Bury My Heart at the DMV

The pandemic is a terrible thing. But it is the best thing to ever happen to the Department of Motor Vehicles. At least from the perspective of this resident of the District of Columbia, that is. Hear me out.  

We have all been there, or heard what it is like to be there. Abhorring the DMV and its Kafkaesque procedures is practically an American tradition. Growing up, I recall family members speaking of a trip to the DMV in absolutely funereal tones. Loved ones would hug and kiss the departing soul, uncertain of when or if they would return. The goodbyes would then echo throughout the silent household with bleak anxiety only comparable, I am sure, to that of families ravaged by military draft orders.

That was just the way things were. Cue COVID-19, and its uncanny ability to turn every experience registering as a 10 on the shit scale up to 11. There is no shortage of news reports describing pandemic-era DMV experiences that are truly ghastly, with socially distanced masses lined up outside for days on end, exposed to the elements like game console enthusiasts or American voters. 

I myself faced a bit of a SNAFU on account of the DMV’s online portal and its dearth of available appointments. My out-of-state driver’s license expired, leaving me SOL and unable to rent a car to visit family. Lead times for appointments stretched into the absurd, with no exceptions or recourse. Emails to dmv@dc.gov went unreturned. They even shut off the damn phone lines, an admirable if cheeky Heisman. 

My license expired in July, and the soonest available appointment at any of Washington, D.C.’s six locations was—get this—February 2021. Still, I wasn’t too fired up about it. Years of conditioning had led me to expect such things. 

But one day in October, as if by divine providence, a string of appointments opened up. I thanked my lucky stars, booked one, and raced over to Georgetown, ready for what I was sure would be a long, dreary slog. I blocked off the whole day on my Outlook calendar, packed lunch, and asked my coworkers to remember me as a peace-loving human being. 

Little did I know. My recollections are hazy—I downed two shots of sanitizer upon entry—but I distinctly remember a red carpet rolling out. What followed can only be described as an orgasm of efficiency and bespoke customer service. Generations worth of negative perceptions were wiped clean in minutes.

16 minutes, to be precise—in and out. No lines. No crowds. Wide open spaces like The (Dixie) Chicks sang about. It goes like this. I check in. I am handed a little slip of paper informing me that I am Customer A-0103. Almost simultaneously, a cool automated announcement system in deep Siri voice invites Customer A-0103 to proceed directly to Counter 38. It adds, “thank you, my liege,” which makes me feel good. At Counter 38, the chillest of chill men initiates the proceedings: 

“Documentation of residence, sir?” 

“Yes, that’s all very much in order.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that section of the application, sir, do skip ahead to the back page.”

“Now, please remove your facial accompaniment for a brief moment, sir, and look into the camera.”

*FLASH*

“That will be 47 dollars. Cash or card?” 

Excuse me, what? Since when does the DMV want you in and out as quickly as possible? And since when can they facilitate the experience with both aplomb and southern hospitality? I regret only that my mask hid the grin on my face as I stumbled toward the exit, punch-drunk and pampered like a guest at the Grand Budapest Hotel. 

A brief but amusing aside: As my photo was taken, I looked around and noticed that throughout this particular DMV are informative posters dispelling myths about organ donation. Thankfully, I had already checked the box and offered mine up, because one PSA misses its mark rather badly:

MYTH: There is a black market for human organs.

FACT: Human organ trafficking is illegal. 

Why, yes. Yes it is, but isn’t that exactly what makes it a black market? Strait-laced, laughably myopic bureaucrat types of Catch-22 lore apparently still exist. 

If those bureaucrats are this fast, though, you won’t hear any complaints from me. 

By all means, may the pandemic die a timely death. But let us not forget some of its more unexpected lessons. 

Feature image from Zootopia. Credit: Disney.