Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Surviving California’s DMV

I’m turning 50 in a few weeks so its time to renew my driver license. That means visiting California’s DMV. Few things are less enjoyable. To start the process I tried to register for an appointment online, but all appointments were at least 45 days out. Since my license expires in just a few days and I travel a lot, waiting for an appointment for what is essentially a 3 minute renewal process, did not seem wise. I chose to go without an appointment.

I visited the Fullerton office first. My OCD kicked in when I parked my car. I counted over thee hundred cars in a tight lot. Walking in the building I found at least 600 people occupying every available open space. The greeter spoke limited English, did not want to talk to me, and simply handed be a number and a form. The clock said it would be a three hour wait. The vibe was ugly, I bailed.

Bellflower’s DMV is a short jaunt down the freeway. Their parking lot is small. My guess is it held about one hundred cars. This worked to my advantage. I bullied my way into a parking spot and walked to the greeters. Five minutes later I had a ticket and was told my wait would be 20 minutes. 20 minutes was bullshit. Hot tip - Fewer parking spots means less people.

I went tech free. No Kindle, no phone, and no iPod. My goal was to practice my focus and think through a couple of work related problems. It’s hard for me to do this in a room full of people. I gave up and started people watching instead. Hot tip – take something to distract yourself.

The people were an odd mix. 25% were disgruntled and made up of your classic rage candidates. I spoke to a few. They immediately started telling me their stories of institutional frustration. In most cases they had made some silly mistake and could not fathom the process for correcting the error. Hot tip – Don’t work at the DMV.

A large number, perhaps as much as 50%, were people who did not speak English well and wanted an identification card. These people are treated like potentially dangerous criminals and sequestered off in their own section. Getting in their queue is a bad idea. You will be there all day. For the record, that’s windows 1 to 15. Hot tip – if you want and ID card, go to a counterfeiter.

The only other advice I can give is to bring a pen, don’t drink from the water fountain or the washroom, keep your wallet in your front pocket, try not to make eye contact with the malcontents, be patient and be nice. The DMV staff is trying hard but they are stuck between new technology, budget cuts, and a million other Californians.

My DMV experience took a total of four hours out of my day including the drive time. My actual contact time with real people broke down like this:

  • Fullerton greeter: 30 seconds.
  • Bellflower greeter: 15 seconds.
  • License renewal: 1 minute 10 seconds.
  • Photo: 30 seconds.

It’s no wonder people get frustrated. All you do is wait. It’s also no wonder they employ highly visible security.

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