Today I had to update my driver’s license. I had to update my motorcycle endorsement on my license. And because I am also military and a veteran, there is even more paperwork to fill out when I update my driving status. Anyway, it was a lovely morning in the DDS (Department of Driver Services). Not. I had an appointment confirmation in my email inbox; I had hard copies of my new certificates from my motorcycle course; I had my old license. I had all the boxes checked. That was my thought; that was my hope. Well, seems Burns was right: the best laid plans of mice and men can still go wrong. When I entered the DDS twenty minutes prior to my actual appointment time (I’m a stickler for punctuality, so I overdo it at times) I walked in on an altercation.
A man about my age had his young son with him. The boy appeared to be a teenager. The father was obviously upset but I did not know why. Suddenly a woman appeared from the rear of the DDS building. “What may I do for you, sir? Why are you upset?” I knew right away the rest of the morning was not going to go well at the DDS. “Well, I have filled out all my paperwork before I came. Yet this man behind the glass here keeps repeating, ‘Fill out an application.’ I have already done that prior to coming here! That is why I am upset.”
“Sir,” she said, “did you use the website prior to your arrival? All of the requirements are listed there.”
“Am I speaking too quickly for you? Yes, I know that. Yes, I used the website. And I have all of the info. But this guy (pointing at the man behind the plastic window) keeps telling me to fill out an application when I already have a completed application in my hand! That is why I am upset.”
All eyes were on the people in the verbal spat. Then the man behind the plastic window pointed his finger at me: “Sir, come forward.” His voice was hard to hear behind the plastic window. Plus he was wearing a mask.
I felt like I was in a police state. I felt like common courtesy had grown not just less common but almost absent. “Good morning. I am here to update my motorcycle endorsement on my driver’s license. I have my certificates and appointment time confirmation and application here,” and I slid the documents to him through the half-moon at the bottom of the large plastic window, trying not to show my agitation.
“Sir, fill out an application,” he said. He had an accent from an African country. Kenyan? Ugandan? He sounded like some of my dear Christian brothers from Uganda that I still miss from my last deployment. But this man was not like my brothers there. This man was rude and seemed to know only one or two phrases in English. One involved directing others to fill out an application. The other involved pointing people to the side wall.
“I have already. It is right here,” I responded.
“Sir, fill out an application,” he said automatically, like Pavlov’s dog.
“Sir, I have. If you will look at the papers I just slid to you, you will see not only the application, but my appointment confirmation, my license, and my additional motorcycle endorsements.”
He suddenly grew loud. “Sir! Step over to the side and fill out an application!” he shouted at me.
I looked at the wall where he pointed. The first man and his son were still trying to explain their situation to the lady who’d come from the back. I retrieved my paperwork from the half-moon at the bottom of the plastic window. I walked over to a shelf on the wall, took an application from the wire cage there, and filled it out. It had the exact same info as what I had come with. Exactly the same info–name, address, etc. You know the drill.
After I completed it, I walked back over to the masked man behind the plastic window. I slid the documents to him again. He looked at them, at my licenses and certificates, and said loudly, “There! Go over there!” And I joined the other browbeaten drivers in DDS and waited for the next round of abuse.
After fifteen or twenty minutes, an intercom came on and an electronic voice called out the number of my ticket. “B119 at counter 12.” I stepped up. A young girl of Asian ancestry asked, “May I help you?” And the routine started again.
There are days when one can understand why people simply snap inside, when they say to themselves, “Yes, if anything proves the smartest and fastest and strongest don’t survive, just step into a government building run by robotic masked shills standing behind plastic windows, who seem only moved to a modicum of joy if they can make your morning miserable. Dante’s levels of punishment in The Divine Comedy omitted one—a government complex with bureaucrats inside who torture the damned.”
When I exited the building, I looked at the faces of the damned where they stood in line awaiting the protocol. The man and his young son were still there, trying to convince the lady that they’d completed all of the paperwork accurately beforehand. And the folks in line, their faces were like those who know the game is rigged but they’re sentenced to play anyway. I walked finally out of the building, inhaled some of the morning air, wondering if I smelled of sulfur and brimstone.