Strange encounters at the DMV

October 30, 2008 — by Shannon Galvin

Shannon Galvin

The DMV has always had a reputation for employing people who are a bit out of the ordinary. To begin with, what sane person would want to spend the day in a car with people who can barely drive? Nobody would choose to deal with people who’ve spent two hours in line waiting to just renew their license. A few months ago when I went to the local DMV office to take my permit test, I experienced the DMV in all its strange glory.

Like any other teenager, I waited until the day of my permit test to hurriedly cram. After my mom drove me to the Los Gatos branch, I got my number and sat down in a chair to begin filling out the paperwork.

After writing down my name and address, it asked whether I wanted to be an organ donor. I checked “yes,” because I’d seen enough medical shows on television to know organ donors can really make the difference in someone’s life. I felt that if I could do something to help, I would definitely do it.

Within 15 minutes—surprising by DMV standards—my number was called and I went to the open desk.

“Wait a second,” said the DMV employee. “They’ve got me working two jobs today, and they don’t pay me any extra for it either.”
I watched as he handed a man his license plate.

“Looks hard,” I said sarcastically.

“I figure if I go slower, they won’t give me as much to do next time,” he explained.

I nodded, and pushed my paperwork toward him after the other customer left.

With painful sluggishness, the DMV employee examined the form. He entered the data into his computer slower than my 7-year-old brother could type.

“You can’t get your license until February,” he said. “That’s a long ways away.

Of course, I might’ve still been there in February at the pace he was going. I nodded impatiently.

“I suppose you’ve done research on this organ donor company?” he asked me.

“Um, no,” I answered.

“Do you know you’re not even dead when they take your organs out? They like to keep them fresh,” he said.

“Yes, I know,” I said. “You’re technically brain-dead when they remove your organs.”

He stared at me and stroked his goatee.

“Did you also know that if you wanted to give your organs to your mom, you couldn’t because they belong to the company?” he said.

“Well, you can make a request to do so, right?” I said.

“I don’t know,” he replied. He stared at me for several more uncomfortable seconds, waiting for me to change my mind. But I wasn’t going to give in to him. Why did he care anyways?

“So, I’m guessing you’re not an organ donor?” I said.

He slowly shook his head and directed his attention back to his computer. After a few more lines were entered, he printed out a slip of paper.

“Go stand in line over there to take your test,” he pointed.

I hurriedly shuffled away from his desk, glad to escape.

Privacy really isn’t much to ask. After all, the DMV is not the place for employees to add in their own opinions. If he was simply trying to take longer in order to have less work to do, he should find another job.

Luckily, the rest of my visit went uneventfully. I passed the test, took my picture and got my permit.

On my way out, I glanced back at the desk and saw another poor girl was standing there as the same employee awkwardly talked about something on her form.

Mind your own business, buddy. Customers have the right to their own opinion and privacy—it’s a government agency after all. To help fix these problems, the agency needs to provide evaluations for customers to fill out. Just because we have no choice but to go to the DMV doesn’t mean we should have to deal with grumpy employees and poor customer service.

As for me, I’m planning to stay as far and away from the DMV for as possible—at least until February comes around.

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At UC Berkeley, PhD student Abrar Abidi and research assistant Yvonne Hao have embarked on a goal of creating hand sanitizer for the Bay Area's most vulnerable populations, including the homeless and the incarcerated. Their hand sanitizer includes glycerol mixed with other products, in accordance with a formula from the World Health Organization. So far, they are producing 120 hundreds of gallons of sanitizer each week. Photo courtesy of Roxanne Makasdjian with UC Berkeley.

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