Wednesday, March 26, 2008


It's funny how sometimes a little tiny thing can expose the cracks in what you thought was a pretty solid suit of armor.

I made my first attempt to get a new drivers license two weeks ago but did not have the right proof of residence. Unless I want to spend four or five hours in line, getting there before it opens is pretty much my best option and I've had morning meetings pretty much every day since. I'm not even going to launch into the rant asking why exactly California has figured out the concept of having an automated appointment system online that allows you to get in and out of the DMV in about 2.5 seconds. OK maybe just a little.

So today I finally went back, making sure last night that I had SEVERAL pieces of mail with my new address. I had been told that it had to have been mailed to me from something like my bank. I don't have any paper bank statements yet so I brought some other documents from them with me figuring that would work.

I get to the DMV 20 minutes before it opened and of course there is already a line but it didn't look too bad and I already have my paperwork filled out. We all file into the waiting room and I set about waiting. My number gets called about 20 minutes in which is pretty good. I had my paperwork done and all my documents in a nice little pile that I hand to the woman behind the counter. I try to be pleasant and say good morning but she's not having it and doesn't even look at me. She starts typing away and then asks me for proof of residence. I tell her that I wasn't sure exactly what would work so I have my insurance cards, a document from my bank and a letter from my car insurance company. She looks a me and says, "a personal letter doesn't work and that thing from the bank isn't a statement so I can't take it." I specifically remember the woman the time before telling me that I needed "something from your bank with your name on it that has been sent to you through the mail." Which is precisely what I have. I haven't had my bank account in MA long enough to HAVE a bank statement yet and I'm trying to obey that whole "change your license within 30 days" thing I've gotten in trouble for disregarding in the past. I ask her why a bank statement works and this doesn't and she shrugs. I am tempted at that point to ask for a manager but I don't want to be that guy. Thank the heavens above I notice that my checkbook happens to be in my purse even though I never have it with me. So I give that to her and she keeps typing. But the damage to my nerves was done. I was so frustrated that her response to me was just 100% unhelpful. There was no attempt to explain what seems like a really arbitrary rule about WHICH MAILED DOCUMENT FROM MY BANK WITH MY ADDRESS ON IT they will and won't accept ,no, "well let me ask someone, ". Just a smug little shrug. She then asks me if I have my social security card. I had already given her my passport so I say, "I though my passport meant I didn't need it," to which she says, "that was pretty much a yes or no question. Do you have it or not?". To my horror, I hear my voice shake when I answer that I do not have my social security card. I still don't know why she asked because I got the shrug again and she went back to typing. We have another falling out when she asks me to do the eye test and I get a little confused as to which one she wants me to read. At this point I say, "Look, I'm really not trying to annoy you, I just didn't understand what you were asking," and then the tears just start coming. She's asking me questions about photos and telling me to sign stuff and I can't stop them. I feel like a complete idiot, crying in the damn DMV. I will have the world's worst photo for the next 10 years because I could barely get myself to smile.

Now, I am willing to bet that the DMV is not anyone's dream job. You probably take a lot of abuse from people who are upset about various rules and procedures that are not your fault and that you cannot change. So I have a certain amount of sympathy for the folks working the counters there. However, they still chose to work in a job that is essentially customer service and as such, part of your job is to figure out how to deal with jerks and whiners without losing your cool. I am almost annoyingly friendly with people at stores and post offices and airline ticket counters. I've been on the other side of a customer service job and I know you get a lot further being nice. But when confronted with someone who starts our interaction by assuming that I'm going to be a jerk I am always so tempted to prove them totally right. I stood there fighting myself not to ask to talk to her manager. I have a sneaking suspicion that the DMV powers that be are well aware that they do not have a reputation as a bastian of great customer service. My cashier is pregnant and I certainly don't want to be the person snitching on a pregnant lady. So I just stand there and wipe away stupid tears that probably have less to do with the DMV and more to do with just everything.

I'm going to be happy here and already I'm feeling much more settled but wow, this whole moving across the country and changing your whole life thing is just not something I think I'm built to be good at. I get way, way too attached to things and it makes it nigh unto impossible to make a soft landing into a new experience. And doing it alone, as usual, sort of just amplifies everything.

The good news is that I have an MA license, I found a post office (another long story) and I think I actually have time to go to the gym tonight.

All good things.


Mona said...

This is precisely why I still have my AZ license after moving to Utah almost three years ago.

Shh...don't tell.

Pam said...

Aw, Miss Katie..... this breaks my heart. I can totally see myself doing the same thing.

You're doing great, my dear.

aporitic said...

To be fair, you did mention that she was pregnant, which means her hormones are whacked right now. So she could be a perfectly nice, curteous person who's just temporarily being betrayed by her body. Maybe she would normally have been the sort of sun-shiney person who just makes your whole day better, but you just happened to draw the short straw out of fate's coffe-cup this morning and got her on a bad day.

On the other hand, the DMV is a government monopoly, so what you got might also just be par for the course.

Sylvia said...

Oh no - another victim of the curséd Massachusetts RMV! I had a similar experience when I renewed my license here. If it makes things any better, it's not just you. Abysmal (or even deliberately insolent) customer service seems to be a job requirement.

And you're not the only one who suffers from unexpected bureaucracy-related meltdowns. I for one think it admirable - nay, remarkable - that you've had so few since your return to Boston. In case I haven't said it before, I'm glad you're back. (And maybe I'll even manage to see you amid the throng at church some day and tell you that in person!)

tim & brandi said...

Oh man, you just dug up a whole lotta memories from my past, mostly from when I lived in DC/Northern Virginia - the DMV there has got to be the worst in the country, hands down. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I cry EVERY TIME I go to the DMV. There's always an issue and I never get out of there without them making me feel like a piece of crap. I have so many stories and really not enough room in your comments section to post them. Lucky you.

Hang in there and remember the old cliché - I'll just let you guess which one...


chloe elizabeth said...

I am with Mona, only I'm at two years...and counting. And since I'll be a student soon (wherever that is) no need to switch it up. I love that in AZ my license doesn't expire until 2042. Hallelujah!

jess said...

I see so much of myself in that reaction! Nothing like uncontrollable tears to make you feel all grown up, huh?
Rejoice in staying on higher ground and that you won't have to do that again for many years!
Take care,

Jayne said...

I have to say that of all the odd things, the DMV in Farmington Utah is practically a walk in the park. They always act like it's lovely to be there and wasn't I nice to come by! Never saw that before. I hate that you had that experience!

Mike said...

these stories lately have tugged on my heart strings especially hard and honestly i almost cried. unfair tears! most times we save them for special moments of warranted sadness or joy. there is a respect of tears that situations like yours strip away. i feel i've somewhat worn your shoes as i got back from armenia and proceeded straight to the las vegas dmv for a solid week all day each day of them always wanting something else or different.

some might say nice guys finish last, and some nice guys might actually get convinced of it, but in the end we experience life more deeply and with more beautiful interconnectivity.

you are the best!

Linda said...

I hear you on the DMV- they are notorious. Welcome to Boston!