And We Wait…

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By DeeDee Corbitt Sauter

I recently had the opportunity to sit and wait at the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles. I am not sure, even being an avid reader and Googler, that I can find the words to describe the inside of that circus tent.DeeDee

Everyone always has the same complaints—long lines, inefficient service, red tape and incomprehensible regulations—but those are mundane and predictable. What I rarely hear anyone discuss is the patrons that sit and wait on the hard plastic stackable chairs, furtively shooting glances at one another while protecting their spot in line with
invisible glares.

The DMV I visited was a clean building that used a deli or bakery technique of distributing tickets to everyone who needed to be seen. After getting your number, you wait until it is called and crawl to the next available employee to get your treat. The numbers being serviced are displayed on a large screen so you can constantly check your ticket and check the screen, then back to the ticket in case it changed, then back to the screen.

It’s simple, really. The numbers are neither disseminated nor called chronologically. It’s a combination of letters and numbers that are spewed out by the computer when you first arrive. It’s all a big mystery as to who in the room is next. You can feel all eyes on you when it’s your turn, knowing someone thinks you were given some special fastpass,
when you have just been sitting quietly, trying to be unnoticed for the past six hours.

It’s a government, bureaucratic service station that attends to the needs of almost everyone in the United States at some point. That’s a tough job. I try to tend to the needs of my family on a daily basis and am usually pretty grumpy at day’s end, so I understand the problems inherent to the DMV. Or a Social Security office. Or even any elementary school.

So I went with my book and iPad, a blanket, a cup of coffee and a pillow. I was ready.

I was just not prepared for the other guests of this fine establishment.

There were signs indicating no cell phone usage was permitted while sequestered in this infinite waiting room. Might as well say “No breathing allowed.” But it was irrelevant, as it appeared that the majority of the populace cannot read large placards or follow directions.

I had first noticed the inability to listen to instruction when I was shifting my weight from foot to foot in the initial triage line. Every few minutes the androids (they can’t be all human because they never seem exhausted and I never saw one blink) would announce the need for us to have our IDs out and ready. No one did. Everyone who reached the first counter would speak briefly, look perplexed, look at their empty hands, then reach for their wallet or purse, searching for their supporting documents while the announcement once again begged all those in line to have their IDs ready before reaching the front.

It does seem ludicrous to assume that the people who cannot be prepared for their turn when they voluntarily walk into the building in the first place should be able to read a large sign telling them not to use their cell phones.

So complaining about the inefficiency of the DMV is equally insane when I was surrounded by people who could not stop talking on, singing with or yelling at their cell phones.

From the lady next to me, I learned she regretted the karaoke evening that morphed into morning hours. And this was a Wednesday. The man behind me was busy texting everyone in the country and not once thought to decrease the volume of his keyboard or his whistling alert. The woman to my right mostly enjoyed music from the ’80s. She did keep the volume down and wore those ubiquitous earbuds, but enjoyed singing in an off-tune whisper. In the next aisle sat a teen who busily tapped his phone’s screen while grunting and moaning which obviously enhanced the playing experience.

Time stood still as I sat invisibly in my seat. I read two novels and learned to knit while waiting for my number to be called. I vowed I would be more consistent and diligent about teaching my boys the need to follow some directions.

I watched as each person acted wholly unprepared when their number was called. It was as if the act of simply walking into the DMV had drained all knowledge of why they were there. But I stayed focused while I wrote the finishing touches to the great American novel and waited, and waited….

Finally, it was my turn. The amazingly spry, but confused, woman at the counter required supervisory assistance from some manager, interrupted when I spoke, only grunted when I asked a question, and forgot to return my license at the end. She did not fail to ask for money. I staggered out, the sun blinding me even though I was wearing the darkest shades possible. I was sure I had missed my oldest son’s high school graduation, even though he was only 13 when I entered the building. I fell into the car and glanced at the clock.

Only two hours had passed. What happened in that black hole remains a mystery, but it’s a story of survival, luck and perseverance—and at least I have an updated driver’s license.

DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.

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