Here there be monsters (socratic) wrote,
Here there be monsters

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My return to the land of darkness.

Yesterday, as I believe I mentioned, I received my Social Security card in the mail. Armed with this slim slip of paper I knew I had no choice but to face my fear and return to the hell on earth known as the Harlem DMV, or to remain forever a non-driver confined to New York City and other places that provide options for people who don't want to destroy the environment and add to motor vehicle fatality statistics by driving around in 2 tons of plastic and steel, getting behind the wheel of a deadly weapon every time one wants to go to the store for some milk or date a girl in the sort of way that might make her want to see you again. I slipped the card into my wallet, put my passport in my pocket, grabbed a few extra pieces of identification, and headed for the bus. I took a book of Greek mythology with me, in the hopes of inspiring myself by reading of the oft-recounted feats of derring do committed by heroes of the past. Surely my trials would be nothing in comparison to those of Hercules, who once had to hold the weight of the entire world on his back and shoulders, and who once broke the bones of death himself when the grim reaper came for a friend's wife. By the end of the day that book would serve only as a reminder of what weaklings the ancient Greeks were. Rescuing maidens from sea serpents and friends from the dark realm of the underworld is certainly admirable, but I am unimpressed. They rode horses from almost the moment they could walk, no licenses required. They never had to get a learner's permit.

To say the line was long when I got there is to state the obvious. It'd be like the first astronauts who travel to the sun being asked what it's like there and replying "rather hot." I had an hour's wait right off the bat. At that point I was granted a ticket with which I was permitted to wait for the test. It gave an estimated waiting time of one hour and forty-nine minutes, but it actually took a lot less time than that. That's how they trick you.

I went to the window to give in my form and get the test. I handed it to the lady along with my ID. She was a thin Hispanic woman, the kind that should be named Maria or Lucia or maybe Gloria.None of those were her name though. Her name was Gladys. She took my form and my ID, and looked for a moment like she would take my picture and give me my test. Then she noticed something. The name on my social security card was different from that on my passport. See the passport form only had room for one middle name so I'd put down Alan, but the social security card had room for my full name so it got the Alan Guttmacher treatment. This vexed her. She said that she needed more proof of my identity since the social security computers were hooked up to hers. This didn't make any sense to me and I said that the form I was given had told me to bring my social security card and four points of ID, which the passport was. She said that I needed more ID that matched my passport, which makes zero sense since the passport has my photo on it and is probably the closest thing to a true national ID card that we have here in the U.S. If anything she should have demanded I bring her photographic proof that I was who I said I was on the social security card. I did not mention this to her because I have no such proof. I asked her what I'd need and she said two more points. I weakly pulled out my ATM card and a school ID. She said that ATM card was one point but she couldn't accept the school ID without a transcript. The school ID has my photograph on it, the ATM card does not. Neither makes any mention of my middle name. She said that a credit card would bring me to six points and be enough for me to take the test. I hadn't brought one with me. I argued for a few minutes but it was hopeless. She was, after all, a Gladys.

Forty minutes, two cab rides, and $20 in fares later I returned with the credit card and presented the ID. I was allowed to take the test. Now I want people to remember that credit cards list NO middle names, just first and last. So the problem she had with my ID was that the social security card and passport didn't match up in terms of middle names, and this problem was resolved by presenting two cards that I could have gotten with the ID I'd already shown AND that listed no middle names at all. This, in my mind, is the essence of useless bureaucracy. It was pure red tape. All it did was frustrate me and waste time and money. It did not make me feel any more secure that my identity was safe from theft, in fact it made me even LESS confident because the system is so idiotic. Perhaps that's why the Gladyses all become such sociopaths. Exposure to the hellish bureaucracy.

