August 21, 2001


I hate the DMV.

I don't hate it just a little bit, either. I don't hate it, for instance, the way you might hate a defective pair of No Nonsense, or curry powder in your tuna salad sandwich (when all you wanted was pickle and mayo), or another one of those stoopid "Bob Thought You Might Like This!" email forwards in your mailbox, every time you open Outlook Express. ("Bob," apparently, is operating under the hugely misguided notion that I 1.) actually WANT to see .jpgs of women simulating sex with barnyard animals, and 2.) will happily give him my credit card number in order to do so.)

No, my hatred runs much deeper than that. I hate the DMV the way one might hate poverty in Third World countries, or second-hand cigarette smoke, or "Yes, Dear" re-re-runs on a night when your hubby is hogging the brand-new computer and you're all out of decent reading material. In fact, I think I hate the DMV more than poverty, second-hand cigarette smoke and "Yes, Dear" re-re-runs combined.

(Or maybe I just hate it more than I hate "Yes, Dear.")

Furthermore, I believe the feeling is intensely mutual. The DMV hates me every bit as much as I hate them.

And yes, I know that everybody hates the DMV. As hatreds go, this one is probably far from unique. Still, over the years I've managed to turn garden-variety *authority figure issues* into something deeply and ridiculously personal. And why not? All I know is that I have never left a Department of Motor Vehicles office -- ANY DMV office, in ANY city or county or state I've ever lived in, at ANY point in my forty-three years on this planet -- without a wadded clump of Kleenex in my hand.

And today was no exception.

The most aggravating thing about it? Things were supposed to go like clockwork this time. This was supposed to be a total no-brainer. There was no driving test to flunk this time: just a simple name-change to navigate through. I made my appointment well in advance, via the Internet of course. (Pretty soon I'm going to be buying feminine hygiene products, taking violin lessons, paying my library fines and scheduling my Saturday afternoon naps "via the Internet." Wait and see.) Just to be on the safe side I was also carrying a printed copy of my appointment confirmation in my hand. I wasn't AWOL: I'd gone through proper channels and scheduled the time off with my boss. Everyone at the Totem Pole Company knew I was going to be gone, and why. I had the DMV office address and phone number written down, just in case David got lost while he drove us to the office. I had not one but two certified copies of our marriage certificate, my current California State I.D. card (plus a couple of old Drivers Licenses from Washington State), my certified birth certificate, my Social Security Card my bank cards, my credit cards, my checkbook and my Kaiser Permanente card ... every piece of I.D. ever issued to me in the past forty-three years, basically, except for my Capn Quirky Fan Club Membership and my Hello Kitty! Bonus Card.

This was going to be the one time when everything went right. Right?


I knew the vibe was *off* the minute we stepped up to the counter. Our assigned DMV Robot ("Jaquinta") dispensed with all the obvious human pleasantries -- a smile, a greeting, eye contact, a discernible pulse -- and yanked the paperwork out of my hand.

"What time was your appointment scheduled?" she sniffed.

"9:40," I replied. And I snuck a peek at my watch. 9:42.


"And you're here to do what?" she sniffed again. We explained that we were there to change the last name on my California State I.D., from my "old" married name to my groovy "new" married name. "We just got married last month," I added sweetly, linking my arm through David's ... thinking this might elicit a smile or a "Congratulations" or a molecule of visible warmth or humankindness from our robot.

But there was nothing. Frankly, I've seen fifteen-year-olds respond to a Saturday night curfew with more *warmth* and *humankindness.*

As she squinted suspiciously at the "foreign" Washington State marriage certificate -- clearly trying to decide whether we'd purchased it in Mexico, or whether we'd just gone over to Kinko's and printed it ourselves -- I decided to try again. I leaned over the counter and smiled directly at her.

"Have you ever had to go through a name change?" I asked her, glancing meaningfully at her wedding ring, in what I believed was a conversational, friendly, vaguely conspiratorial tone of voice. I was going for solidarity here. You know? The things we girls have to go through when we get married.

She met my eyes for the first and only time, then, and the look she gave me was unmistakeable. Lady, it said, I know what you're selling, and I ain't buying it. This isn't Happy Doodle Fun Time. If I wanted chit chat, I could visit the IRS office next door.

I decided to just stand there and shut up.

