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Opinion

Essay: In the fast lane at the local DMV

I took the eye exam, wrote my check for $110.50, received a temporary license and was out the door in less than 40 minutes.

Customers get assistance from NYS-DMV associates at a

Customers get assistance from NYS-DMV associates at a local office. Credit: NYS DMV

On a recent Wednesday, I bit the bullet and went to one of my favorite places, the Department of Motor Vehicles, to get an enhanced driver’s license. I chose the office on Route 112 in Medford.

About 10 minutes after filling out a questionnaire and taking a number, A451 was called.

“What are we doing today?” the woman at window No. 2 asked.

I explained that I was renewing my license and converting to the enhanced license. She looked over my questionnaire and collected my documents — my driver’s license, Social Security card, birth certificate and a bank statement as proof of residence. As she paper-clipped them together, she pointed out that she had placed my Social Security card under the papers so it couldn’t be read by anyone waiting on the benches. She handed the stuff over, including my A451 ticket, and told me to take a seat.

Not 10 minutes later, A451 was called, this time to window 9.

“What are we doing today?” the woman asked. (They must teach this phrase at DMV school.)

Again, I explained why I was there.

“Do you have your license, Social Security card, proof of residence and birth certificate?” she asked.

“It’s all right there,” I said, pointing to the papers. She shuffled them, saying, “Meet me at window 23.”

Window 23 was to my left, past the benches and around a corner behind a door with a sign reading “Testing Area.”

“No one told me there was a test!” I thought. (There wasn’t.)

On the other side of the door, tables on the left were set up with computer terminals. Two women and a man were working on tests. The woman from window No. 9 was at the counter on the right.

“Stand over there for your picture,” she directed. Snap, blink, “All done.”

They never let you see it before saying, “All done,” do they?

As she made electronic copies of my paperwork, the man who’d been taking a test approached the counter next to us.

“I failed again,” he said. “I got 52 percent, better than 27. Can I take it again, now?”

I was stunned, but considering his package-delivery uniform, I rationalized he must be taking the test to drive a truck.

I can understand failing a written driving exam — some details are obscure. But it surprises me that so many people know how to drive and do it reasonably well. More people know how to drive than know how to roller skate. More know how to drive than know how to bake a cake. More drive than speak two languages. How can this be?

The closest I come to answering my own question is to picture dogs playing Frisbee, eagles snagging fish out of rivers, and murmurations of starlings that don’t result in hundreds of birds crashing into one another and falling out of the sky. If those brains can do what they do, we should be able to drive.

All that went through my mind as I walked back to the waiting area. Not three minutes later, the mechanical voice directed A451 to window No. 6. I took the eye exam, wrote my check for $110.50, received a temporary license and was out the door in less than 40 minutes.

A friend told me her visit to a different DMV office for the same reason and her visit took three hours. So my visit was almost as miraculous as those dogs, eagles and starlings!

Christine Brakel lives in Brightwaters.

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