Always Real, Sometimes Tart

There’s A Good Reason Driver License Pictures Are Bad

Because I have super sharp powers of observation, I quickly realized that things probably were not going to go well.

You see, as I pulled into the parking lot, it was jam packed with cars.  Most of the cars were missing hub caps, some had windows covered with garbage bags secured with duct tape and others were missing the passenger seat.  And their owners were loitering in the parking lot smoking cigarettes.  Not that my car is new and fancy by any means.  But it does have hub caps and windows and all the seats.

So I artfully wedged my car into the last remaining spot, sucked in my gut and then I turned myself sideways and slithered out of my car and into the parking lot of loiterers, ostensibly there hoping to do business with the Texas Department of Public Safety.  Just like me.

I got a letter several months ago saying it was time to renew my drivers license!  I put that exclamation point there to imply I was on a fun adventure.  Did I convince you?

I procrastinated for two months but finally I could procrastinate no longer; I had to go.

I checked the website to make sure that I knew exactly where I was going and that I had everything I needed.  I needed ID, I needed proof of my social security number or a passport,  and most importantly, I needed to pay them $25 either with a check, cash or a Visa credit card. Check, check, check.  I had all those things.

I did not need proof of insurance or vehicle inspection or voters registration or any other hoop-jumping papers.  I realized that I would have a long wait, but I didn’t want to wait an hour (An hour! Hahaha!) and then have my number called only to have some clerk tell me I needed some sCrap of paper that was at home.  So I made every effort to secure all the required documents as specified on the web site.  I think ahead.

I made my way through the dirty parking lot and into the dirty building which was at or near the maximum occupancy rate.  There was not a teaspoon of air to breath that had not already been breathed by someone else.  I am more than a little claustrophobic and I felt myself getting a little woozy.  But this had to be done.  Finally it was my turn to get a number. It was number #80.

With pleading eyes and a wavering voice that implied I could go postal, I asked the young man behind the desk, please sir – is there was any way, any way at all, that I could do this any other way?  I was on both knees in the prayer position, head bowed, hands clasped, begging for mercy, intercession, a miracle, anything, anything at all.  He looked at my letter and my driver’s license and yawned.  Yes, he said, I could make this go away over the phone and then he wrote a number down across the top of my official DPS letter and handed it back to me.

“Really?!  Are you sure?” I asked incredulously.

He nodded.

I was elated.

But I also knew, deep in my heart, that he was wrong.

Nonetheless, I was going to enjoy my delusion and false elation for as long as I could.

I took my paper with the phone number, waded back through the icky parking lot of discarded diapers and cigarette butts and wedged myself back into my car and went home where I dialed the number, followed all the prompts and was told I could not complete my transaction over the phone and that I should present myself in person at my local DPS office.

I groused and stomped about and heaved heavy sighs of exasperation that my false elation was false.   I whined and complained to AD (who is immune to my whining and complaining).  And then I cursed the DPS and all of big government in my head.  And then I got back in my car and drove to another DPS office 20 miles away.  I believe that is the definition of psychosis – when you do the same thing hoping for a different result.

When I got to this DPS it was much better!  The parking lot was reasonably clean and I was able to get out of my car without first vaporizing.  I peeked in the windows of the building and there was hardly anyone there! This was going to be GREAT!  I followed the signs which pointed to the entrance several doors down.  When I walked through that door there were 632 people inside all of whom either a) were talking loudly in a foreign language on their cell phone or b) had a screaming baby standing in their lap, or c) both.


So, once again, I made my way to the front desk and got a number – 49!  That was pretty good, much better than 80.  I would just have to wait it out.  A chair even opened up; no one made a move for it, so I snagged it and sat down.  I pulled out my iTouch and started a game of Scrabble.  An hour later I looked up and they were on numbers 986, 343 and 299.  Clearly I did not understand their numbering system, but then again this was a system engineered by the same people who bring you the IRS, so it made sense in that it didn’t make any sense.

I looked up another hour later and they were on numbers 37, 461 and 128.  At about that time, I noticed a message flash on the screen that said they only accept cash at THIS location; no checks, no credit cards.  That was not mentioned on the website or by the person at the window who gave me #49 two hours ago.  I panicked for a moment wondering how much cash I had on me.  If I had waited there two hours and couldn’t complete my transaction because I had $24 but not $25, I might blow an artery.  Luckily I had the dough and so I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to playing Scrabble for another hour.

