It was spring break, so we’d finally be available during the window that the DMV is open for testing. Jack had fulfilled the long list of requirements I had for chauffeuring him to that end of town – very near the Seventh Circle of Hell, otherwise known as The Mall.
I rather thought a trip to that end of town was going to be the worst part about the whole afternoon.
This is the part where you chuckle nervously about my naiveté.
Monday Jack and I headed out. I’d failed to make sense of the list of documentation I was supposed to gather to prove he’s mine, and also a living person. To be sure we were covered, I packed a bag with his passport, social security card, birth certificate, vaccination record, latest report card, a baggie full of the last dozen or so teeth he lost before he realized there is no tooth fairy, an envelope with a snip of hair from his first trim, some bottled water, a compass and Swiss army knife, and a book – in case I had to wait.
The county building was crowded. I’m no good estimating these things, but I’d say there were roughly seven thousand people jostling for position in front of a machine that spit out numbers to tell us our place in the queue. None of the six buttons on the machine corresponded to what I needed, so, feeling like Alice in Wonderland deciding which bottle from which to drink, I picked. Out popped number thirty-four.
“Now calling … five hundred nineteen, at counter number twenty two,” an automated voice said on a loudspeaker. Heads bowed and shoulders slumped and someone in the center of the crowd jumped, waving his slip of paper like the Golden Ticket. He started pawing his way through the masses to get to the counter.
Five hundred and what did they say?
Every one of the seven thousand was turned toward the left side of the room, where big letters on the wall said “Drivers Licenses.”
The right side of the room, where letters on the wall said “Motor Vehicle Registration,” was clear save for about four people stretched out in chairs. People at the counter were taking care of business. The numbers on the display read in the teens.
“Oh, see Jack, these numbers are closer to what we have,” I said, looking at my ticket, certain they were taking overflow from the seven thousand. Surely, when they got around to my number, even if I’d punched the wrong button, I could talk an actual person into letting my kid sit for the test. They only tested until 3:30.
I know. I am that asshole who thinks people will make an exception for my kid because I am so busy and important. But, the alternative – that I was going to have to wait for the number to cycle up to nine hundred ninety-nine and back around, was simply unfathomable.
“This side says Motor Vehicle Registration, Mom,” Jack said.
“Now calling number five hundred, twenty, at counter number eleven,” the automated voice said.
“Ohhh,” the seven thousand groaned as a man with the current Golden Ticket jumped up and body surfed to the front.
Jack was right of course. The nearly empty side of the room cycled quickly to number thirty-four at which time the woman at the counter informed me that she didn’t care how busy I was, I was on the wrong side of the room. They most definitely weren’t taking overflow, and I needed to remove myself to the side of the seven thousand.
We’d been there 20 minutes. I went back to the number-spitting machine.
“Now calling number five hundred, twenty-two, at counter number fourteen.”
“Beth!” My friend Erin waved from across the room.
Erin was there with her second teenage driver. She was a DMV veteran with a system. She’d pushed all six buttons on the machine, and then pushed them again for good measure. She offered me my choice of tickets with numbers on them.
“The four hundreds are moving along at a pretty good clip. The six hundreds, not so much. The five hundreds kind of go in surges,” she said.
So we bypassed the machine and took one of Erin’s numbers, the price of which was her peppering us with questions. Yes, Jack had studied. Yes, he’d taken the practice tests. No, not the phone app test, the online test, and he’d aced it every time.
“Oh, the online test is way out of date,” she said. “You needed to use the phone app.”
Jack’s shoulders slumped. He pulled out his phone.
“I’ve studied more for this test than anything ever at school. I’m so nervous,” Erin’s son said.
“Mom, let’s go home,” Jack nudged me. I looked at the screen on his phone. He wasn’t doing well on the app.
But we’d been here forever, watching people body surf to the counter. We had Erin’s cache of numbers, and had driven all the way out to almost the mall.
“Just take it as a practice,” I said. “Maybe you’ll get lucky.”
It was 3:27 when Erin’s son’s number was finally called.
“That’s us, good luck!” She called. I thought about taking her down and stealing her number, but it might be bad DMV karma. One of her other numbers was next to be called, anyway. We’d made it.
Turns out I didn’t need my bag of goodies at the counter, just Jack’s permit and my signature. The clerk pointed him in the direction of the testing computers, and likely certain doom.
“What’s the procedure for retests?” I asked after Jack was out of hearing, “you know, just in case.” I leaned on the counter, nonchalant, throwing in a little hair flip for good measure.
I found a seat and wondered how many parents had smuggled in a flask. We were going to be old hat at this by the end of Spring Break: coming early, punching every number on the machine twice and finding a spot of wall to lean on. Maybe by the end I’d have my own DMV posse. I’d be helpful like Erin and start doling out tickets like a mafia bookie.
I couldn’t read my book. I picked at a hangnail and looked toward the computers. I couldn’t see Jack, but I could see another guy’s back. I watched him stare intently at the screen and then type. Suddenly his shoulders sagged. He pulled off his headphones and put his forehead down on the keyboard.
Jeez. I’d be on medication by the time school started again.
I wasn’t sure I could even pass a driving test these days. What was even on one? Maybe I should read the manual and download the app on my own phone? I could coach Jack… or something.
Ten minutes. Fifteen. The announcer cycled through all the four and five and six hundreds and then there was number thirty – a full two hours after we’d arrived, twenty minutes after they’d stopped seating people for testing.
Jack’s blond head popped into view and I knew before he even turned around and smiled at me. I felt my shoulders relax and I smiled back.
We wouldn’t be back after all. Sayonara DMV.
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