Friday, February 12, 2010

The 10th Circle

If Dante had lived long enough, I have no doubt that the Oceanside, CA DMV would have been marked as the 10th Circle of Hell. Yes, his 14th century "Divine Comedy" (an epic poem about Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso) is superb - as is. However, I find it lacking a modern-day reference. The DMV Office - in which I spent 3-hours applying for a California Driver's License - is unquestionably the perfect fit for that elusive 10th Circle.

And here - my fiends - is why.

Though the Oceanside office opened promptly at 9:00 am Wednesday morning, I figured I should arrive a few minutes in advance - to ensure an early spot in line. Uncharacteristically for my person, I was ready to leave the house by 8:15, having finished my leg-burning, pain-inducing, max-effort bike trainer session, then the obligatory stretch, shower, and breakfast that follows suit. At the last minute, I grabbed my Swim bag - on the off-chance I would have to head directly to Master's noon-time practice.

I'm happy I did, because I barely made it by the skin of my teeth.

The interstate was fast-moving and before I knew it, I was pulling into the DMV lot. I was thirty minute early, but luckily I had brought a book with me; I figured I could read in the car and wait until the office officially opened.

Then I saw the line.

Mind you - I've never been one for post-Thanksgiving "Black Friday" sales. If you want to get up at 3 am, stand in an ungodly-long line for three hours in the cold, rain, wind, snow, sleet (possibly 11th circle...?) just to get 50% off some high-priced item - great. Good for you. Fine by me. My ass is staying in bed, with its triptophan-induced coma.

So we've established that I'm not big on lines.

The DMV line was not just a line, oh no siree bob! Because by definition - a line is "straight". This massive assortment of people wrapped all the way around the building, and then some. I even spotted people sitting on camping chairs and other devices they had brought from home specifically for waiting in line.

For a moment I thought about leaving, driving home...working on my writing, practicing violin for my upcoming audition, even grocery shopping for the staples that had almost been completely consumed. Anything - but stand in line behind hundreds of other people 30 minutes before the damned offices even opened.

But sadly - that wasn't an option. My Minnesota Driver's License was about to expire, and though I flirted with the option of renewing it while home over Christmas, I (foolishly) assured my parents, "I'll just get a CA license. It won't be that bad. Besides, I can have my FULL name, instead of just 'Chrislock' on the card."

Famous last words.

As the parking lot was full, I ended up snagging an impossibly-small spot between two giant trucks a few blocks away. I thought about the irony of crashing my car and bad parallel parking jobs while en route to apply for a new driver's license. Luckily, it only took me _______ tries to park the car.

And then came standing in line. And waiting. And more standing. And more waiting.

As in many survival situations, people oftentimes find themselves bonding with other people in the same predicament. Misery loves company, I suppose. I quickly made friends with the two gentlemen ahead of me, and with the lady directly behind me, and we chatted about Texas (where Guy #1 was from), Mexico (where Guy #2 was from), and being treated like prisoners, forced to line up against the wall (that was Lady #3's comment. I don't know where she was from. I didn't ask).

I was surprised that the line kept growing. It was like an element all unto itself, an impossibly long snake with a voracious appetite for hapless souls who - for some reason or another - had to be at the Oceanside DMV.


Precisely ten minutes before 9:00 am, several DMV employee's came out and started shouting instructions. It wasn't until they got closer that I realized all the directions were in Spanish. Super! I knew that switching to French in junior high was a mistake! Two more DMV staffers came by shouting - I could only presume the same set of directions - in English. I raised my hand and was given the DL-44 form to fill out.

Okay...things weren't so bad - the line was moving, I had filled out my form, and maybe, just maybe this wouldn't be so bad...?

And that, was the calm before the storm. They lulled us into complacency, making us believe the process would be quick and painless.

It wasn't.

Shortly after 9 am, the line started moving. I tried shuffled forward with the other souls around my person, filling out the rest of my "official" form in the process. In addition to becoming a California driver, I also wanted to become a California voter. (And any amendment to the constitution to increase and organize DMV offices are FINE by me).

I knew we were moving too fast for the hundreds of people ahead of me to be fully helped and serviced. My suspicions were confirmed when I entered the building, was handed number G0034, and told to go "sit" on the left side, reserved for ID cards, Licenses, Permits, and anything car-identity-related.

"Sit" because there were few, if any spots available.

But I managed to snag a chair in the back. And I waited...

And waited...

And waited...

-65 minutes later-

I heard number G0034 shouted and immediately jumped out of my seat. I felt like a character from Zamyatin's "We" - rather than be given a name, I was assigned a number. Ironically - all the women in the socialist-era novel were vowels (and the men consonants). And much could be discerned about a person based on how their letter(name) was shaped.

I-330 scares the protagonist, with her crisp attitude and sharp white teeth.

O-90 has soft, reassuring curves, round blue eyes, and is gentle and compassionate...

I briefly thought about what "G-0034" said about me. Probably nothing, save the fact that thirty-three others had arrived before me. I felt sorry for the lady with "G0072" seated a few rows down from me. But I digress....

After handing over nearly every "official" document to confirm that I am who I say I am (birth certificate, MN driver's license, US Military ID card, marriage certificate, social security card...just to name a few), I took a vision test, confirmed that I had the necessary funds to pay for my CA Driver's license, and was told to, "Go take a set and we'll call your number."

So I waited...

And waited...

