My Morning in Purgatory

Everyone who has had been obliged to visit the DMV of any state in the United States will recognize it to be sufficient preparation for the afterlife, when in certain Abrahamic religions, the believers pass through a state known as “purgatory”. Here — as far as I can tell — nothing really happens for a while. Then there is a judgement of a sort, I’m given to understand, only after which the non-alive can proceed. The genius who invented the notion of purgatory seems to have grasped a fundamental fact about the human race: any sort of judgement, including one in which the condemned are to burn eternally in hellfire, is preferable to a state of uncertain misery. 

It is with this in mind, then, that I visited the DMV to renew my driver’s license. 

Of course, this wasn’t my first visit there; I’d been there for such memorable occasions as failing my driving test, re-taking my written test, passing my driving test, and simultaneously being present for what almost turned into a surreal fistfight (a story for another occasion). This time I was there to renew my driver’s license because everything about my presence in the United States, including my ability to get from Point A to Point B in under 2 hours (within the existing public transportation framework), is dependent on my legal status. Except my ability to pay taxes, which I can do just fine even as a student*. 

Generally, I’m considered a pleasant person with whom pleasant conversations can be had. I do, however, have a strong pet peeve: I despise being told what to do. I’m open to suggestion, persuasion, discussion and argument (in fact, I thrive on those). But requests couched as commands are some of my least favorite literary devices. So you would think that I have a strong aversion to authority, and in some cases this is true. It is, however, not true of the DMV. 

Something about my entire existence in this country hanging on the thin threads of documentation is a catalyst to my behavior going from belligerent none-of-this-bullshit-for-me-thanks to cheerfully sycophantic at speed. The denizens of the DMV encourage this sort of behavior. If they weren’t seesawing between coldly efficient dictatorial behavior and strangely whimsical dictatorial behavior when they entered the ranks of the DMV, they seemed to have learned on the job. Rapidly***. 

The people whom they ostensibly serve do not help the situation. I’m sure that the very rich send some sort of peasant proxy to these public places, but somehow or the other, everyone who enters that place — even if they’re draped in designer wear —  is bathed in a special DMV-approved lighting scheme that makes them look like homeless refugees. 

Eventually I was told to report to the camera station, where seconds before I stepped in front of the camera I’d run my hand through my already-disheveled hair. “Smile at the camera, in five seconds starting from now,” said the almost-normally pleasant man operating the device (who I am sure secretly loathed everyone in his vicinity). 

Confused about timelines, I grimaced tentatively at the machine. As I tried to readjust my face to something more reasonable, the light went off. 

I am certain of few things in my immediate future, except this one: my new driver’s license, when it arrives, will be even more hilariously awful than my old one. 


*This is more of a wry observation and not really an attack on the US’s legal system. Although I do mildly object to 14% of my university scholarship being re-absorbed by the American bureaucracy. 

**They are, in fact, dark grey. 

***I must point out that the lady I dealt with was uniformly polite, though brusque, and may have even smiled at me once. But I insist on taking artistic license in my rendering of the DMV. [That was almost an awful pun]


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