The test itself was relatively easy and I completed it quickly. I handed it in, was told I had passed, and got another number to wait with. As I was walking back to the waiting area I saw another Gladys fail a woman on her test because she'd gotten a road sign wrong, which is an automatic F. She was then told that she could not retake the test that day because, and I quote, "It's not like you can memorize all the road sign meanings in one day." There are like sixteen of them. I imagine you could memorize them all in five minutes. This is the DMV though. Apparently they can't imagine anyone doing something in less than 50 times the amount of time it actually takes a normal person. "Go to the bathroom AND eat lunch all in the same day? That's crazy talk. What do you think you are, the Flash?"

The new ticket's number was A001, which was quite confusing since the currently being served sign listed A071. I wondered if the Gladys was taking revenge for my being snippy with her or if this was some normal DMV requirement that you use a time machine to go back in time and get your permit. As it turned out there was a third explanation, and one I guessed at but deemed too stupid to even be considered. Apparently at the Harlem DMV the A #s wrap back around after A099 to A001. You may ask why even HAVE three digits then, wouldn't it be clearer to have just the two? Yes, but then it wouldn't be the DMV, would it? It'd be some kind of mythical fantasy land where customer service is a term that holds any meaning whatsoever and the people you're dealing with don't automatically hate you before you even enter the building. Where a dozen people don't get locked out despite having numbered tickets because they had the sheer audacity to go to the bathroom right before closing. Where kids don't have seizures from the sheer chaos of the office and need to be wheeled out on a stretcher while their anxious mothers give wistful glances to the tote board, knowing that she's just wasted about an hour of waiting and will definitely need to get a new ticket when she comes back (this, by the way, was the highlight of my Friday, since it lead to me getting a seat. I'm not ashamed to say that I profited from a young boy's seizure by grabbing his mom's seat when she left with the Paramedics. I'm a New Yorker, those are just my survival instincts. It's not like he died or anything.) If the number system actually made sense it would be fancy world or heaven. I was in the DMV.

The A001 ticket said that I would have to wait about 20 minutes. It turned out to be closer to 200. Normally I would have been unsurprised at this development, but you see they suckered me in with the shorter than advertised waiting time to take the test in the first place. That's how they get you. That's how they get you. I spent the time pacing, watching the medical drama unfold, and observing the "entertainment" tickers Discover card put in, which display lots of ads and a few pieces of "entertainment" that mostly consist of lists of the top ten movies in both ticket sales and rentals for the week. You might think they would show news stories or even driver safety tips and information, but once again you're in FANTASY WORLD. I was in the DMV. There were some lesbians nearby who had A007 and didn't figure out the rotating ticket number trick as quickly as I had. They were quite vexed.

Eventually I got to go up and take the eye test, which I passed easily, and get my interim permit. (By the way, you'd think they might give you the eye test when you took the normal test so if you failed you wouldn't have to wait for three hours to find out you weren't getting your permit. Why might you think this? Say it with me now. BECAUSE YOU LIVE IN FANTASY WORLD.) I paid my $45 and left (Oh, for that money you don't get your license then and there. My school ID can be printed out and given to you within 5 minutes for $10 but at the DMV you pay $45 and you don't get it for a few weeks, because they hate you and want you to have a shitty little slip of paper to drive with instead of a shitty but official looking license.) The whole trip had taken about six hours, and in that time I'd spent about 7 minutes actually dealing with an employee. I figure that's a higher than average number because of my argument with the Gladys. On my way back home I got harassed for being white by a few older black guys. It just bounced off my chest. To paraphrase Steve Martin's character in Planes Trains and Automobiles I'd been through the DMV. I could take anything.

When it's time to take my actual road test I think I'm going to sign up somewhere upstate in a DMV designed for suburban white people. I imagine that it's cleaner, more efficient, and better run than the one in Harlem, which is probably quite underbudgeted for the population it serves. I also imagine I'll be more welcome there. I was trying to be all egalitarian and sympathetic by using the city services that a lower class person might instead of whipping out the white privilege, but 6 hours of bullshit and dirty looks will drive any man to a place where the only reason they'll look at your ID twice is because you're the first person not named Chad they've seen in a week, and you don't get pinched and bothered by old men because your skin's the wrong color. Another hour in that shit hole and I might have become a Republican.
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