After what felt like a minor eternity -- as she scrutinized every line of information on all 43,897,621 pages of my name change application ... as she checked (and double-checked, and triple-checked) my signature against the signature on my old I.D. card ... as she scurried back and forth to confer with her comrade in the next booth ("Look over there at my counter. Didn't we see that lady on 'America's Most Wanted' last week?") -- it was beginning to look like we were getting somewhere. I was finger-combing my hair, in anticipation of the camera, when she finally returned to the counter. She slammed my paperwork down and began writing little scribbly initials all over everything.

"And you've already changed your name with the Social Security office," she said. Not a question, but a bald statement of fact.

"Um, no ... not yet," I replied. And I started to explain to her that we'd only just received the certified copies of our marriage certificate in the mail last week -- it had taken a while, because it was coming from out of state, and you know how the Post Office can be -- and I'd been advised to come straight to the DMV first and get my I.D. squared away, before I attempted to make any of the other changes, because without legitimate I.D. I couldn't ...

"You're gonna have to change your name with Social Security first," she interrupted flatly. "Otherwise it's gonna take 60 to 90 days for your DMV request to process."

I was slightly taken aback, but still willing to feign a cordiality I no longer felt. (This is David's influence, btw.) "OK," I said. "That's in direct contradiction to what I was told to do, but OK." Clearly this wasn't going to be the no-brainer I'd hoped it would be, but if I could just stay calm, I still might walk out of the place with my new I.D.

"Well," she sniffed nastily, "that's the procedure. I have no way of knowing whether you're lying or not, but that's the procedure."

Wait a minute. Wait. A. Minute. "I have no way of knowing whether you're lying or not" ... ?? What the hell?

"I'm not 'lying' about anything," I said through clenched teeth. "I was merely trying to make conversation with you. Jesus." And I felt my cheeks go all hot and tight, the way they do when I'm about to burst into tears. (Or when I'm about to throw a burning jack-o-lantern at somebody.)

David pulled me gently away from the counter at that point. Positioning himself between the DMV clerk and me, he obtained the address of the Oakland Social Security Administration office. It was a fifteen minute drive from the DMV. "If we go to the Social Security office and get my wife's name changed there," he asked politely, "can we come back here and finish applying for the name change on her I.D. card? Or will we have to schedule another appointment?"

She gave a noncommittal little shrug. "If you come back this morning," she said, "we'll try to honor your appointment."

Knowing this was as good as it was likely to get -- and knowing that any further *interaction* with Jodphurra would cause me to blow like that Hormone Zit on my right cheek -- he hustled me out of the DMV office, pronto.

The Social Security Administration Office wasn't a big bunch of fun either -- another parking meter to feed, another interminable line to stand in, another bazillion-page form to fill out -- but compared to my experience at the DMV, this was like a $500 Amoeba Records gift certificate and a Santa Fe Burger at Kip's. (The clerk at the SSA actually chuckled warmly when David told her we'd just gotten married. "That's lovely," she said. "Congratulations.") By the time we returned to the DMV, an hour later -- my Social Security Administration Office receipt defiantly clenched in hand -- I was sufficiently calmed and free of homicidal urges.

Jaquitta was already "helping" another customer, so we were routed to a different robot. (One with only slightly less charisma than Jaquitta ... but one who managed to process my paperwork with a minimum of delay and suspicion. Plus she actually made eye contact once.)

Five minutes later I was grimacing into the DMV camera.

Was it worth it? Yes, of course it was. This was stuff I was going to have to take care of eventually anyway: walking out in a huff would have merely postponed the unpleasantness. And I don't feel so special or so entitled that I automatically expect people to be nice to me 100% of the time ... even if I am a newlywed. (I don't know what the statute of limitations is for special treatment of newlyweds. I suspect ours is probably just about "up," though.) But I still don't understand why DMV employees -- or anyone who works one-on-one with the public, for that matter -- have to be so consistently, unflinchingly rude. Is it written into the job description or something? They take what is supposed to be a simple (and happy) procedure -- changing to your brand-new married name -- and they turn it into this ridiculously cold and complicated process that sucks all of the *fun molecules* right out of it.

All I can tell you is this: after everything I've been through lately, you'd damn well better believe it'll say "Rafter" on my tombstone someday.

Because I'm not changing my name again.

one year ago: the backpack
[one of *my* all-time favorite entries]

throw a rock