in her presence, swearing under penalty of law that I was me and I was being truthful to the best of my knowledge. Then she took my thumbprint, and had me write her a check for $32.00. She took my check and then asked me to cover my left eye and read line 3 on letter chart B hanging from the ceiling behind her desk. I contemplated asking her why she took my money before she verified that I was able to see well enough to renew my license, but I figured I already knew the answer to that question, so I just went ahead and read line 3 to her.

When I was done with the left eye, she apparently had some more typing to do, so there was a lull in the conversation. I figured it was a good time to ask her a few driver’s license-related questions that had been on my mind. Namely, how come somebody who doesn't have a driver’s license qualifies to be your passenger in the carpool lane? I mean, if they can’t drive, you're not carpooling, you're just being a taxi service. And what qualifies no-passenger Prius hybrids and motorcycles for the carpool lane, and not my Partial Zero-Emission 4-Cylinder Camry? I mean, I burn less gas than the passenger-less guy in the big pickup truck. Shouldn’t I get to use the bonus lane for at least part of the time? And, really, when we get right down to it, shouldn't the people who pay the most taxes get to use the carpool lane whenever they want? I mean, they paid for it, right?

She just looked at me blankly and said, “Please proceed to the picture area.”


The moment of truth. I have been working on my “exhausted and earnestly struggling to make ends meet” look for three weeks.

There were three people ahead of me in the picture line, but it moved very quickly. When it was my turn, the picture lady asked for my paperwork, and then said, “Step to the blue screen place your feet on the marks on the floor look straight ahead OK done.”

What? Did you take it already?

“You should receive your new license in the mail in three to four weeks please exit to your right have a nice day next.”

Dammit! I didn’t even have time to do my exhausted look. I have no idea what look I was doing. I don’t even know at what point the picture was taken. Maybe I’ll end up with surprised. That’s better than nothing.

Oh, well. Even though the picture didn’t turn out like I had hoped, the upside was I was in and out of the building in 11 minutes. Every one of those 75 people were still sitting there when I walked out the door. Make an appointment, people!

I would have been in and out in more like eight or nine minutes, but I stopped to question the security guard at the exit door. He didn’t know anything about the carpool lane, either.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2013 Marc Schmatjen

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