Finally, three hours from the time I arrived, #49 was called. I jumped out of my seat and fist-punched the air. Woo-hoo! I ran up to the window like I was on the Price Is Right. Come on down!

The gal behind the window found all my documents to be in order.  She asked me to take a vision test which worried me a little bit because after playing Scrabble on my itty bitty iTouch for three hours, I was just about cross-eyed. She apologized that she didn’t have any Clorox wipes to clean the eye machine.  I was disgusted to have to press my face into the same machine that everyone else had pressed their germy noggins into but I just went to my happy place and read the fifth line as requested, which is hard to do when you are holding your breath.

She then had me stand behind the blue line and smile for the camera. I didn’t even bother to put on lipstick. I wanted the DPS to see what they had done to me.  I forked over $25 and I was outta there.  If I was lucky, I would get my official license in the mail in six weeks.

I hold out little hope that will happen efficiently or timely or even at all, because you know, the postal service, DPS and the IRS are all brought to you by the letters U, S and A.  But I choose not to think about it for six-weeks.

I went home and took a Silkwood-style shower and prayed that Jesus would come back before my license expires again.

* * *

I love my USA I do, I do, I do. I hate the exasperatingly inefficient bureaucracy.

48 thoughts on “There’s A Good Reason Driver License Pictures Are Bad

  1. That is too funny! I know what you mean about that frustration… and I think you are exactly right about the pictures. By the time you get up there to get the dumb thing made, you just. don’t. care. anymore!!

  2. Ah, the Texas DMV. Such great memories. Our registries are privatized so I can get my license at AAA. Clean, fast, pleasant.
    Then I went to Dallas. The closest registry for me was in Southwest Dallas. First time I’d ever had a customer service agent rude to me. Plus the cash thing. I had to go find an ATM and pay 3.50 for the privilege of withdrawing my money so that some lady could continue to insult me and my Canadian accent.
    I feel your pain.

  3. I’ll have to give Tennessee props for once – if your license is valid you may renew online or by mail!

    * * *
    I renewed my license on-line last time, so I’m guessing you can just do that every other time? Who really knows? Maybe they just wanted a new picture of me since I’m not as purdy as I was the last time they took my picture.

  4. Just a quick question/clarification, because, as a Jew, I am not totally up to date on all things Jesus. Are you saying that when Jesus returns to earth Christians will not have to go to the DMV or that the DMV will totally be gone? I need to know if I should start thinking about conversion–because this might just do it 🙂

    * * *
    Yes, it’s in the Bible. You should convert now and avoid the long lines. If you wouldn’t mind mentioning that I sent you, that would be great, I’d love the referral.

  5. Awww…memories of the DMV in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas. I haven’t been to one in years and have blissfully enjoyed the less crowded departments of insanity in other states and small towns. My daughter, however, has now experienced getting a license in LA since she was silly enough to move there…. Sorry for your horrid experience!!!!

  6. This made me laugh!

    My local DMV doesn’t have a blue line… just a chair, pressed up against a wall. After sitting down, the picture taker shouts, “Move back! You’re too close!” and then randomly snaps the photo. The result is a distorted picture that makes it look like a laser beam has shrunk your head by 50%. It’s really attractive.

    I have to renew my license in June. Maybe you could put in a good word for me with the big man upstairs. 🙂

  7. So. Here I sit. IN my local DMV. Ew. Of course, I just did this for myself 6 months ago but now my offspring are old enough to be getting permits, etc. I am also watching a woman about to go postal about needing a birth certificate for her daughter. Yikes. People are testy. And this DMV has employees that periodically shout: “No debit or credit cards. Cash or check only.” Overall, I find it a fascinating study in government inefficiency. Good thing, since I will be back here once or twice a year for the next six years.

  8. Wow, something that’s actually better in NJ!!!! At my local branch of the DMV (which is almost within walking distance) there is a “greeter” who checks to make sure you have what you need, so you don’t have to wait forever for possibly nothing. We are usually in and out in less than an hour.

