It’s the one toll plaza that nets every driver. You dread it, you see it coming, but there’s no avoiding it. It’s the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Sure, sometimes you can Renew by Mail, or even online. But eventually you’ll have to go there, in person, downtown, during the work day. You and everybody else, because the Department of Motor Vehicles is the great equalizer. Rich and poor, young and old, educated and ignorant, no one is exempt. They’re all ahead of you, and there’s no EZPass lane, no Elite line, just an interminable and yet indeterminate wait before your number finally is called.
In New York State, there is an innovative twist on the take-a-number, now-serving-XX system. Instead of numbers, there are letter-number combinations, and they’re not called in any discernable order-A301 might follow F212, and then B310, et cetera. So you can’t know how many people are ahead of you. It’s kind of like the lines at amusement parks where you can’t see the whole length of the line when you start. It’s perhaps an attempt to hide the awful truth, to cut down on the despair.
Of course, there is no mitigating the despair, not in these bland Formica surroundings, with the buzzing fluorescent lights, and the windowless view relieved only by banal safety posters. Behind the tall counters, the Pattys and the Selmas (on "The Simpsons" Marge’s charmless sisters both work at the DMV) gruffly minister to the hapless and the clueless, who inevitably haven’t filled out their forms right, don’t have the correct documentation, and didn’t understand the restrictions of a conditional license.
When finally it’s your turn at the window, the excitement of being almost free of this purgatory makes you happy to write that big check to the state for a little laminated card or those gaudy new plates. "Who cares how much it costs? I’m almost out of here!"
You emerge, blinking, into the sunlight and you want to drive away from there at 100 mph, but in fact you drive a little slower and more carefully than usual. After all, too many points on your license will land you right back at the DMV, and that’s a thought too awful to contemplate.