Friday, October 7, 2022
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One Morning at the DMV

When you go to the DMV, you’ve got to bring your “A” game.

I didn’t. 

It had been a while. Driving east on College Avenue, I blanked at the McDonald’s fork. Left toward Bellefonte or right toward Pleasant Gap?

I chose wrong. No biggie. I came back around, via Axemann. 

I got to the entrance just ahead of two women. The younger one was carrying a baby in a car seat. She told me to go ahead, but gallantry demanded that I hold the door. 

Because no good deed goes unpunished, the two women, mother and daughter, had interminable non-routine business to transact, including an interval when the receptionist left her post to consult with her supervisor.

It was like getting stuck behind someone who’s buying a week’s worth of groceries when you’re only getting a quart of milk. 

Something to do with the daughter, who was under 18, getting a learner’s permit. The baby was hers. Grandma was frazzled. I didn’t mind waiting.

When the receptionist returned, I overheard her say that the credit card system wasn’t working. Neither, I noticed, was the wall clock.

Any wonder people are so anti-government? (The employees I would interact with during this visit were entirely pleasant. Hate the sin, love the sinner?)

Eventually, it was my turn. My mission was to get a REAL ID driver’s license, soon to be required for all domestic flights. One’s passport will do, but I could picture going to the airport for a domestic flight and not thinking to bring my passport. So, needing to renew my DL anyway, to the DMV I had gone.

A preposterous amount of identification was required: passport or birth certificate, another form of ID like driver’s license or utility bill, plus – dun-dun-dun-dun — one’s Social Security card.

My Social Security card was issued shortly after the invention of the printing press. I dimly recall digging it out of an “Important Documents” folder not long ago – possibly in connection with spending a year abroad – and marveling that I had hung onto this tiny piece of cardboard through all the years and all the moves.

Alas, in keeping with my penchant for not putting things back where I found them, I then hid it from myself. 

I did find my Social Security card’s companion card (along with my draft card and a record of my childhood immunizations). Like the official Social Security card, the companion card has my name and Social Security number printed on it. But it says at the bottom, ominously, “For Social Security and Tax Purposes – Not for Identification.”

I hoped, naively, that if I had all the other forms of ID on me, my faux Social Security card would be close enough. I mean, who could I be if not me with all that ID? 

I should have called to check. I should have asked the receptionist.

In assembling all those forms of ID, incidentally, I had neglected to bring my driver’s license renewal form. You’d think the receptionist would have sent me packing right then, but she kindly filled out a new form for me, gave me my queue management number and waved me toward the waiting area.

I glanced at my fellow petitioners. Everyone looked apprehensive, like they didn’t expect to get what they came for because they hadn’t filled out a form correctly or, like me, didn’t have the proper ID, or some other technicality. Maybe I was projecting. 

After 20 minutes, I heard my number. I presented all my forms of ID, to no avail: no Social Security card, no REAL ID. Go to for a replacement.

The silver lining: Had the receptionist turned me away for failing to bring my renewal form, 

I would have come back another day with the form, only to be turned away for not having the proper Social Security card, which would have meant three trips to Pleasant Gap instead of two.

At least they have a parking lot. When I was a teen driver in NYC (ask me why I’m so good at parallel parking), you had to dragoon someone into driving around the block a few hundred times while you got your business done because parking at the Jamaica, Queens, DMV was out of the question. 

If it’s any consolation, my fellow Americans, bureaucracies elsewhere in the world are worse. In Ukraine 10 years ago, the authorities kept my passport for a month while they processed my application for temporary residency. So much for visiting neighboring Poland or Hungary.

And in Greece three years ago, I had to sit through two power outages at the Ministry of Immigration and Asylum while waiting for my residence permit to be processed. 

Have you ever labored over a pile of paperwork and asked yourself, wow, how did we go from being hunter-gatherers to this? I have – while waiting to be called by the next available clerk in a government office.