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In search of lost time: special DMV edition

There’s a guy bellowing The Word at his captive audience, and judging by his volume and stamina, he has — conservative estimate here — three lungs. Could be four, in fact, the way he really belts out God’s judgment this and God’s mercy that, while people do their weary best to ignore the holy thunder. “We’re not Westboro Baptist,” his card-distributing colleague says, more quietly, but this definitely feels funereal, like I’m standing around waiting to croak.

I’m at the DMV, of course.

Outside the DMV, to be perfectly accurate. It’s still a few minutes from opening and I am — conservative estimate here — 10,000 people back in this line to nowhere, this small blob of humanity locked in the death grip of bureaucratized modernity. “Rules equal boredom,” Simon Cowell once said, “and I don’t like that.” Me, either, bub, but I’ve got a new car to register and an overdue license to renew by the end of the day. Though a godly smiting sounds like a pretty good alternative right about now.

Somewhere in the distance, the door opens. We shuffle forward a few feet. The sun beats down. More preaching. Brother, isn’t this line purgatorial enough?

Despite advances in online and texting-based DMV operations, sometimes it still comes down to this grueling slog and its familiar sensation of industrialized helplessness. According to the RJ, the number of DMV visits in the four local DMV offices went from 1.4 million in 2013 to the possibility of 2 million this year. Two years ago, the average wait time was 40 minutes. “In 2014, the average wait time doubled and continues to increase so far in 2015,” the paper reported.

Support comes from

No surprise. More programs and duties are being heaped on the agency and its admittedly inadequate computer systems: Among other things, it distributes medical marijuana cards and driver IDs for undocumented residents. And bills in the 2015 Legislature this session could add more, including voter ID cards and, as the RJ put it, “medical marijuana caregiver cards for pet owners.” (For clarification, buzz Tick Segerblom.)

The DMV is looking at a computer upgrade (funded by a new $1 fee on transactions!) and additional humans, but as I shuffle and sweat through this line, those measures sound like strapping floaties to your arms as the tsunami approaches: nice gestures, but the odds of making it don’t look great.

I gotta give a closing shout-out to the clerk at Window 11. When the line finally plops me at her desk in a fluster of partially filled-out paperwork and anxious questions, she greets me warmly, stabilizes my nerves and handles my problems quickly. Excellent job on her part, considering that she marinates daily in the enervating gestalt and ambient client-hate peculiar to an enormous, impersonal bureaucracy. I leave with an irritating time deficit but otherwise feeling all right. Outside, the preacher is still going at it; I hope he asks the Lord to expedite those new computers.

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