  9. This is the great thing about living in a small town – no hassle BMV experience. Of course, the picture isn’t any better :). BUT we get to walk out of the office with the license in our hot little hands! I just checked & I don’t have to go back for 2 more years – yippee!

  10. You crack me up. Thanks for turning an awful experience into something we could all enjoy! Now imagine that you are going through this same process (except x10) in order to have a family. That’s what adoption is like! Yea for government! 😛

  11. Hilarious! (Yet, oh so eerily true and familiar) Still you could have warned us with some sort of disclaimer like: “Warning! Sipping on fluids, ie coffee/tea while reading the following may result in harmful snorting”

  12. I’ve always loved your writing but this one takes the cake. In a good way of course.

    I could definitely see this in a magazine where you could earn big bucks in order to assure that you’d have plenty of cash on hand for your next Appointment With DMV Destiny.

    I hate to rub salt in the wound but on our small island by the sea (Manteo, NC) I was in and out in ten minutes. Ahhhh . . But I DO feel your pain ’cause I have been most certainly been in your shoes. And their soles were pretty icky by the time I’d walked across that nasty parking lot twice!


  13. I’m still awed by the fact that AD is immune to his wife’s whining and complaining. Does he offer a seminar by any chance? 🙂

    * * *
    I don’t know how he does it. It’s maddening I tell you.

  14. God bless my small Minnesota town! I went to the DMV last week and changed the title on a trailer we bought, renewed my license, and got registration tabs for my car. It took all of, oh, 10 minutes!
    But I grew up on Long Island, NY, so I do of the DMV misery of which you speak. License renewal was something you took a day off from work for.

  15. It’s been a while since I’ve visited your blog. This post made me delighted to be back! Your experience is so universal…well, nationally universal, anyway. Also, I wish there was a “Like” button to click on for some of the feedback here. Cracks me right up!

  16. Michigan used to be hideous. They have really been working on our offices. I had to renew my license last month and I literally walked in and had 5 tellers waiting and available to help.
    Maybe it was empty since people are leaving Michigan at an alarming rate due to lack of jobs….

  17. I love USA also however agree with you 100%!! There has got to be a better way then the system they have in place now. Why not put the forms you will need to fill out on line? if you have your forms money and all data go in this line if you do not go in that line.

    This is why I am terrified of the Obama care plan. If they can’t take care of what they already have how can we expect our healthcare to be so great? And who is going to be paying for it. And how can you force people who do not have healthcare to take healthcare. The reason they don’t have it in the first place is THEY CAN’T AFFORD IT!…. Also why are we paying for people’s health care that are here illeagally and our own nations people are now being turned away for healthcare because they do not have insurance? I don’t get it.

    Let me add this is my opionion this does not reflect what AM thinks on any of the issues so don’t send her hate. Send it to me. My name is Jackie Hall.

    Thank you.

  18. I have been putting off getting a new license in my new state of residence for FAR TOO LONG because I’m afraid of exactly this kind of experience. Actually, what I’m afraid of is flunking the test and having to have this kind of experience more than once!

    But I have to do it, maybe even next week. I will take the memory of this post with me and think of you in solidarity with me in my DMV pain.

    * * *
    Bring entertainment for at least three hours. Bring Clorox wipes. Bring some cash. And maybe something to eat. But nothing to drink. You DO NOT want to have to use the bathroom. I will be praying for your safe return.

  19. Hilarious! You have quite a gift of hyperbole — and sCrap is going into my vocabulary.

    But your reply to Fern was laugh-out-loud priceless. 😀

  20. In my neck of the woods it’s called the BMV. Anyplace that is titled the Bureau of… always makes me wary and worrisome of the experience I might have once I cross the threshold.

    A few months ago I took my daughter to take the test for her driving permit. After waiting in line for an hour we finally reached a clerk at the exact moment that all the testing computers went down. Imagine the look on our faces. Thankfully she was able to take it the old-fashioned way using a pencil. While she was taking the test I was told to go next door and wait in another line so that if she passed we could get her temps. I must say that they did try to make things move as smoothly as possible by making sure you had all the proper papers before you wasted time in a long line.

    It is also interesting to see that there are so many different walks of life out there in the world. Everyone needs to get their license renewed and regardless of whether it’s stashed in a designer wallet or the holey pocket of a pair of thrift store jeans we all have to go to the same place.

