The DMV is one of life’s great equalizers.
Yesterday morning I take a number, sit in a plastic chair and wait. I cannot make anything move faster — not the people, not the numbers lit red on the rectangular screen above our heads, and neither can anyone else.
We in this room are all alike. At another’s mercy, vulnerable.
The immigrant woman struggling to communicate the letters she reads for the eye test. The couple recently relocated to Portland and starting over in a new place. The man propped up by a cane trying in vain to make a little girl smile. The young mother barking sharply at her daughter who leans over her chair to see a new baby. The DMV attendant who sighs and bristles when I miss one box and check another incorrectly in my efforts to renew my license.
And I think to myself you represent everything people hate about the DMV, and I feel my face flush and my armor begin to solidify like Magic Shell as I stand before her, and then somehow the words fall from my mouth, “I apologize. I read that line wrong.”
Without warning, she changes her tune, softens, says even people who work there get that one messed up, and then at the end of our interaction:
“Well Miss Ashley, let me be the first to wish you a happy birthday,” she says, looking down at my form.
“Thank you. It’s 40,” I venture. “A big one.”
“Well, you don’t look it, so that’s good,” she says, a hint of smile crossing her stern face.
And I wonder how she knows that because I don’t think she ever looked up.