Last Wednesday was a special day. It was a day that, for most of us Californians, only comes around once every five years or so. Unlike birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays which plod by predictably every year, days like last Wednesday are full of anticipation, uncertainty, angst, and trepidation. Every Californian shares this event, it is something that binds us, tests our metal, and makes us brothers and sisters –in-arms. We all face this day on different dates, but it is the same for all of us. Last Wednesday was my day, my turn to step up, be counted, and take a number. It was DMV day!
Having been a California resident for the better part of 20 years, I have learned not to take this day lightly. It takes preparation, planning, mental conditioning, and if possible Valium. This year I was ready. About 8 weeks ago, I felt a chill in the air and knew I had to prepare. So, I diligently went to the California Department of Motor Vehicles website and did what any time conscious citizen would do – I made an appointment. Years ago I made the mistake of just “showing up” and paid a dear price. I remember it as if it were yesterday. There I was, a young naïve resident of the Golden State, still basking in the glow of my new found Southern Californian status. This was the day that I was going to cash in my old tired Florida driver’s license for that little card that would prove to everyone I had finally arrived. I remember parking my car, walking up to the big double doors of the Claremont Mesa DMV building, and swinging them both wide open. Here I am, your newest citizen!
The human brain is a complex thing and, for reasons that I am not qualified to analyze, my mind has blocked out most of the 4 hour trial that followed, but I will forever have one thing from that day etched in my mind…the line. I had found the gates of Hell and they were opened wide at the California DMV. Demons disguised as DMV clerks were monitoring the line ever so carefully to ensure that it did not have any perceptible movement. One by one they ushered each lost soul to a counter where, having not made an appointment, they would be subject to Satan’s whim. My jubilation faded instantly as I joined onto the end of the line. In my mind I heard whips cracking and chains clinking. “Welcome to your California DMV,” a loop recording repeated over and over,” please make sure that you have all required forms prior to getting in line.” It was a fitting dirge as the line snaked forward ever so slowly. When I emerged from the double doors 4 hours and 3 lines later, I was a changed man – a hardened veteran who would never be fooled again.
Needless to say, I learned my lesson that day, and my subsequent 3 visits were all carefully framed inside of an appointment. Even with an appointment one’s California DMV experience will still be somewhat painful, but is at least tolerable. So anyone with a working telephone and at least two functional neural synapses makes it a habit to call weeks in advance and block out a time for their special day. So, this past Wednesday morning I awoke feeling confident that I, now a seasoned Californian, would once again survive my DMV day with minimal discomfort. The plan was simple. My appointment was at 0950, so I would get there early, take a seat, get my forms filled out and when the minute hand hit the 10 I would walk up to the clerk and renew my license. I would be out of there in plenty of time to drive home and grab my 1200 shuttle to the airport. It was foolproof , what could possibly go wrong…right?
I arrived at the Poway DMV at exactly 0930 hours, twenty full minutes ahead of my appointment. I was confident, prepared – almost cocky. I walked up to the big double doors threw them wide open only to find out that Satan had moved his gates to Poway. I was immediately greeted with the line photographed below:
I think I actually recognized some of the folks in line from 1989 – they were wearing the same clothes and some had not eaten. “Well, this could not possibly be my line,” I thought in a vain attempt to provide myself some fleeting form of comfort. “After all,” I thought, “I am not one of them, they’re a bunch of drogues , I have an appointment.” So, I walked past the line confidently to a counter where a small, unsmiling, middle aged lady stood. I put on my biggest smile, made firm eye contact, and announced that I was there for my appointment. Without looking up from her computer screen, she pointed to the march of the damned I had just passed and said, “You gotta get in the line.” Refusing to accept what I had just heard, I thrust my appointment slip between her and the computer screen and politely informed here that I was there for “my” 0950. “Sir, your 0950 starts at the end of that line, and I suggest you hurry up and get in it because it is getting longer by the moment.” I looked behind me at the end of the line and, as if by magic, it had tripled in length from the time I had walked in. I looked back at her trying to think of something to say that would somehow generate sympathy, but as I looked into her face I saw a state employee who was tired of people, angry at her life’s decisions, and had just been told that she was going to have to work harder for a 20% pay cut. She did not give one piece of dried up horse pucky about my situation. So I resigned myself to the fate of all the other poor lost souls in the room and walked, shoulders slumped and head down, to the end of the line.
