A Likely Story - DMV, The Great Equalizer

Roger Clark
April 2020

Recently I had the opportunity to see my state taxes hard at work, when I went to renew my CDL. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a study in discrimination. There isn’t any. Whether you’re a minority or majority, rich or poor, CEO or See You Later, you’re gonna have to take a number from the same red dispenser.

In grocery stores, movie theaters, funeral homes, and Trump rallies, I’ve seen preferential treatment for those of us overweight, underpaid, kind of dead, or sort of pregnant. Not at the DMV. There is no credit for the color of your collar, make of family car, or size of individual bank accounts. If you’re on crutches, Medicaid, meth, or on fire, the only thing that matters is that number in your hand.

 DMV’s everywhere have the same interior design. Black plastic chairs over gray & black carpeting, accented by gray & black walls, which are plastered with gray & black posters illustrating what the state will not allow. No smoking. No firearms. No burglary tools. No food. No humor.

They also all have the posters that say all applicants for any license must be able to read and speak English. They’re also all printed in Spanish, French, Farsi, and Mandarin. In small print, in English, they say we should call 211, if we don’t understand.

Behind every three-cornered cubicle is an agent who cares, a bureaucrat that doesn’t, and a uniformed police officer playing Grand Theft Auto on his cellphone. The agents and bureaucrats have thousands of regulations at their fingertips, just a keystroke away on a bank of double computers. The poor cop, meanwhile, can’t find a plug-in for his rapidly draining phone battery.

Customers have it even worse. First, because they don’t know if they even ARE customers, or if they’re clients. Or just shoppers. Or perhaps immigrants. Secondly, regardless of their citizenship status, they’re all just out of reach of USB ports, so their wireless devices are about to be chargeless as well.

To imbed the DOT physical data into my license, I need a Social Security card. To get the card, I have to produce a passport. For a passport, it’s necessary to carry a birth certificate. To be issued a birth certificate, from my home state of Wisconsin, I just have to dispatch my brother. He shows up without his wallet, and they hand it over faster than you can order a whopper from the drive-up line.

Luckily for both of us, identity theft is not a problem. Nobody wants to be us. It’s so bad that when thieves discover what we really have in the bank, they try to make a deposit, not a withdrawal. 

 On any given day, the state DMV is populated by the most diverse group of people outside of Walmart. I see business suits, hijabs, western wear, and Carhartt coveralls. There are preachers, teachers, protesters and leaders, all clinging quietly to their religion, education, politics, and paper number. There are bikers, truck drivers, Uber contractors, and limo chauffeurs, all clinging to someone’s birth certificate, most unaware they’ll have to go through this again in four years. 

The good news is, the same agents will still be on the job, still wearing the same red shirt and Christmas tie in July. You can also anticipate that computer technology will dramatically evolve, in 48 months’ time, and allow you to take the same paper number quite a bit quicker. The wait for service won’t change, of course, and your new Enhanced Driver License will cost a fortune, but let’s face it. You were going to retire then anyhow!