    * * *
    I know. Isn’t democracy great!? Although. I really can’t see Jennifer Anniston sitting in a DPS office for three hours.

  21. Ha! I just sent all my documents to the Social Security office to change my name. Nervously waiting for my birth certificate, passport and marriage license to return.

  22. I love your writing! So hilarious and true at the same time. Here in Arizona, they do the licenses a bit different. I was around 20-odd yrs. old when I renewed my license the last time. I don’t have to renew it until 2041. I’ll be 65! Crazy, but convenient.

  23. I too loath going to the DMV (department of motor vehicles). But more importantly I think I should offer a seminar on how to counter attack immunity to whining and complaining. 🙂

  24. The endorphins are running high here! 🙂 Antique Mommy, you are a treat. As long as you blog, I am going to be checking in. Thank you! And God bless you and yours.

  25. The last few times I’ve just renewed online, for which I will rejoice and be glad thankyouverymuch. However, upon first moving to my great state, I had a very similar experience to yours. After hours of waiting and form filling and eye testing and picture taking, I finally walked out with my little hard-won ID only to discover that the 200 year old man (for some reason, my DMV is run only by people who predate Henry Ford) had put a typo in my home address, added an inch to my height and randomly changed my eye color to hazel. But he never blinked at the very optimistic number I put in for my weight, (which looked even better with the added height), so I clutched that little scrap of plastic to my bosom and ran like the wind. They’ll have to pry this sucker out of my cold dead hands now.

  26. HILARIOUS!!!!!!

    I have to say that in the recent years our DMV or DPS has improved greatly. The location recently changed. Nice new office. And the wait isn’t that bad. I’m a little reluctant to say YEHH for Louisiana lest our DMV revert back to its former state.

    Hope I’m not pouring salt in the wound. Don’t misunderstand. It’s still not fun. And 2.5 seconds to prepare for you Driver’s License mug shot just doesn’t cut it.

  27. It’s worth driving to a small town to avoid this kind of experience. In Dallas, your description fits all of my DMV experience. But in Tuna, it’s in and out in (practically) no time!

  28. I think someone should start a “Horror stories at the DMV” blog! At least it would give all of us something to laugh (or cry) about while waiting/living in one for hours.

    I reside in California – the land of too many people wanting too much for nothing – and our local DMV has daily lines that circle the building 2-3 times! People start lining up at the DMV in my town at 4am! And, we get the privilege of feeling like we’re in boot camp as the security officer yells at the line people for hours (I think he is angry that he has to stand in the freezing wind or scorching heat all day).

    Thinking I could outsmart the DMV demons, I drove two hours north to a very small rural town with one stop light (great place to take your test – no traffic!). I pulled up and sighed when I noted no lines and no cars but… my confusion grew when I spotted 5 charter busses in the parking lot. Imagine my astonishment when I opened the door to hundreds (and I mean hundreds) of Asian people trying to read the English/Spanish signs! No one had told the bi-lingual DMV employees that they needed to be tri-lingual! What a mess! I braved it out as I had drove so far and really couldn’t justify the waste of gas/time but I’ve now crossed DMV #5 off my list.

  29. This same story happen to me about 1 month ago in Oklahoma. I was scared for my life as I sat there waiting. Two numbers before my number would have been called the lady behind the counter announces that her printer had stopped working and she was no longer able to process any one else. She stated that she had no idea how long it would take to be back up and running. This was after a 3 hour wait. Needless to say I had to go back and wait another 3 hours on a different day. Oh the joy of it all.

  30. Ah, this totally reminds me why I drive the 40 miles out into the country and go to the small town DMV there. Not only is the drive pleasant and pretty but the longest line I’ve experienced at the DMV is 5 people. I’ve even scored some free brownies from the lady who brought it in to share with everyone in line.

  31. Brings back memories of my two years in Connecticut. Co-workers warned me that I would have to take a day off from work. I tried one evening after work, saw the lines and walked out. I kept my home state’s driver’s licence and car tags for the two years of lived there!

    What day of the week did you go? My goal with getting anything done is to go mid-week and mid-morning. It works a lot of the time.

    * * *
    I went on a Tuesday morning. I asked the man at the first DPS if there was a better time to come, a day or time when it might be less crowded, less of a wait. He laughed. In my face.

