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February 2003 Rant

"My Trip to DMV"

Note: This was written just after New Year's Day and before Governor Warner "wised up" and found money to re-open the closed DMV offices.

The year is now 2003 and my 1978 motorcycle is an antique. I decided to register it as an antique at DMV and get an antique plate for it. I had heard that you should be prepared for a long wait since 12 offices have been shut down and 587 employees laid off. So I checked the DMV website and saw that Tuesdays and Fridays were the best days to go and that my DMV was open at 8 AM. It was 8 AM on a Friday so I took off.

I got there at 8:20 to find the parking lot full and a line out the door. I had the day off so I decided to go for it. I went in and stood in line for only a couple of minutes before I was helped. I noticed two armed security guards. There weren’t any guards in the DMV when I last visited. I overheard one guard say to someone he knew that there had been some trouble there yesterday and that he hoped today was going to be a better day. Being a public school teacher for many years I know that you don’t crowd people together with nothing to do for hours and not expect something to happen. Everywhere you are expected to wait has something for you to do like reading a magazine, watching TV, but not DMV.

After getting my ticket I looked around and saw that there were only two seats left. I took one and looked at my ticket, which was a “C” ticket. I noticed that on one end a DMV employee was calling C tickets and was only a few numbers from mine. Apparently you are classified by what you want and certain clerks take care of certain things. It was about this time that one of the guards made the first of two announcements for people to turn in the clipboards. They had run out of them. I heard a couple of people say they weren’t going to turn theirs in. I could feel anger and tension. There were people talking loudly about how they hated the wait. The words “governor” and “Warner” were being used in the context usually reserved for profanity.

The guy next to me got called and a woman took his seat. We talked. She was from the West End of Richmond where a DMV had been closed. She had the next “C” number after me. We noticed that there were about 6 people behind the counter doing nothing but talking. People were looking at them and wondering why they weren’t helping anyone. A few minutes later one of the ones not doing anything behind the counter came out with a digital camera and starting taking pictures. I told the woman next to me that those aren’t the kind of photos I would take – a bunch of angry people waiting. The woman with the camera got a shot of the back of my head. Maybe it will be on the DMV website.

The six people doing nothing left. One guy yelled something at them and they tried to ignore it. More people were coming in all the time and there were no seats. People were standing. The clerks had been doing pretty well at getting to the customers but now things slowed down after a couple of the clerks went outside. One of them was my clerk – the only person handling the “C” folk.

After about 20 minutes my clerk came back. She called me or rather the mechanical voice called me. I told her what I wanted. She did a lot of typing. I asked for the orange antique plate because I didn’t want the black and white one. She told me there was a yellow plate and did I want that one? Yes and I wanted a refund for my old tag that was still good for 4 months. She then told me that I wouldn’t get anything for my plate and gave me a paper saying that it was worthless. I told her I’d keep it. She asked what I was going to do with it since it wasn’t any good. I thought about saying that I’m sure someone would buy the good year and month decals since DMV didn’t want to pay me for them but I told her I wanted to nail it to the side of the garage. I was then surprised when I got the bill for $13.50. I said that I thought it was $11.50 for an antique plate. She said it went up in July. I checked when I got home and the Code of Virginia says $10 ($1.50 extra for going to DMV) but the DMV website says $13.50.

I again asked for my yellow plate. She said that that DMV didn’t have any antique motorcycle plates. She then got a cardboard multi-use tag and a “MU” registration. I told her that that cardboard plate wouldn’t fit on my bike’s plate holder. She said the right one would be in the mail next week and was I really going to ride a bike in January? I didn’t get a receipt – I guess DMV has to save money anyway it can.

My wait time was one hour sixteen minutes. There were still some people waiting that had been waiting when I arrived. I learned some things. I learned that there are a lot of people who don’t speak English getting drivers licenses. And DMV makes drivers handbooks in Spanish and maybe other languages. I learned that you should use the mail or the Internet and avoid going to DMV unless you like waiting with a bunch of angry people.

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