Adventures in DMV land

Here’s an answer, “Jeopardy!” style:

“The last class of people Americans may deride and discriminate against.”

The question: “What is a government bureaucrat?”

And who’s the epitome of a soul-crushed bureaucrat? Those unfortunate creatures who inhabit the Department of Motor Vehicles.

So it was with this bias that I prepared to make a trip to DMV.

It was time to get a new photo on my driver’s license. That dreaded time had come after eight DMV-free years to venture back into this bureaucratic underworld.

My last time at DMV was June 2001. The Twin Towers were still standing. Al Gore had just finished inventing the Internet and President Bush was counting his hanging chads. And young Mr. and Mrs. Barack Obama sat in the pews of their Chicago church soaking up the hate spewed by their beloved pastor and mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

But I digress.

Anticipating a trip to the DMV stirred primal emotions. It was like getting a root canal strapped in a straight-jacket while being forced to relive my days as a cub reporter covering endless Las Vegas City Planning Commission meetings, taking notes as two neighbors argued over the height variance of a block wall — painful, claustrophobic and mind-numbing.

As I remembered it, DMV back then was little more than organized chaos. Lines had not been invented yet, apparently. There were only gathered crowds resembling the ones you see on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. I waited in the wrong crowd more than once because whatever the system was back then, it did not involve clear signage.

Eventually I made my way to the front of the right crowd and drew a young clerk who didn’t know how to type. I kid you not. She couldn’t even hunt and peck. Using one finger, all she could do was hunt.

F-R-E-D-&-E-R. Oops. F-R-E-D-X-E. Oops. F-R-E-D-G … you get the idea.

So with visions of 2001, I trekked to the DMV office at Decatur Boulevard and the Las Vegas Beltway, thinking a suburban office might be less crowded. Wrong. Upon entering the front door, about 60 people stood ahead of me in an intestined line marked “information.”

It took 20 minutes to reach the front-door clerk. I told her I was here to get a new driver’s license. She smiled, gave me a form and the number D485.

Then it was off to a big holding pen with an electronic number calling system, like the Baskin-Robbins system on steroids. They were “now serving” D352. You do the math.

When D485 lit up 81 minutes later, I met a chipper lady named Cathy. She tested my eyes and said I filled out the form wrong. I must have looked quizzical because without asking “What’s wrong?” she smiled and added:

“You have to pick a hair color. It’s either black or gray. It can’t be black and gray.”

So I told her to “Make it black.” She laughed and agreed to allow me “four more years” of black hair and then explained that there are only so many colors accepted on a Nevada driver’s license. “Black and gray’s not one of them. But you know what’s weird? Purple’s on the list.”

So in 2009 it took two hours to renew a driver’s license. Not speedy, but, hey, there were actual lines with organization and purpose. And every single DMV worker I met was more than helpful and cheery.

My compliments, DMV. Now, about that purple hair thing.

Sherman Frederick ( is publisher of the Las Vegas Review-Journal and president of Stephens Media.

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