  32. Haven’t lived in Texas long enough to have to renew in person…just finished renewing online last fall. But I vividly remember the awful experience of getting my first Texas driver’s license…with a passport that had my maiden name and an amendment (on the back page) with my married name, a social security card in my maiden name, an expired military ID with my married name, my Missouri license with my maiden name and my proof of Texas residency. I was disgusted to find they looked at all of my documentation like I was trying to pull a fast one. It took FOREVER to get my license. I’m thoroughly dreading my trip to renew in person. Thanks for giving me more incentive to move out of state before that happens!!

  33. Will you hate me if I tell you that the longest I’ve waited at the DMV was 15 minutes? If you’ll hate me, then I won’t tell you 🙂

    Our DMV is small & clean, only open 2 days a week, and has friendly employees who are actually helpful. Oh, and my last photo turned out so good my mom asked if I could get her copy of it.

  34. I found out when I was waiting in line that it can be renewed on the internet! And when I told a friend she said that she had renewed on line. Next time for sure.

  35. Seeing as to how I was about to turn 67, I was informed by the DMV website in my state that I could no longer renew by mail. That also meant I was going to lose that amazingly good photo I’ve had so long that clerks (and one policeman, I must admit) always look back and forth from me to my license once or twice to satisfy themselves that it’s really the same person standing (or sitting in my car) before them. The reason I had to go in was that I would need to have a driving test, and I was a bit nervous about that for reasons to complicated to explain. (I’m glad the nasty machine didn’t occur to me.) My county has greatly improved the bureaucracy, and the lady at the central desk when I came in the door actually laughed at one of my feeble jokes. I waited 10 or 15 minutes before my number was called. I couldn’t keep my picture, and the new one is predictably awful. But the eye exam? “Do you need glasses to drive, ma’am?” “Um, no I don’t.” “Alright. Thanks very much. That will be $25. See you in five years.” I think that policeman turned me in for having such a good photo. That’s what they were after. I’m sure of it.

  36. I think my favorite was “sCrap of paper”! But I have to tell you, after dealing with Ugandan bureaucracy (and graft and blank stares and faulty logic and made-up-on-the-spot requirements and so on and so on), I can tell you that I just love, love, love American bureaucracy! Really I do! That you can do that all in one day, without 17 additional requirements that were never mentioned or written anyplace, is truly amazing! I can hardly wait till I have to renew my license in America.

    (Now I hope you don’t see me when I am in America, operating on a whole different level of expectation, and I am just a teensy bit annoyed at American bureaucracy, too!)

  37. I think my favorite was “sCrap of paper”! But I have to tell you, after dealing with Ugandan bureaucracy (and graft and blank stares and faulty logic and made-up-on-the-spot requirements and so on and so on), I can tell you that I just love, love, love American bureaucracy! Really I do! That you can do that all in one day, without 17 additional requirements that were never mentioned or written anyplace, is truly amazing! I can hardly wait till I have to renew my license in America.

    (Now I hope you don’t see me when I am in America, operating on a whole different level of expectation, and I am just a teensy bit annoyed at American bureaucracy, too!)

  38. 3 hrs really! You have more patience that me AM. I would have gone postal, oh wait wrong office. And I love the reference to the Silkwood bath. That had me laughing out loud.

  39. I love you, AM, you always know how to wring a laugh out of something yucky!

    Like you, I had to renew in person last year. After hopefully (ok maybe delusionally) going to the “quick” (aka: outsourced) dmv office (even though I read online that I couldn’t do it there) and learning that, yes, I really did have to go to the scary part of town to renew my license, I sucked it up and went, thanking the stars above that I had my blackberry and my hand wipes for company.

    I was also baffled by their numbering system, but came to the conclusion that it must be in code to keep people from realizing that they’re being skipped.

    I had all my papers in order as well – checked and double checked – but somehow in the midst of all that checking, it escaped my notice that I was going to have a new picture taken. I had not a stitch of makeup on. My hair had been left wet from the shower in my haste to beat the crowds that morning (failed that one). By the time I got to the picture part, it was like a frizzy halo, so I just pulled it back into a ponytail.

    I looked fabulous.

    And now I get to remember that day every time I get carded for wine. Which happens … well… not a lot. 🙂

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