Wednesday, February 4, 2009

"The DMV: A Long Story of a Short Visit" by Eddie Fos

If you were to conduct an informal survey of adults anywhere, and ask them what event they dread the most, but must tend to several times during their adult lives, surely, one of the most popular answers will be a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles. As you know, I made that trip to the DMV today to take care of a few items that were past due. I had to change my address on my driver's license, and on my vehicle registration as well as renew my registration. While I was there, I remembered that I may as well register to vote at my new address.

In preparation for what was certain to be an all morning affair, I picked up a large Diet Dr. Pepper at a nearby gas station, and took along the book I've been trying to finish, figuring I'd surely be there long enough to read the last 64 or so pages. Upon arrival at the DMV on Airline Highway, I found, not surprisingly, that the parking lot was full; I actually had to circle a few times while waiting for someone to finish up their business and depart. After finding a parking spot, I gathered what I thought would be the appropriate items, including my book and my soda, and headed inside to begin waiting in the first of several very long lines.

The first thing I noticed was there were a lot of different service windows, at least 20 or more, and they were serving two sets of numbers, 473, and 236 at different windows. I waited my turn in line to get my number for service, and when called, explained to the gentleman behind the computer (who never once smiled, looked up, or returned my greeting of "Good Morning") what I was there for. He told me to have my proof of insurance card ready and handed me a number--094. My heart sank. I was certain the numbers must roll over at 500, which must have meant that I was in the first set of numbers (where they were serving #473), which also meant there were probably more than 120 people in front of me! I turned from the line and made my way to one of the many seats in the waiting area, and was fortunate enough to find a seat in the front row. I kindly asked the gentleman in the next seat if the apparently empty seat was taken, and he responded that it wasn't, so I settled in for what was sure to be a long wait.

Before I could even open my book, the gentleman to my left asked if I was told how long the wait was. I responded that I had not asked, and he informed me that he had been told at least 3 hours! His number was 296, so I pointed out to him that apparantly we had numbers in different sets and would probably be called at different intervals, and then I wished him luck in his efforts there today. I set my soda on the seat between my legs, and proceeded to open my book and search for the place on the page where I had left off reading before leaving home earlier that morning. I quickly found my place and began to read the first new sentence, when...

"Now serving number 0-9-4 at window number 1", the computerized voice rang loud and clear through the overhead speaker system. Yes! Maybe this wouldn't be so bad, after all.

I quickly proceeded to the first window, and explained to a very attractive young woman, who was without a doubt, the most cordial bureaucratic employee I had ever encountered, exactly what I had hoped to accomplish there that morning. She requested my driver's license, and registration, asked me a few pertinent questions, furiously typing on her keyboard and smiling at me the entire time, quickly printed out a couple of sheets of paper, handed them to me and told me to go wait in line for the cashier who would call my name shortly. She further informed me to wait for both cashiers, as each handled a separate item that I was there for.

I stood in line and was called within 2 minutes to the first cashier, who handed me my new registration and asked that I verify the information on it. Everything was okay, so she collected $46.34 from me and told me to wait for the next cashier to call me. The next cashier was in the stall immediately next to the first cashier, and so was in earshot of our conversation. Much to my amazement she said, with a smile I might add, "There's no need to wait, Mr. Fos. I can take you right now."

Wow! This was really surprising, I had been inside for all of 20 minutes, and so far the longest wait I had was in the take a number line, while explaining to the guy who was routing the entire process for everyone what exactly I needed to have done that day. That process probably took 10 to 12 minutes to complete itself!

After the second cashier had me verify the information for the address change on my driver's license, she told me to sign the paper she had handed me, and take it to the camera area. She also gave me the new paperwork for my voter registration and told me to fill it out and hand it to the women at the camera. I proceeded to the camera area with my paperwork, handed the woman my papers, which I had hurriedly filled out, turned to sit when she stopped me. Of course, things were going too well. She told me that I should go sit in front of the camera and remove my hat. I complied with her instruction, and proceed to make a joke about having hat hair in the picture she was about to take, when--SNAP!--she took the picture.

The look on her face spoke volumes! "There's a mirror right here," she offered, and when I looked at the screen I saw what she meant. Since I had just removed my hat, my hair was molded into some bizarre angle, and since I was speaking when she took the picture, my mouth seemed strangely contorted. We both had a good laugh, while I quickly tamed my mane, and posed for another more presentable picture. She took the picture and instructed me to take a seat in one of the chairs against the wall.

I took one of the seats next to a woman with a cane, who noticed my book and proceeded to strike up a conversation. "Great book," she began. "I had just finished reading it when Katrina struck." I acknowledged that I, too, felt it was a very good read, and told her I had only just heard about the book from a very good friend of mine, and was almost finished it. She continued, "Every year the New Orleans Parish schools have a reading program in which the students are required to read books outside of the regular curriculum--and guess what they were reading last year? Rising Tide [the same book that I was reading]". I told her that I had been thinking, while reading it, that it should be required reading for everyone in the New Orleans Metro area, if not all of the Mississippi River Valley, to which she agreed. Our conversation was cut short though, because, just then my name was called. I excused myself, retrieved my license, bid the camera woman "good day", said "goodbye" to the woman with the cane, and proceeded to make my way to the exit.

Along the way, I passed the row of chairs where I first took my seat. "Finished already?", the first gentleman I met while waiting asked me.

"Yep, amazing, isn't it?", I replied. Then, "Good luck with everything." I nodded and made my exit.

I proceeded out the door, into the parking lot, across to my vehicle, applied my new registration sticker, and headed home, all within 30 minutes of arriving!

Now, like everyone else I've been to the DMV several times. The most recent trip was just after Katrina, in December of 2005, when the only location open was in Chateau Estates in Kenner. There, I waited 3 hours in line outside, just to get into the building. This time, it was a breeze, and the people were so incredibly nice. So, my advice: if you have to go to the DMV, try to go to the one in Kenner, on Airline, next to Skate World. The employees there are really nice, and depending on what you have to do, you'll be in and out in no time.

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