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Staying on the funny side…of License Renewals

24 Nov Posted by in Random Observations | Comments

So I’m skipping into the DMV (for those who know it by any other name it is the Department of Motor Vehicles) to get my license renewed – whistling, happy to be alive, admiring the way my hair matches my new shirt – and as soon as I open the door, this wave of despair crashes over me, blasting the smile off my face, throwing me up against the wall, and throwing me into that same realm of fear I had when I was twelve and we saw the Sexuality and You video in biology. Walking into the DMV, for me, is like an excited puppy crashing into a brick wall.

What is it about that place that completely sucks the joy out of all who enter there? Seriously, I think there’s an invisible force field that sucks out all traces of happiness as soon as you walk in. Why is it that all laughter ceases immediately when you enter? Is it the gray walls – gray cubicles – gray carpet – gray cubicle walls covered in more gray carpet with gray posters attached? The deafening silence pierced only by the large white ticking clock? The people lounging on furniture like melted wax with slack jaws, eyes glazed over, and frozen expressions of boredom? The sweaty children with flushed cheeks sleeping on their mothers’ laps? The faces pressed up against the glass windows crying for help?

The woman standing guard has a name tag that says, “My name is Berta. If you’re having a good day, we aim to fix that.” In fact, they all have that same expression that indicates they have memorized the part of the employee manual that says, “Under no circumstances are you to take joy in your profession. It sucks to work here. It sucks to be you. But at least you have insurance.” (Sorry for the bad word. It just slipped out. Twice.) Berta grunts, hands me a number, and points to the waiting room where I join the odd assortment of characters that make up my home town. Waiting room is an apt name, so much so that I’m thinking the staff has actually gone out to breakfast and they’re sitting there laughing over pancakes about how they will make sure my driver’s license photo is taken with both my eyes shut and my mouth slurred to the side, just like last time.

People waiting at the DMV look like they are awaiting execution, like there can be no other more grievous injustice in life than to have to take time out of their busy day surfing porn to come update their driving privileges. The guy beside me is starting to sweat. The one across from me keeps darting his eyes back and forth. I think he sees dead people. The woman to my left is crying. The man in the corner is twitching and talking to his hand. The mood in here is so dark that a motivational speaker just tried to hang himself in the corner.

There’s an unspoken code of etiquette you quickly learn at the DMV. Don’t look anyone in the eyes. Don’t pick a seat right next to someone unless it’s the last one left, and spray everything you touch. And definitely do not look at your neighbor, point to his sandwich, and say, “Are you gonna eat the rest of that?” He will not think it’s funny. Trust me.

If you think you’ve seen it all, go spend the day at the DMV. I’m surrounded by people who all seem to have the potential to come unhinged at any moment. I’m way overdressed, way overeager, and yet still I sit here trying to fit in and be cool. High school all over again. I do some of my best deep thinking in places like this where I have nothing to do but sit and not stare at anyone. And I realize, as I don’t look at the people around me, that I’m not the only one with weight issues, that some of us need to rethink those sideburns, and that apparently we still have a problem with siblings breeding. And let me be the first to announce that apparently facial hair on women is making a comeback. I quickly realize that this is not going to be the networking opportunity I had hoped it to be.

So we’re all sitting there working really hard not to notice each other when this young girl beside me, who has her boyfriend’s name scripted on her arm and crossed out, turns and whispers words that carry almost the same weight as two soldiers pledging allegiance in battle: “I like your fingernails.” We bond instantly and the door has been opened for that treasured female bonding banter. “I’m hungry. Didn’t get breakfast,” she whispers.

“Me either,” I answer, even though it wasn’t true. (That whole fitting in thing.) “I dare you to ask if she’s got something to eat,” I whisper and point to the bearded lady at the desk who’s growling at her computer. The girl beside me laughs and so does the woman across from me who was apparently eavesdropping. And that’s all it was, or at least all it started out to be – a simple funny comment – a comment that gained a little more momentum when the lady behind me whispers, “I dare you to wait until it’s finally your turn and tell them you’ve come to report for jury duty.”   This gets an even bigger laugh as more people join in.

“I dare you to ask them if you have to get drug tested to get a license,” says the guy who has been sleeping to my left and seems to know about drug testing if anyone does. We laugh even harder.

“I dare you to ask them if they will hold your pet ferret while you take the test,” says a lean fellow who smells like cigarettes and actually does resemble a ferret if you look close enough. By now we can’t stop laughing.  What started as a little harmless banter, has now turned into the evolution of a prank – a prank of epic proportions, for when mischief is the motive you can rally any troop – no matter how eclectic or whether they speak English or not. We hand out dares like we’re planning an invasion – and in a way, it is – an invasion on the deadly somber mood at the DMV. And like any dare, whether you’re six or sixty, you must follow through.

They dare me to moon the camera lady which, of course, I refuse to do (those days are behind me) and the dare is passed to the young community college kid with the Van Halen T-shirt whose solemn nod tells us he is no stranger to baring his buttocks for a laugh. They dare me to give my phone number to the guy standing guard at the back door – the one whose face has frozen into a permanent expression of disgust ever since the sixties when his kid decided that instead of becoming a soldier he wanted to make costumes for lounge singers. I solemnly accept the dare. We huddle up, I give them my best “you can do it” pep talk, and it is game on.

Turned out to be a short game. So what happened? Well, after Van-Halen T-shirt guy moons the camera and gets carried away by security, high-fiving us all on his way out – the rest of us kind of lose our nerve. And that’s where it ended. We didn’t do any of it.

But I still learned something all the same. I learned that even in a group as diverse and seemingly joyless as this, laughter still brings people together. It is still the best medicine.  If you can walk into the DMV and come out laughing, well maybe there’s hope you can do that in other places too.  That’s the key though – you have to do it. It’s time to stop waiting to see if today is going to be a good day. It’s time to make it a good day. Don’t wake up and ask what will this day bring, wake up and ask what you will bring to this day. That’s what I learned at the DMV – that, and be careful if you decide to act up at the DMV – there are consequences.  sillylicense

This has been another true – okay somewhat true – okay, so it was embellished a bit – all right, loosely based on a real life event – tale from Kelly Swanson, who has long ago stopped living in reality and jumped over to the funny side of life.

Until next time – stay on the funny side!

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