There is a dark, unspeakable inevitability looming on the horizon for us all. You try not to think about it. You don’t talk about it in polite company. You try to put it off as long as possible, but at a certain point, all attempts to escape fail.
There comes a day for us all when we must face the unforgiving edifice of the Department of Motor Vehicles and walk through those doors, wondering if we will ever emerge to see our loved ones again. This is my story of that day.
Once upon a time, I took the afternoon off work, headed to the DMV, and was immediately confronted by a long and winding waiting line that almost extended all the way out of the building. I wanted to cry in retreat but instead bravely elbowed through until I found its end.
There I stood patiently, and yea though a latecomer “mistakenly” cut in front of me, neither did I complain nor argue, for I was saving my energy and ammunition for the true enemy and not this pitifully addled fellow warrior.
I crept forward inexorably, and when it was at last my turn to face the gatekeeper of this godforsaken realm behind her glowing computer and her mysterious next-in-line-number generating machine, my documents were loaded and at the ready, and I succinctly stated my terms. The enemy responded with the quick thrust of a form, a form riddled with many difficult questions, a form launched at me mercilessly with neither clipboard nor writing implement.
That might have been the end of a weaker opponent. But I did not go to that battlefield unprepared. I pulled a pen from the reaches of my pack, moved to higher ground, held the form against a wall, and filled that sucker out. Oh DMV, you thought I wouldn’t know my license plate number or my VIN number and that I would have to go back outside and possibly perish in the hundred-degree heat in seek of these precious bits of information.
No, DMV. Tucked amongst my hidden arsenal was my registration card ready to answer your attack. You see, this wasn’t the first time my sword had tasted your blood.
You tried to employ the element of confusion and surprise by giving me a next-in-service number of F13, then proceeding to call out letter/number combinations in no logical order. Now serving C136. Now serving S15. I had no idea if I was next in the queue or one hundredth in the queue.
That was your strategy for keeping my guard lowered and lulling me into a state of unreadiness. And using both B and D, both F and S—what a sneaky touch. Those who can’t distinguish which letter the robot voice calls are doomed to dig into the trenches and wait uncertainly, possibly unendingly.
I sat with the throngs of dead-eyed, shell-shocked fighters. Occasionally, someone would look up from their phone and make accidental eye contact, their faces crying out, Help me. I have been captive here for so long, I’ve lost track of time and of my very soul.
I wanted to make a silent vow to each that we would all make it out of here, but in truth knew it was every soldier for herself. If someone else were to break and run screaming for escape, well, that would’ve put me one step closer to being called to the service counter.
During my time in captivity, I achieved an extra star of valor for abstaining from using my phone for entertainment. I maintained a razor-sharp focus in order to familiarize myself with the various rallying points and to hear each summons clearly, mistaking neither B for D nor S for F, ready to leap forward and swiftly attack the correct service counter at the appointed moment.
Therefore I was ready when called upon but disarmed to find myself faced with a surprisingly polite girl half my age. Nice try, DMV, using child soldiers to make me hesitate in my advance.
But so efficiently and mercilessly did I let loose my arsenal of fully filled-out forms that she quickly yielded and released the hostage I had come to free: the registration and sticker they swore they’d mailed to me three months ago that never arrived.
Our lives are all, by their nature, temporary. I sacrificed forty-six precious, irretrievable minutes of mine in one of the most maddening circles of bureaucratic hell imaginable that day, but I walked out bathed in victory, holding high to the heavens my license plate sticker, with post-battle adrenaline flooding my body and my mind clear of all but one resounding mantra: winning.