For inveterate people watchers like me, the DMV licensing office is like a constantly rotating wildlife exhibit. People of all ages and classes and colors and personalities walk through the same door, take a number, and join themselves to the snaking line of humanity that weaves its way up to the service counter.
My license expired on my birthday. Dutifully, I resigned myself to wasting an hour of my Monday moving through the bureaucratic machinery of blank forms and eye tests to get it renewed. Unfortunately, this involved taking a new license photo, a task I was dreading. You see, four years ago, in this same office, a small miracle had occurred, and I had walked out into the summer sun clutching a driver’s license picture that I actually liked! My first ever. If I’d known it wasn’t going to be the same washed out, double-chinned, stringy-haired nightmare I’d come to expect from I.D. photos, I’d have opted for the eight year license instead of the four and paid the extra twenty bucks for the pleasure. Alas, four years went by too quickly.
There’s not much to do while you’re waiting in line but to look around at all the other people waiting in line, and, if you’re lucky, eavesdrop a little.
I entered the DMV right behind an elderly couple, who sat at the end of the row of seats, sweetly holding hands. Apparently she needed to get her license, but it had been so long since she’d driven that she had lost her old one long ago, back when Idaho was issuing laminated cardboard and the photos were actual photos, trimmed in a square and glued to the top. I couldn’t help but wonder, as her husband slowly ushered her along with his hand on her elbow, if he was preparing her for a time when he wouldn’t be around to drive her to the grocery store or her standing hair appointments.
Across the room, a hairy gentleman wearing a pea-green coat (odd, on a summer day) and sporting a beard down to his navel was trying, in increasingly animated language, to talk his way into a new license despite the fact that he had “lost” his old one and had no other form of identification. The agent behind the desk, using an extra-calm voice I imagine she reserves for dealing with frightened children and possible psychopaths, explained once again why this wasn’t possible. “When did you last see your license?” she asked, trying to be helpful. His bluster evaporated as he finally gave up. “I guess it was when that police officer took it,” he admitted sheepishly.
Over at the dreaded photo desk, a steady parade of applicants posed for pictures in front of a faded blue cloth, sickly smiles and untidy hair preserved for posterity on a 2 by 3-inch piece of plastic. An unsmiling sixteen year old boy with dyed black hair and an abundance of piercings stared holes in the camera lens as the flash captured him in a seeming snarl. The photo tech turned the monitor around so he could see his picture. “Do you want to try that again?” she asked. He looked at it. “Why?” She paused before carefully saying, “Well…it makes you look like…a criminal. Kinda scary.” He opted for no retake. He and his equally pierced and mournful girlfriend linked arms and waited silently while the machine spit out his new license. When the photographer handed it to him, he chirped, “Thanks!” and flashed a beatific smile at her, its light momentarily illuminating the whole room before he turned and stalked out into the parking lot.
Over the hour that I spent waiting for my number to be called, mankind in all flavors came and went through the swinging glass door. Teenage boys and girls bending studiously over the Idaho driver’s manual, cramming for the computerized test ahead; a musclebound Hulk Hogan look-alike who perched tiny wire-framed reading glasses on his nose before filling out his forms; a rather frenzied middle-aged bald man who skipped taking a number, strode up to the counter, and demanded a list of the names and addresses of the driving test administrators (perhaps to send them flowers?) before being soundly rebuffed and leaving in a snit.
It wasn’t a bad way to spend an hour, really. Nothing entertains and amazes like the human race.
Oh! And my new driver’s license photo? I hate it. The natural order has been restored.