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A cautionary tale ...

Until yesterday, I had never suffered through a particularly bad experience at the DMV, a feat that is roughly equivalent to finding oneself a thirty-five year old virgin. However, armed with horror stories about entire afternoons spent in cramped misery, I thought that I was prepared for anything. But that's like saying that an episode of "Oz" can prepare you for jail. Nothing could have ever prepared me for this ...

I show up shortly after nine to renew my expired license. The woman in front of me tells me how much longer the line was for her last time. She's pleased with this, so I decide that I'm pleased. We become best of friends.

Thirty minutes later, after winding through the snaking "Stage 1" line, I finally get my number (A024 -- it will be etched in my brain for as long as I live). So far, so good. The nice woman and I are having a grand ole' time.

I stride over to the "Stage 2" area, where a large group of people are sitting in chairs or standing in a small waiting area, staring at their numbered tickets with an intensity that is rather frightening. I begin to wonder whether I have been deceived.

I find a seat and begin waiting. I look up and notice that the numbers follow no logical pattern whatsoever. Every letter of the alphabet is being used, followed by completely sporadic numbers, as if purposely designed to keep the cattle from having any idea when they might be called. I cannot begin to imagine the rationale for this system. It seems more along the lines of an elaborate torture technique than a means of organized efficiency. I am now slightly concerned.

I decide to read. I'm holding a copy of Hunter S. Thompson's "The Rum Diary." So far I've enjoyed it immensely, but this proves to be a terrible choice for the DMV. Thompson's unique view of the world only enhances that caged animal feeling that the DMV brings out naturally. An hour or so of reading and my mind is suddenly racing with maniacally paranoid thoughts. I am no longer an outsider; I am now one of them -- a raging menace to society.

It is now over two hours into the experience and I am utterly miserable. Babies are crying, my head is pounding from not having eaten anything all day, and everyone around me has the appearance of a strung-out drug addict. When a number is called, the lucky escapee will actually outwardly celebrate as others grimace or give insincere congratulations. The numbers are still in complete chaos, meaning that none of us knows whether we are minutes or hours away from release.

Three hours later and my number gets called. I've never been more overjoyed in my life. Resisting the urge to hug the guy helping me, I quickly go through the drill. I'm handed a piece of paper and my old license and told that I have no choice but to wait again for the camera station. I begin weighing the pros and cons of the bicycle.

Thirty minutes later and my number is called again. Right as I approach the camera station, my friend from earlier stomps over and angrily asks why my number was called before hers, since she was one person in front of me in line. She gives me a murderous stare to indicate that this is somehow my fault. Apparently we are no longer friends. I am hurt.



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