Amblin’ Alameda: A Visit to the DMV

Amblin’ Alameda: A Visit to the DMV

Morton Chalfy

Into each life a visit to the DMV must fall and so it did on us. We made an appointment at the office on Claremont Avenue in Oakland and set off in plenty of time to arrive early. And so we did, getting there ten minutes before the hour for an appointment ten minutes after. By doing so, we discovered, we ran afoul of a DMV rule that we couldn’t be checked in before the hour of our appointment had begun.

We didn’t mind. Any trip to the DMV is filled with new and interesting sights of many new and interesting people. Because we are all in thrall to the organization a cross-section of all of us is on display and all of us includes some people rarely seen outside their own haunts. We watched in awe and amusement this crowd of white, brown, black and “what color is that woman’s hair” whose ages spanned teenagers in for their learner’s permit to elderly codgers trying to stay on the road.

The lines are long at the DMV but the system does keep things moving. Many of the answers that move the line along are negative ones which upset the hearers but that is not the DMV’s fault. I would suggest a greeter at the door, an older, very experienced, perhaps even retired, employee who knew all the answers and could calm and direct people. This would cut down the number of questions asked of the clerks that have them shaking their heads in disbelief.

There’s one job I wouldn’t want at the DMV, that of the intake clerks, the (usually) two women who look over your papers, give you a number and tell you what to do next. The rest of the clerks have at least half a minute or more between clients to catch their breath, but these two women face a line in front of their stations all day. There is no relief between one impatient and worried customer and the next. How they keep their calm demeanor and more or less pleasant way of speaking is beyond me. They deserve combat pay for their duty.

The general attitude of the clerks seems to be a desire to get you on the road, legally, not to arbitrarily put obstacles in your path. The general attitude of the customers seems to be a fear that some arbitrary clerk will deny them their driving privileges and so cost them a job or school or whatever they drive to. The difference in power is enough to explain the dichotomy. An hour of sitting in the DMV and contemplating one’s fellow local inhabitants is instructive, amusing and occasionally heart-rending. All in all, for a writer, a very satisfying excursion.

Plus, we now have our new plates.