At exactly 11:03 - 2 hours and thirty-three minutes after standing in that FIRST line - I was called to window #14. I could feel the eyes of hundreds of people still waiting in line on my back. The line to get the "initial" G-number, continued to stretch out the front door, and I could see people sitting outside on the curb, as every single seat in the massive waiting room was filled.

Truly the 10th Circle.

I went through the usual chit-chat with my assigned DMV person. She seemed to hate her job and peered unnecessarily harshly at my last name on the DL-44 form. Her bright red fingernails seemed excessively long and I had little doubt that she would soon develop carpel-tunnel syndrome, if she wasn't already plagued by it.

"Chr-is-lock - Lau-ter-bach..." she exclaimed, pressing her tongue to her cheek while bashing my last name into her outdated computer keyboard. "Well. That's a long name," she exclaimed.

I didn't like the accusatory tone in her voice, but I didn't want to say anything to offend her. I had already spent enough time in this place, thank you very much. I didn't know what she was capable of; sometimes people take great pleasure in wielding little bits of power and holding it over their hapless victims, err - people that they're "in charge" of or "helping".

Eventually, I must have gained her approval: after signing my name for the umpteenth time and spending the $31 on the obligatory "paper work", I was directed towards the photo and test-taking counter.

Yes - the *final* bit of what needed to be done. Pose for my picture and prove that I knew and fully understood the rules of the California Roadway. And in all honesty...?

Give me the test instead of the picture-taking adventure any day. Historically, my ID card photos have not turned out the way I would have liked them to look. Either my eyes are half shut, my hair is greasy, or my jaw line looks extra pronounced. Last year - while training for IM Coeur d'Alene, I had the lovely opportunity of getting my passport photo taken.

Nathaniel's first words upon seeing my new passport? "You look tired..."

Yes - last photo op, Ironman was my excuse. Today...? Who knows. 10th Circle Survival, I suppose.

And then - the test. Yes, I get nervous before taking tests and yes I DID study for this one. The last - absolutely last - think I needed, was to fail my basic California Road Signs and Signals test. The questions seemed suspiciously easy, and before I knew it, I was (again) standing in line, waiting for my test to be graded.

The same woman who took my picture also had the distinction of grading my test. She seemed nice, and I briefly wondered if she accepted bribes. I was carrying a PowerBar Harvest Energy Bar - and she looked as though she could use a pick-me-up. Sadly, I didn't think my bar was the right kind of bar.

I studied her, while she graded my test, and tried to take a peek at her score card.


I could see nothing.

And suddenly, after writing something at the top of my paper - she was gone.



My new California Driver's License is hanging on the line, I've been in this 10th Circle for the past 2 hours and Fifty Five minutes....and you suddenly walk away without telling me anything?

And then it hit me: I failed.

I failed my license test; a test that - according to the CA DMV website - is supposed to be easy because "we WANT you to drive our roadways!"

I thought about running for it - but noticed the emergency door was blocked by other people standing in (yet another) line of sorts. And besides, I needed a license, as mine would be officially expired in four days.

Even though she was gone for less than five minutes, the time passed just as excruciatingly slowly as it had for the previous three hours.

Her exclamation of, "Perfect Score!" brought me back to my senses. I was so shocked that I couldn't think of anything to say for her unexcused absence. Would it have been so difficult for her to give me the results before walking away? Didn't she know I nearly peed my pants with anticipation?? Just standing where I was - I swear that my heart rate was somewhere in the middle of zone 3.

But in the end, I made it out alive, intact, and no more worse for the wear. Though the three hour ordeal was hellacious at best, I did earn my California Driver's License. And I will absolutely renew that sucker on-line.

Just another day in the 10th Circle, I suppose.

(On a side note: I've been working on this blog since last Wednesday afternoon. I suppose my definition of the 11th Circle is NOT Black Friday Shopping Lines - but having an unpublishable blog post).



Jennifer Harrison said...

SERIOUSLY! There is nothing worse than the DMV. I mean, there is, but it is just awful awful. I just do NOT get it. WHY are these employees so miserable? It is like the epitome of everything I can not stand: Laziness, complacent people who moan about their lives and work but do NOTHING about it. AHHHH!!!

Glad you made it out alive! haha ;)


cherelli said...

Oh wow, and I just thought the DMV thing was bad here in Canada because they don't man those places properly. I am currently avoiding mine like crazy but know I have to go in and get my address changed on my drivers license....thanks for giving me a good reason to put it off again for another day when I am feeling super-tolerant!! But congratulations for acing your CA drivers test :)

Maria said...

Ha ha, your stories crack me up! All the sudden, the Iowa DMV doesnt seem that bad! Congrats on passing the test, now you've joined the ranks of crazy Cali drivers!

Beth said...

DMVs are the worst! Can you imagine if you had waited all that time and then had forgotten one of the pieces of "proof" that you needed? EVIL!!! ;)

Missy said...

Can you even imagine working in that shit-hole?! All DMV peoples are that miserable, no doubt. I want to know - what time do you have to arrive to be the first guy in line?

Lisa T said...

I'm right there with you on the picture thing. I didn't know they were going to take a new picture last time and I showed up after having a root canal. So flattering.

Kim said...

I knew you would write it, and I love it just as much as when you told me about it! Well, you got it done and it's got to feel good! SOOOO how did yesterday go!! Screw it, I'm emailing you!!! So great to chat with you and we'll talk soon my friend!!

jennabul said...

I always refer to my time in the CA DMV as 1-2 hours in my life that will be completely wasted. I think you can still make appointments online at for the does cut down on the wait time. But you do still have to wait. Awesome post =)

ojs said...

That's too funny! Great story!