The DMV: A Guide to Waiting in Line

Disclosure: I have been holding onto this saga for a long time. Mainly because I was hoping letting it sit would allow me to cut down on some words. But then I came back to it today after months and realized it's not going to happen because this is the story about me getting a new license. And that process was just as lengthy as this post. Believe it or not, I even spared you some details. 

The other day, I went to the DMV. I had to get a California driver's license because

    1. it's the law

    2. my mom was really, really set on me doing it (because it's the law).

Mainly I did it for reason number two because even though I'm 23 and like to make a big stink about me being a totally capable and self-reliant adult, there are times when I will go out of my way to do exactly what my mom tells me. (Note to Glenna: great job on raising me to be a compulsively obedient child). 

For example, the time I had $300 left in a 401k account from a previous employer that I had no idea existed my mom insisted I call up the 401k people and ask them to roll it over to the new 401k I had set up at my current job so that I didn't pay a tax penalty. Do you know how much the tax penalty was on withdrawing (albeit, unknowingly) $300 before retirement age from a 401k? Not enough to cover the amount of time I spent calling and holding and explaining my situation to approximately 5 different 401k people who were all befuddled about why I cared about 300 forgotten dollars in a retirement account. I also didn't know why I cared. It took a lot of mental will for me to not bring my mom into it when I was explaining my predicament over the phone. As in:

Helpful 401k person: "Hi, how can I help you?"

Me, witless 23-year-old: "Hi, uh I think I have money in a 401k that I didn't know I had and my mom wants me to roll it over to my new 401k?"


Once you are old enough to have a retirement account, you shouldn't use your mom as your excuse for financial decisions while on the phone with the 401k people. They don't care about your mom or what she says you should do with your money.

So anyways, I tried making excuses like "Mom, I don't even drive here" and "Mom, literally who is going to know I am technically supposed to have a California license?" But she was not having it. Glenna did not care. She said "I don't care. You just have to do it." So I went to the DMV because I am a mom-abiding robot. Unfortunately, California is nothing like Oregon or Idaho (both places in which I was once a proud driver's license holder) and you cannot just walk into the DMV like you own the place and get a motherfucking driver's license. In California, you visit a government website and make an appointment to get your license. We aren't savages here! There is order! There are lines! But because apparently everyone else on the face of the planet wants to get a license from the San Francisco DMV you have to wait a month to get said appointment time.

I would like to note here that according to the ~law~ you have to get a new license within 10 days of moving to the state of California if you plan on claiming residency or "taking advantage of any of the benefits afforded to California residents," whatever that means. However, WHAT IF YOU CAN'T GET A APPOINTMENT FOR YOUR LICENSE FOR WITHIN THE 10-DAY WINDOW? WHAT THEN, HUH? I had a small moment of self-righteousness about discovering this legal catch-22 and then waited patiently for my appointment.

On the day of my long-awaited DMV time slot, I arrive 20 minutes early because I have no idea what is going to happen. First, I wait in a line that is wrapping around the exterior of the building because that is what everyone else is doing. Then I realize this is not the line for people with appointments. Those people are all milling outside of a lobby around the building from the non-appointment holders. Inside is a grouchy security lady glowering at all of us appointment people who are here before the DMV has even opened. We have displeased her with our promptness. When she finally unlocks the door, we surge into the building with the kind of speed walking that suggests you desperately want to be the first person in the building, but don't want to look so competitive and cutthroat as breaking into a jog would. 

Once inside, I am immediately confused. There is the long counter with DMV employees settling into their desks with large screens overhead displaying the number of the next person being served, but it is not apparent how I get a number. I slow my speed walk so that I can observe what everyone else is doing. Everyone else is also confused. I move towards the people that have started to clump at a back corner where two lines are forming around a woman barricaded behind a desk. She is handing out forms and loudly admonishing people for a) not standing behind the black line taped on the floor, b) not filling out forms properly, c) asking questions she thinks she has already answered, and d) shouting out questions to her from the back of the line. She announces many times that this is "her line" and she will not be having any "interruptions".

Everyone is shouting at the DMV. It adds to my internal hysteria. A security guard asks me what time my appointment is while I am standing in line to be helped (or possibly yelled at) by the lady behind the desk. I tell him 9:15. It is currently 9:05. He tells me to sit down. It is a brief and wide-eyed (on my part, his eyes were totally normal) exchange.

While I am sitting, worrying, texting, and being afraid I look around at all the other people at the DMV on a Wednesday. Let me tell you, avoid it if you can. The DMV takes everyone and makes them the worst version of themselves, angrily saying things under their breath or brandishing documents wildly in the air at employees who truly do not give a flying fart about your personal problems and your inability to follow government regulations. At the DMV, rules are fucking rules. I start to wonder, is 9:15 the time I'm allowed to get back in line? Or is 9:15 the time when I'm supposed to be talking to the lady behind the desk so really I should be in line at like 9:10? Shouldn't I be filling something out? But the DMV is not a place for asking questions. It is a place for doing what you're told. 

At 9:15, the security guard who told me to sit down yells out "9:15 appointments! 9:15 appointments!" which is apparently my cue to get up and stand in line. The lady behind the desk gives me a form and tells me to fill it out and when I'm done to get back in line. I fill in the form. I get back in line. I get a number for another line.

At this point, I realize that scheduling an "appointment" is just scheduling a time for you to wait in line. Which is absurd. So then I sit some more. Which is basically just a line where you get to be in a chair. So we will call it my third line of the day. Then I go see another lady behind a desk where I give her some information and watch her photocopy some things. And then she asks for my Oregon license. 

I had thought a lot about this moment. Because I knew what was coming. They were going to punch a hole in it. My sweet Oregon residency, defiled. I had thought about lying and saying "oh, you know what? I actually lost it, that’s why I am getting a new one" or "oh shit! you know what? I totally left it at home!" But what if that lil baby lie prevented me from getting my new license? Was I going to have to schedule another DMV appointment? Was I just going to sheepishly say "what do you know, here it is in my wallet after all!" and possibly be damned to DMV hell for being a liar liar pants on fire and maybe never be allowed to get another license ever or even be arrested and put in jail for life for trying to defy the federal government? Not even my prized proof of Oregon residency was enough to make me risk that. So I handed it over. If I'm being honest, my eyes might have been glassy about it. But the DMV is not a place for crying (or questions, or happiness). There is now a hole in my Oregon license. 

The rest of my journey to every desk in the DMV went relatively smoothly. I waited in a total of 6 lines. I chatted with high school girl also waiting in line to get her license photo taken who clearly thought we were the same age (she was waiting to get her very first license). I missed one question on the written test (apparently you can turn left over a double yellow on a residential street to get into a private driveway, lucky Californians!). I took a terrible license photo. I left the DMV. 

A week-ish later I received my real-fucking-deal Cali girl license. And I knew what that photo was going to look like before I even got it. I was going to have the football neck. "Football neck" is an affliction that my mother and my sister and I all suffer from. When photographed straight-on, all of us look like we have the meatiest fucking necks you've ever seen. Like these photos would not look out of place on a team roster on, next to which it would read "Linebacker, 6' 3", 283 lbs". Secretly (except not really because this is the internet) this was probably a serious reason why I didn't want a new license. Because 18-year-old Delaney, despite her blunt bangs and cheesed-out smile, had 10 pounds less in the neck. I blame Glenna.