ANCHORS AND SAILS: Down and out at the DMV

Brenda Kelley Kim

“God is everywhere. Except the DMV. There, you’re on your own.”—-

– Josh Peck

As happens to us all at some point, I recently had to hit up the registry of motor vehicles, or “the registry,” as we Massholes call it. Friends in other states assure me that it’s virtually the same everywhere. Piles of paperwork, long lines, depressing lighting, and at least half the time, you come away having accomplished nothing because you had the wrong paperwork. I think it’s a giant conspiracy; I think some states have a secret quota for employees at the DMV. To hit their numbers, they have to send a minimum number of customers back to their cars, demoralized and weeping. If citizens start showing up at the registry with complete documentation and come back with what they went in for, something in the fabric of the space-time continuum tears, and we can’t have that. 

I’m coming up on a birthday, so I have to renew my license, and it’s time to get my “RealID.” There’s another fun fact I did not know; my passport and my Global Entry clearance, along with a current driver’s license and forty-seven other documents that say who I am, where I live, and how old I am, are not “real” enough to get me on an airplane. Well, the passport would be enough, but states are requiring a RealID now, so instead of just sending in a check and renewing online, it was time to show up in person. I chose to do it at a Triple A (AAA) office since I am a member. Made the appointment online, easy peasy. Downloaded the forms and checked the lists for the required proof. To have a ” real ID,” you need three categories of documents. One category shows your “lawful presence” in the United States. Another verifies your Social Security status, and the third is to ensure that you are a Massachusetts resident. The third one puzzles me. Are there people out there, say, in Vermont or Maine, that are thinking, “You know what? I think I will drive to MA and try to get a license there because from what I’ve heard about the drivers, the roads, and the administration, it sounds like fun.” Who in the hell-OH would want to do that?

I walked into the office like a boss. My paperwork is complete; no bad pen chained to a counter for me; I was prepared. Lawful presence? Yes, ma’am,  right here. Social security? Check. Proof of being a resident of the Commonwealth (besides my attitude and the fact that I’m wearing a Red Sox hat and a Sully’s Brand t-shirt?) Got it. I’m no amateur. The woman starts to look it all over, and oh, wait…what’s this? She’s frowning. She’s got a highlighter, and she’s going after my form with it. She points out that my name on my Social Security is different from my name now. Man, nothing gets by these people.

I explain that and show her five other documents that prove why. I’m feeling pretty smug now; no highlighter is taking me down. She re-groups. Ah ha! You need two items that show your Social Security number, and on my W2, that number is redacted, except for the last four digits. It’s some privacy thing employers do now. And, just like that, I’m thrown out like a baseball player with bad knees that rounded third and didn’t make it home before the throw. How can this be? I had records as far back as my baptism. I’m not some slacker; I read the directions. How many people do that, Ms. Registry Lady? I tried to point out that I didn’t know that the W2 didn’t show the full number. She points out where the form says to check and make sure all nine digits appear, and her highlighter squeaks across the page….NEXT! 

Not gonna lie; I was madder than a bag of bees. How could this happen? A couple of weeks ago, I got lost on the T. Now I’m a registry reject. What’s next? I get banned at Dunks for stealing napkins? I didn’t have a leg to stand on; the rules were right there. In my head, I was combining every swear word I’ve ever known, and trust me, the list is pretty long. My mother was in the Navy. Here’s the thing, though; I was wrong. Ms. Registry Lady was right. I didn’t yell or get snotty. I didn’t ask for a manager. I didn’t use even one of the clever invectives bouncing around in my head. I slunk out of there like the loser I am. I can go back in two weeks and try again. I will bring the correct W2, possibly a Harry Potter wand, some Disney pixie dust, and a rabbit’s foot, and I will prevail. It was just a tiny detour, a rogue squall that sent me off course, but I’m going to right this ship and bring it safely back to port. Besides the lesson I learned on documentation, the encounter was also a good reminder that pride goeth before any encounter with a government agency, and pitching a fit isn’t the answer. Don’t get a manager; get your act together. Never give up, never surrender!

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