The federal government may have shut down today, but the state employees at the Department of Motor Vehicles were hard at it. They have a bad reputation, the girls at the DMV, and I think it is unfair and totally misplaced; a “shoot the messenger”-type situation. They had a room full of surly customers to deal with when I went in to renew my license this afternoon, and I thought they were quite gracious.
The customer seated next to me (henceforth referred to as “Scabby Legs”) was a slender Caucasian woman somewhere between 32 and 67 years of age. She had long wavy hair and, as the nickname implies, stick-thin, scab-covered legs. She wore a ridiculously over-sized black hoodie, pajama shorts that read “Live, Laugh, Love,” and a pair of flip-flops that revealed zebra print-painted toenails and cracked, ash-grey heels. She carried the odor of a cigarette that had been deposited into a not-quite-empty Diet Pepsi can and then left for days.
Scabby Legs, I found out, had lost her license some time ago because of a DUI, but buddy, she had completed her DUI class, she had paid all the necessary fines (paid them, I suppose, at the expense of buying pants), and she was ready to get her license back. Yesterday!
Scabby Legs got up from her seat twice to try and get her license, to be seen immediately, and both times the clerk was heroically polite in explaining that costumers were taken in the order in which they arrived. That her number would be called and would light up on the sign when it was her turn. Scabby Legs retaliated by rolling her eyes and saying something sarcastic like, “Thanks a lot!”
I don’t know what number Scabby Legs had been given, but mine was B2014. They were on B1986 when I arrived, so I took my time completing the paperwork. I rounded my weight down to the nearest number ending in a 0 (i.e. 150lbs, down from 156lbs, which isn’t technically rounding). I read all the background questions carefully: Did I have a mental illness? Had I ever been “rendered incompetent?” I checked the box that read “probably” in response to both.
I watched a lanky, red-headed boy (think Malachi from “Children of the Corn”) pose for his first drivers license photo. He was told to move his hair out of his eyes, and you could tell he didn’t want to, that it messed up the look he was cultivating, but he complied. Anything for that drivers license.
I watched a DMV clerk try to explain to explain to a woman who obviously spoke no English that she didn’t bring in the right paperwork. “You got to bring in two proofs of residency or I can’t give you nothin but a temporary license. Ok? TWO PROOFS OF RESIDENCY! You don’t understand a single word I’m sayin, do you – you just noddin and smilin.”
I looked, and sure enough, nodding, smiling, and little to no comprehension of the required documents needed. The clerk reached into a drawer, retrieved a form, yelled, “GO HOME AND GIVE THIS TO YOUR AMIGO WHO SPEAKS ENGLISH, OK? I’m just going to have to trust you.” Then she took the photo and gave the lady a license.
I noticed an AED mounted to the wall. It was a good thing, because Scabby Legs was going to have a heart attack if they didn’t call her soon.
When the sign lit up and B2013 was called I perked up, expecting to be next. Out of nowhere D4007 was called, and I felt like screaming, Why are we switching to “D!”, but then it was finally Scabby Legs’s turn, and I was as relieved as she. Her seat was then taken by a young mother with a beautiful, bald, dimple-chinned, easy-to-smile baby. Where the hell had this baby been for the lat 45 minutes when I needed entertainment?
“Stand on the line and look up at the camera.” This is the part I dread.
I don’t mind telling you that the photo on my Florida drivers license back in 2000 was a beautiful photo. I had never really fancied myself as a “looker,” but man, that picture – the best I’d ever taken. The clerk that snapped the shot, well she was just the Annie Leibovitz of the DMV; no two ways about it.
2000 was the year I finished graduate school. It was the year I turned 24. The year my husband and I moved to St. Augustine (because there was a beach there, and why not?). The girl on that drivers license, the girl I had been, had the happy glow that comes with new-found earning potential, limitless access to hushpuppies, and her whole life ahead of her.
“Wow, this is a great picture!” Every cop that ever pulled me over told me that. Every bartender that ever carded me. It wasn’t like being told “You’re beautiful,” but rather, “You were beautiful for the second that this picture was taken,” and it was affirmation enough.
We moved to north Georgia in the Fall of 2005. The clerk at the Calhoun DMV threw my treasured Florida drivers license into an industrial shredder. You’re not this carefree, beach-side, hushpuppie-eating girl anymore, the gesture painfully (and accurately) implied. She took a new picture that showed me for the woman I had become; a woman who was unsure about how to raise her two-year-old daughter. Unsure about which house she should buy or which job she should take. Unsure where to find a more-suitable coat. I was a cold, nervous, new-in-town mother, and it showed.
I hated that drivers license in 2005, but now I look at it, and it isn’t so bad. It could be worse. It is about to be worse.
“Here you go! The plastic one should arrive in the mail in about two weeks.”
I inspected my picture. There I am. I don’t look like a girl who lives near the shore. I don’t look like a nervous young mom. I look like a woman in the middle. My hair is somewhere in the middle – not short enough to be cute or long enough to be pretty. My expression is somewhere in the middle – not happy enough to pass for a sincere smile but not so jaded that I’ve quit trying. I don’t look especially old or young. Not fat or thin. I don’t like it as much as my Florida license, but it is probably better than the picture I’ll have years from now when this new license expires.
There are worse places to be than in the middle. I have decided to be renewed by the present.