Observations at the DMV

The DMV is the great equalizer of humanity: all, rich or poor, who wish to drive an automobile legally must muddle through the DMV. Except Paris Hilton. Somehow I can’t imagine her waiting at the DMV for her number to be called. Each time an employee called a new number Ms. Hilton would have to lean over to the person next to her, show them her number, and ask them whether it was the one just called; I question whether she can independently count past 14. I suspect she pronounces the number 15 as “fiventeen.”

Because all drivers must run the DMV gauntlet at some point, it’s a wonderful place to people watch. I typically pass my time there simply observing the fascinating people around me. They look so interesting. They do such strange things. They behave so exotically. Gleaned from just one 30 minute DMV wait a couple days ago, I share a few person-sketches.

Not long after I take my seat, an old man with a walker pushes through the door. Plastic grocery bags—like 12 of them—dangle from the walker’s cross-bars. I study them as they sway while he inches his way across the sterile blue floor. What the crap is he carrying around in there? Lunchables? Human heads? Maybe this is one of those homeless guys who carries everything he owns with him. But, seriously… a walker? Doesn’t the government give out motorized carts to homeless people? I know it gives them cell phones and satellite TV and X-Boxes. He’salso wearing a neck brace—perhaps he got going too fast with that walker and spun out of control and hit a restraining wall? So, the old man finally reaches a chair and tenderly seats himself, panting like he’d just done 45 one-handed push-ups. I sit there trying to figure out what this dude could possibly be doing at the DMV. No way no how this guy drives a car. I’m not entirely certain he’s safe with his walker judging from the neck brace.

In bounces a guy who looks like Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber. Really happy guy. He smiles and calls the old guy with a neck brace “Buddy” as he passes. The old guy is still catching his breath from the exertion of having been alive for 250 years, so he can’t answer, but he kind of waves and, I think, pulls his deltoid, judging from the way he winces afterward. Lloyd has really awful hair. He’s bald on the tippy-top but he’s let the rest of his tightly curled gray hair grow out really long. And he has hat hair. So he’s got three layers of hair awfulness. 1) Bald on the tippy-top; 2) hair down to about ear level is plastered to his head due to wearing a hat all day; 3) tightly-curled hair beneath ear level is out of control, frizzing everywhere, threatening to cause traffic delays. But I like this guy. I like how he called the old guy “Buddy,” and how he jokes really loudly with the DMV lady. But, alas, what’s going on with his shorts? The right leg of his shorts is fine, but he’s rolled the left leg of his shorts up past mid-thigh. Why, dude, why? I can see the little pouch of his left side pocket coming out the bottom of his rolled-up shorts. I can see the bulge of his keys in there. It’s weird. But I still like him because he’s got a bouncy step and I think nobody’s called that old guy “Buddy” in over 100 years.

There’s a guy sitting a few couches over with a Sturgis shirt on. I find myself question whether he actually went. His short hair is neatly combed. His jeans are pressed. His shirt is tucked in. I didn’t even see a motorcycle in the parking lot, so this guy either walked or drove a car. I think he may have just got that shirt at a garage sale. I bet his name is Ernest or William, and he hates it when people call him Ernie or Billy. A guy who really went to Sturgis would not only not care if someone called him Billy, he’d tack a catchy nickname on there too, like “Bullet Billy” or “Wild Boar Billy.”

Two Hispanic kids are chatting in Spanish off to my left. They must be in their late-teens or early 20s. One was just finishing a driver’s test when I walked in and now he’s laughing and chatting while he waits for the results. A starchy DMV lady calls him up and, loudly enough for everyone to hear, tells him he failed. This kid wins the award for Best Attitude After a Miserable Failure. He smiles and shrugs and returns to his seat to continue chatting with his buddy. Later, as I’m taking care of my business at the counter, the lady at the next booth calls up the second kid. He’s reporting an accident. “Do you know anything about the other person involved?” the lady asks. “Yes,” says the kid. “Why didn’t you write it down on this form you just gave me?” she replies. “Because the other person was a tree,” he explains. Silence. +1 for Hispanic kid. -1 for DMV lady.

I notice a grungy looking kid, probably 16 or 17, reading a magazine while his mom, her back to me, picks stuff out of his hair. I don’t really mind if gorillas do that. I don’t really mind if humans do that, as long as they’re in Michigan and I’m in Montana. But, really. At the DMV? What was she looking for? Oil deposits? Moths? If my mom had ever pulled that kind of crap on me in public, I would have declared independence—signed a piece of parchment and threatened her with a bayonet and everything. You know, dumped all her tea in the bathtub. That sort of thing. But this kid—man, what a lump.

Then there’s the ubiquitous 50-something guy in a polo shirt and slacks talking on his Bluetooth. He’s clearly a business owner, and his business—breeding rabbits or welding shovels or repossessing furniture or something vital like that—is so important that he can’t not talk loudly about it in the quiet of the DMV waiting room. Because if he doesn’t arrange this deal, right now, people will die. No, not just people, but children will die. More than all of the other oddities of the DMV, this guy bugged the most. I had to restrain myself from walking over, grabbing his waxy Bluetooth out of his pretentious ear, and throwing it against the wall while shouting “I hate capitalism!!” But I didn’t. And I left the DMV kind of glad that not everyone is just like me. Because then think how boring the DMV would be: everyone would just be sitting there, watching everyone else, waiting for them to do something funny. Ugh.