The DMV: Where Dreams Come to Die

There is a 10th circle of Hell that Dante was afraid to write about in the Inferno. It is the DMV, the place where dreams come to die.

I brought my daughter there yesterday to obtain a state ID for her so she would have identification for air travel. After a long wait, we talked to Roy at the counter. Roy looked over Alana’s documents. He stopped when he got to her passport.

“This is expired,” he said as if he had just smelled something sour.

“Yes, I know,” I told him. “That’s why she needs a state-issued ID.”

“But this is no good,” he said shaking his head. “This is invalid. Because it’s expired.”

“Yes,” I countered. “I still know that from when you said it before.”

“That means it doesn’t count as a document that you need to get her the ID,” Roy explained as if he were talking to someone of very limited capacity. “The passport is not valid.”

Roy changed the word invalid to the two words not valid in hopes that I would now comprehend his meaning.

“Yes,” I said trying to contain my inability to grasp bureaucratic-ese. “But even though the date makes the passport no longer valid, the information on her passport hasn’t changed. I mean, look at her. She’s right here. She’s the same person. It’s like expired milk in the refrigerator. It doesn’t stop being milk and turn into candy corn just because it expires. It’s still milk. And she’s still Alana, the person inside the expired passport…”

Apparently, logic is lost on bureaucrats.

Minutes later, Alana and I returned to the DMV with the appropriate, non expired and non invalid documents. Roy still worked the counter. He didn’t remember us. Which was a good thing. Roy gave us a ticket with C305 printed on it, and he sent us to the next of many lines.

We had passed his test. We were found worthy.

While we waited, Alana commented that this place was like a circus. I wasn’t sure if she were commenting on the noise level, how colorfully dressed people were, or the peanut shells on the floor. But I think she might have been referring to the smell of wild animals and manure that filled the room.

An hour and several lines later, we stood waiting for the cashier. Behind the front desk, I pointed out a sign to Alana.

“Why do they need a sign telling people not to curse?” she asked.

“The same reason they have armed guards in here,” I told her.

“Do you think cursing happens here a lot? Like it’s a big a problem?” she asked.

“No,” I responded. “I’m sure people are never at a loss for words when they’re waiting in line. I’m guessing new curse words are invented here every day.”

“So that’s why they have a sign?”

“If you saw a sign that said, ‘Absolutely NO SPITTING’, wouldn’t that tell you that spitting is a problem?” I asked.

“I hate this place,” Alana summed up the experience. “No one is smiling. Everyone looks miserable. And this line isn’t moving.”

“Yeah,” I empathized. “This is what it’s like to be an adult. You don’t ever enjoy waiting in lines. You just get used to it.”

“Do you have to come here for the rest of your life?” she asked incredulously.

An elderly woman standing in front of us in line turned around and answered, “Just until you die.”

Twenty minutes later, Alana and I were back in the car, the experience behind us. That’s when Alana enjoyed the second pleasure of the DMV: looking at her photo on the laminated card.

“It looks like I’m ready to sneeze,” she said shaking her head.

“They attend a special class for that, how to catch people at the perfect moment,” I confirmed.

After a little silence, Alana said, “Dad, I don’t think I want to drive if it means coming back here again.”

That’s when I told her a little secret. The secret to happiness is low expectations. I counted off all of the things that made the trip to the DMV less than pleasant. And then I surprised her when I said,


“What? How can you say that? It was awful!” She protested.

I explained that people come to the DMV with low expectations. They expect lines, and they plan their day around it. It’s part of the experience. People go because they HAVE TO, not because they see the DMV as a more affordable option to Disney World.

I pointed out to her that while Roy was a little annoying, he told us clearly what documentation we needed. That saved us time because we didn’t make several trips bringing one piece of paper each trip. The lines were long, but they had seats while we waited for much of the time. And everyone who helped us was efficient. Then I told her that the last time I came to renew my license, it took me two hours. On my birthday. In contrast, this experience was not bad. Finally, I pointed out to her that the same people who come in grumpy looking leave with a relaxed, almost pleasant look on their faces…BECAUSE IT FEELS GOOD TO COMPLETE THINGS ON YOUR HAVE TO LIST.

What have you been putting off? As you get started, tell yourself these simple, self-talk motivators:

  • This too shall pass
  • This won’t kill me
  • I’ll feel great when this is done

Now stop putting it off, and get going…

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