Because Life can only be lived a moment at a time.

License to Chill

All of us must answer to the Lord. And the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Whether you're richer than Midas or poorer than a church mouse (Where does that term even come from? Has the Department of Agriculture studied the relative wealth of mice living in churches versus those living in shoe stores, insurance agencies or private homes? And how do you define that wealth, anyway? By how many pieces of cheese they have stashed in the walls? Never mind. You may now return to the column.), a senior citizen who learned to drive in an Edsel or a teenager who's been practicing in a 2006 Civic, you must make a pilgrimage to the DMV.

I suppose those who live in big cities, where everything can be accessed by walking or public transportation, may not be able to relate to this column. But for the rest of us a trip to Food Lion or Walmart or Chick-Fil-A requires a car. (Take note of my sophisticated lifestyle.)

A few days ago I visited my local DMV office to renew my driver's license. I had been dreading this task for quite some time. I couldn't renew online because the commonwealth wanted a new picture and confirmation that my glasses are still performing their assigned duties. For some reason I was especially concerned about that vision test, even though I visited my optometrist a couple of months ago.

As I've grown older I've become more skilled at focusing on the big picture and worrying less about the little things. But occasionally I indulge myself by picking one little thing and obsessing over it like a dog with a bone. The little thing du jour was my driver's license vision test. I could picture the lady behind the counter---I've never seen any males working at the DMV---declaring that I had failed the test miserably and snatching away my current license, leaving me stranded at the office and desperately searching for a way home. (When I get rolling on a worry high drama is always involved.)

I figure as long as I know I'm being ridiculous about something I'm not too far gone. So I said a prayer and headed into the building. I decided to push aside my fretting by trying to live in the moment in the DMV. I wound up with more moments than I had expected.

Virginia's Department of Motor Vehicles has a website where you can check the wait times at various locations. In Northern Virginia, the land of milk and honey and federal largess, trips to the DMV require a Thermos, cot, and a little something to read, like Stephen King's The Stand. Out here in our part of RoVA (Rest of Virginia; Northern Virginia is NoVA), the site told me the average wait was 14 minutes.

I grabbed my things and headed out. I brought along a notepad to create the latest version of my "To Do" list and the most recent flier from Costco about which mega-jumbo packs of toilet paper or printer ink would go on sale this week.

I took my spot in the queue at the registration desk. I was third in line behind a man and woman---not bad. But I soon realized that the two women talking to the receptionist had considerably more complicated business to conduct than I: Something about trying to convert a Massachusetts learner's permit into a Virginia one---no luck there---how to become Virginia residents and how to prove said residency.

I started studying all the different custom license plates offered by the Commonwealth of Virginia; for a fee you can proclaim your love of many different things, including your university, Shenandoah National Park, wildflowers, lighthouses and ducks.

The man and woman ahead of me turned out to be a couple so I was checked in more quickly than I thought. The receptionist handed me a slip of paper numbered 'B40' and I took a spot in the busy waiting room.

I'd been seated less than a minute when 'B39' was announced. I thought, "Wow, this is my lucky day," for about five seconds before I realized something was amiss. I didn't know how the queuing system worked, but there was no way I'd be seen ahead of the two dozen or so folks around me.

A look at the screen in the front of the room confirmed my suspicions. The list of numbers previously called started with 'H,' 'R," 'T,' 'C' and 'D'. During my stay the letters 'P,' 'O' and 'V' were also used. I tried to find a pattern; the people who were called up to get new plates for their vehicles had the 'P' designation but that might have been coincidence. I finally concluded that the DMV gives out random numbers prefaced by random letters in order to keep the citizens from losing all hope. We waited with a sense of expectancy, like a lady of a certain age hoping the next number will give her five in a row. Indeed, one gentleman actually exclaimed "Bingo!" once, and the number called wasn't even his. We all get carried away sometimes.

I was surprised that few people passed the time playing with their phones. Perhaps they were concerned they'd become distracted and miss their number. Some folks had come with someone, but they talked softly. It almost felt like we were waiting for a church service to start, lined up in our hard chairs, facing forward and filled with anticipation.

I received my number at 12:10 p.m. By the time 'B40' was called I had waited 40 minutes. I had passed the time creating stories for my fellow travelers. The blonde lady and the blonde teenage girl? Mother bringing daughter to get her driver's license. The four men to my right? The two adults happened to know each other and each had come with a mute teenage boy glued to a smartphone---again, I was thinking driving tests. The man and the woman at Window 3? He got a driver's license, she is going to study for one and they registered at least three different vehicles.

My favorite group was at Window 6, which seemed to be reserved for Special Business, since I never heard anyone sent there. A man, a woman and a little boy around 2 years old stood there for at least 10 minutes. I initially thought the man was the boy's grandfather due to his gray hair, but it might have been brown when he arrived. Anyway, he had been given the job of keeping Little One happy while the woman talked to the customer service representative.

Of course, you cannot keep a small child happy waiting at a counter. It is not possible. You can light your hair on fire but this will amuse them for only a short time, like two minutes. The man held Little One at first, but he wriggled from his grasp like an anaconda slithering down a tree in the Amazon. The boy wandered around the man, probably seeking some way out of the Most Boring Place in the World, then finally decided to pull on the man's hand, desperate to escape. The man held him, put him down, spoke softly to him, cajoled and picked him up again.

I admit I hoped for a bit more drama but I think Little One's pacifier helped him keep it together until the woman's business was finished. As they left, the boy pulling the man out the door, I decided the whole group needed lunch and a nap.

Five minutes total. That's how long it took to renew my license. Sorry. Like me, I'm sure you were hoping for a more exciting ending to this story. I can't even complain about the DMV representative who helped me. She wasn't Cruella or the Wicked Witch of the West or my fifth-grade teacher. (Daddy once said Mrs. W. would never die since the Lord wouldn't allow her into Heaven and she was too mean for Hell.) She was actually quite warm and friendly and I told her so. I mentioned that she has a thankless job. She smiled and said, "Yes, but we just keep smiling."

And my vision test? Nailed it.

Birthday Reflections

Rain, rain, go away...