Having Mondays off from work leaves me free on a business day to take care of my, well, business. For instance, if I had to take my car to the shop. Well that was obviously a good example if you talked to me last November, but that was a story for another day. On this particular Monday, the Department of Motor Vehicles had beckoned and I was responding. As I pulled up I began to comprehend what I had avoided for many years, the cramped parking lot with no empty spaces and people lined up and dribbling out of the entrance.
Nimbly I began moving through a multi-step process of documentation verification and relational service position assignment. Mind you, this must weed out at least 1/3 of the individuals who either did not understand that the state likes to know who you are before they trust you to drive or who thought this was going to be like going through the express line at the grocery store around midnight. You can only relish the fact that after making it through the primary line you have one of two activities in which to participate. Watching a LCD screen with large characters that bear a slight resemblance to the ones on the slip of paper you were handed yet are nowhere numerically close, or reading the dialogue on a communally acceptable television program.
The overhead PA announced, “Now serving number 133 at counter 5.” The television was tuned to The Waltons. Which might have been mildly interesting due to the kitsch factor and the episode’s title (“The Tempest”) except that my attention was drawn to the fact that the closed captioning was gibberish. Pure gibberish that could almost be made out into words. Almost, but they couldn’t.
“Now serving number 135 at counter 3.” Settling in, you realize that the temperature must be set to simmer and that no one seems to be moving. So you start paying attention to people. To make sure they aren’t dead. Because if they were you might compare numbers and trade for a earlier spot. After a quick scan you start eavesdropping, nothing serious or intrusive, just when you have 60 people in a room, some people will start conversations and the others have to listen.
“Now serving number 139 at counter 7.” This might be a good point to reenforce exactly what the signs mean that are plastered on the walls every three feet. They read, “Turn off all cell phones inside the building.” Before Monday, I would have interpreted that to mean that you should use the power button to shut down the phone so no calls are coming in or going out. Apparently I would have been wrong. The correct actions to take, according to witnessed behavior, is to stand directly in front of the sign chatting with your friends about how you are stuck at the dmv and wasting our precious oxygen on your pointless conversation.
“Now serving number 143 at counter 5.” As you begin to ignore those ignoring the posted signs, you drift into other conversations and most are ice breakers. “You getting a driver’s license?” or “How long have you been waiting here?” The latter piques your interest because of course, it directly affects how you are spending the next hours of your life. I became increasingly aware that most of the people trading these anecdotes were at least an hour into their sojourn and only halfway to their assigned number. Assuming that the rumor was true and the counter resets at 200. I’ve been waiting 10 minutes.
“Now serving number 144 at counter 3.” Which began to concern me, because of course the DMV was not the only thing on my to do list and of course I was hoping that miraculously I would sail through the process more expediently than those around me. I had mapped and navigated the best path to accomplish everything and that meant the DMV came first. “Surely,” I vaguely recall thinking, “the DMV would not be busy on a Monday afternoon.” The red LCD display informed me otherwise.
“Now serving number 145 at counter 7.” Two people about my age begin a conversation directly behind me. San Marcos and the school formerly known as Southwest Texas State University (may it rest in peace). “What was that restaurant that’s now a joe’s crab shack?” she asks him. “Peppers,” I answer in my head. Then the conversation drifts to the dorms, how the campus is changing… at least it’s a conversation I can join, but it doesn’t make those damn red numbers change any faster.
“Now serving number 147 at counter 5.” I walk out to my car to finish my paperwork and it’s actually cooler outside on this vernal afternoon. Which gives me an idea.
Everyone who commented on time waited was speaking in hours. And they were still waiting. My current time served had only elapsed 20 minutes. The numbered slip in my hand and the to do list in my head, I had a decision to make. Could I, a normal, average citizen of Travis county, expect to be able to predict the rate of processing by the DMV agents? You have to factor in quite a few variables: how many people give up and leave, what’s the average time spent at the counter, are there families or friends buffering the waiting room population? A challenge and social experiment, a push against the reality of having to wait in the holding pen versus the fantasy of getting everything accomplished in an shorter amount of time.
“Now serving number 27 at counter 3.” I had made it back with five numbers to spare. All of my errands were run. Well, I didn’t get the Blizzard from a conveniently placed Dairy Queen along the route. There was still the requirement to exchange money for a horrible ID picture, but I could actually smile easily now. I had beaten Vegas. I had played the odds and they played in my favor. As I sat back down and noticed that some people literally had not moved since I left, I watched the LCD counter click, seemingly more rapidly now, towards my number.
“Now serving number 33 at counter 5.”