Emotional Odyssey at the Department of Motor Vehicles

I always see at least one handsome man at the DMV. It’s never one of the workers (bitter civil servants who never give you adequate time to prepare for that little picture they take of you because it is the one joy they have left) but some other poor, unfortunate soul like myself renewing their driver’s license or updating their home address, waiting in the endless, hellish lines and wondering quietly to themselves as to which forms they should be bringing to the counter.

This last time I went to the DMV it was near the end of the summer, and, as always, no one who was there wanted to be. There was an influx of confused, disoriented people wandering around without a clue, like at an emergency room during peak business hours. I expected someone to run in the doors with a bleeding arm yelling for a doctor at any moment. It also felt strangely like a bank, although I can’t imagine anyone holding up a DMV, stealing all those renewal fees at gunpoint. It would just bring more suffering to all involved, and even criminals have some mercy. Also, who knows what kind of NSA secret service they have behind all of those doors.

Nearby a toddler was sobbing and wriggling all over the floor next to its mother. All of us in line were silently watching this, strangely identifying with this child’s irreverent cries. I knew it was what we were all secretly doing on the inside. There are few such places where a group of truly random individuals can come together in such emotional unity as the DMV.


But, everyone suffers quietly and alone in this world (other than, clearly, the sobbing toddler) so there was no such discussion of the mutual bonding we were all experiencing. And, anyway, I could not be fully devoted to this emotional pilgrimage because I was admiring the man a few turns in the line over. He looked like he did some sort of outdoor work, the nature of which I was unsure. It wasn’t like he was wearing a hard hat or anything so helpful. He had these huge, craggily hands like a seaman and tan skin like a leather stain.

I’ve always thought it was strange that construction or landscaping jobs are notoriously sexy, akin to firemen or cowboys posing shirtless (or shirtless and holding a kitten) in those for-women calendars. This man at the DMV, however, made me a believer.

I considered writing up one of those CraigsList missed connections before we even left each other’s company because I knew, deep down, the DMV simply wasn’t the place for us to get to know one another. It has already been established that no one is confronting their feelings whilst applying for a vehicle registration or getting a copy of their driving record.

In short, I knew it was never to be. Then, potentially my soulmate, was called up to the counter. At the same moment, I turned to see the source of some commotion at the other end of the room. A mother was fervently congratulating her son on passing his driving test as if he was the first person to do so in the whole world. They were both smiling and clutching the paperwork, tears welling in their eyes, or so I imagined. I wasn’t that close to them. The son got on the phone and called someone about his success.

“Yeah, yeah. So the man said, go and take your picture. You managed to pass!” he said. His mom beamed at him like a first lady smiles at the president in pictures for his assorted accomplishments. Had I been that happy when I got my driver’s license? I guess, for myself, the novelty of having official, government-sanctioned permission to drive around a two-ton vehicle had faded long ago. I pondered how I had become so jaded to life’s simple victories.

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my brother at the kitchen table on Halloween night. We dumped our pillowcases full of candy into huge mounds of sugary wax wrapping, such as send convulsive shivers down dentist’s spines. It was so dark outside, and late the windows were black mirrors as my brother, and I traded starbursts for krackels, our face makeup running and paper-mâché wings wilting. Our parents begged us to go to bed, peeling us out of our cheap costumes and laying us in bed, lollipops stored secretly under our pillows.

The line at the DMV continued forward at its almost nonexistent pace. Everyone there, including I presume, myself, looked like tired, emaciated cats praying for any sort of relief. I wanted to yell out to those around me, joining me on this journey of legal vehicle registration that they were not alone. We’re all the same I wanted to say! No matter who you are, short or tall, rich or poor, black or white, you must endure this sad, meandering line drafted straight from Catholic purgatory.

The group of us there was legitimately so diverse in every way we looked like an arbitrary crowd of extras at an airport waiting for their boarding passes. Someone was going to yell cut any minute now, I knew it.But I didn’t yell anything at all, and the man with the seaman-craggily hands paid his fees and left, just as I did a few minutes later. Halloween night has to end when the pretending is done, and real life starts up again.

Photo Credit: rippchenmitkraut66 Flickr via Compfight cc



Maddie Swenson

Maddie is a full-time college student with dreams of becoming a librarian. She likes books more than people sometimes, demonstrating a nearly sacrilegious affinity for books written by Shirley Jackson and Sylvia Plath. Her writing appears in secret diary entries and in letters to friends and on her personal website: https://msweny.wixsite.com/write

One thought on “Emotional Odyssey at the Department of Motor Vehicles

  1. Tamara MilesTamara Miles Reply

    This is wonderful — and true. It made me laugh and cringe with you. Fortunately, I’ve discovered that some smaller DMV offices are actually somewhat less terrifying and miserable. Thank you for putting this out there. We random human beings can sometimes form meaningful relationships because we are forced into some space together clutching a KIeenex or sobbing into it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *