The Cliche That Walks

I know that in the annals of comedy, “those DMV workers sure are cranky” is right up there with “boy, airline food stinks,” Jack Nicholson impressions, and “cats and dogs sure are different!”

And yet…cliches didn’t just spring out of thin air.

I’m at the DMV this morning getting my car sticker renewal. This is the same DMV I’ve visited every December since 1998. Every time, it’s a different gut-curdling experience. Today, though, I hope–as I always do–that it’ll be different. First off, there’s no line–a phenomenon on a Cubs-winning-the-Series scale. A good sign. I go to the window, hand over my paperwork to the worker–who has the kind of face and demeanor that only a lifetime in civil service grants you–and then the fun begins.

“This isn’t your car.”

Who did what to the who now? I helpfully point out that the name on my renewal certificate, my license, and my insurance card are all exactly the same. “No, they’re not,” the pinch-faced little troll replies. “This”–pointing to my renewal–“is your father’s car. You’re Howard James Busbee, Jr. This car is registered to Howard James Busbee.”

I try a little humor. “Well, Dad sure didn’t make any payments on it.” Ho ho ho, nudge, nudge. Nothing. She gives me a look like I’ve dropped a dead cat on her counter. Oh boy. And the horror starts to dawn on me–this woman is a Kafka story brought to life, and she’s going to spin me into ten hours of paperwork over two letters.

In this world, logic–demonstrating how I’ve come to this same DMV for most of the past decade with zero problems–fails utterly. “You can’t be serious about this,” I say. She looks back at me, eyes deader than Kennedy. We engage in a Sergio Leone-esque staredown for several agonizing seconds, and then she signs off on the renewal. And falls back on that old government-service chestnut, the blame-dodge–“I don’t have a problem with this, but you’re not going to be able to sell it with the wrong name.”

“It’s not–” I start, and then just throw up my hands. What is it that makes these people that way? Is it the job that transforms them, or are these kinds of soul-sucking harpies drawn to civil service? Yeeesh.

Oh, and by the way, my wife sure takes a long time to get ready! Is this thing on? Hello? Hello?


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