I was not the only one taken off guard by the new DMV business model. About half of the folks in line also had appointments and some of them had already been standing there for over an hour. We were all in a state of collective shock. We were the appointment elite, and somehow the DMV had figured out how to thrust us right back into the line standing proletariat. “Well I have to be at work in 30 minutes and I have already been here an hour,” one nicely dressed woman blurted out as if the back pressure of her emotions had finally gotten the best of her. “This is craziness,” another person whimpered in resignation. We were like rabbits just realizing the extent of the snare we had been caught up in. We were helpless, powerless to change our situation, angry, embarrassed, and under the power of a disaffected middle aged DMV employee. Hell, once again, had received me with open arms; appointment slip and all.
Theoretically I was standing in a receiving line where, after I worked back up to the lady I had already irritated, I would have my renewal form validated. I then had to fill it out and get into another line to turn it in, pay my fee, and be given a number. Judging from the folks sitting on the wooden benches waiting for their numbers to be called (some I think may have died of exposure) it was only going to get more painful. But I tucked my dignity away and waited with everyone else. Instantaneously, I had descended from my “special case status” to one of the masses; a faceless peasant without freedom, self-determination, or dignity. The DMV had won yet again.
When I finally got to the counter two hours later to renew my license, I could not help but ask the small elderly man that was helping me why things had gotten so ugly. He looked at me and smiled, I have since decide with pleasure, and chirped, “Because Schwarzenegger wouldn’t pass the budget.” He kept looking at me and smiling, clearly extracting more and more pleasure from my look of dismay. That is when it hit me, we were being punished for refusing to feed fiscal beast! The California government, to which I have paid tens of thousands of dollars over the past 20 years, was using the DMV to give each and every one of us a “spanking” for refusing to continue funding their fiscal drug habit! There were many adjustments that they could have made to dramatically cut state spending. They could have eliminated the 4 billion dollars a year of MediCal fraud, they could have cut services to illegal aliens, they could have eliminated massive state welfare and workfare programs, they could have even cut state taxes which would have most certainly increased revenue. But no, they wanted each California citizen to feel the pain, and the one place that they could do this was the DMV. No matter who you are or what your political affiliation, they knew that one day you would have to walk through those gates for a tag, a driver’s license renewal, or something and then they would have you. And just to add insult to injury, after they had held you captive for 4 hours you wouldn’t even have the closure of walking out with your license. You would instead have to wait two more weeks to receive it in the mail.
Over the last few days since “my special day” I have slowly regained my personal composure and no longer recoil in horror every time I see two or three folks in line at Starbucks. It has also since occurred to me that in my trip through the DMV sausage maker, I may have had a prophetic glimpse at a public “option” health care facility. Just replace the petulant little DMV lady with a hospital administrator, the DMV building with an emergency room, and the line full of irritated drivers with sick folks and there you have it, Obama Care at its finest. In private industry, processes are put in place for the convenience of customers. In the government sector however, processes are put in place for the convenience of the government. The DMV is a perfect example of what emerges from this philosophy. But this type of treatment is not exclusive to the DMV however, you can walk into any government office or agency and almost be guaranteed the same experience. So what on Earth makes people believe that a government health care system would ultimately be any different? Here is the truth that a trip through the DMV can reveal to the perceptive:
THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT CARE ABOUT YOU
In fact, I would not be surprised if, somewhere in DC, some obscure Greek renaissance style government building has this etched in Latin over its entrance. It is one truth we are taught time and again. When you rely of the government to care, you will be disappointed. So, for all of you who would prefer to keep clinging to your Utopian dream of a single payer system, I say be careful what you ask for and be ready to have your health care served up DMV style.
What a ghastly experience! But it does point out a universal truth that you have so clearly illustrated – government enterprise has no interest in “serving” its customers BECAUSE IT HAS NO COMPETITION.
If the worker drones who interface with the public every day have developed the attitude that you describe, one can but shudder when contemplating what the grand poohbahs of Washington must think of their “customers” (totally ignoring that they, in theory, work for those of us who pay their salaries and/or provide them the privileges of office).
Too bad that there is no one to complain to about this farcial “appointment” travesty.
Thanks as usual for stopping by, as usual you make great points. I believe it will get far worse as the government expands its domain way beyond its ability to even marginally manage it. In hindsight I think that comparing the California DMV to national healthcare may just prove to be a bit unfair to the DMV…
Ha ha! Funny post! I’ve been there, having lived in CA briefly in the late 1990’s.
Atlanta can be similar at different times, but not nearly as severe.
DMV style health care is dead on. I still think this bill is going to crash and burn in Congress. But what a mess if this thing goes through…
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Arguably the only thing worse than a DMV visit is waiting for the cable guy. But at least you get to do that in the comfort of your own home! Great post, Chuck.
At least when the cable guy leaves your house you have your cable package. I am still waiting on my driver’s license.