I walk into the White Plains DMV not for the first time. I vaguely remember that I have to park on the roof and descend a flight of stairs that might give way at any moment. My husband has just gotten a really good deal on a used car, and I have been tasked with registering it and paying the sales tax. This is one of those days where having a real job would have come in handy.
I take a number from the lady whose job it is to give out numbers. My number is C848, yet the previous number is R62. I’m already suspicious about how organized these people are. She directs me to a long line where I wait to have my papers checked. I ask if I’ll have time to wait through that line before my number is called. She thinks I’m being funny.
I take my binder-clipped stack of receipts, proof of insurance and a copy of Tom’s drivers license through the initial line to have it audited by the woman behind the counter. I’ve filled out the forms incorrectly. It’s Tom’s car, she tells me, so he’s the registrant. I’m just the person registering it for him. I’m his wife, I explain, even though we have different last names. You could be anybody, she explains. People do this for their job.
I now have two pieces of information that I might need later. 1. Tom could have hired someone to do this. 2. There’s a pretty good side hustle to be had at the DMV.
I find a seat on one of the long benches, and I wait. I’ve started to calculate how many C-series numbers get called in an hour. It’s about five. I calculate that if I stay the entire three hours I’ve allotted for this task, I will be second in line by the time I have to leave. I have been here so long that I’m starting to understand what the letters before the numbers mean based on the conversations I hear around me. Can you imagine staying at the DMV long enough to crack their code?
I have miscalculated. At 1pm when I absolutely can’t stay any longer, I am third in line, and I leave. I’ve accomplished nothing with regard to Tom’s new car, but I’ve written an entire article and have completed the outline of a speech. All in all, this is a banner day for me.
I return the next day. It’s Yom Kippur and my kids are home from school. I figure I have a better chance of getting a little work done at the DMV than at home. I park on the roof, I brave the stairs, and I get my number. It’s C834, which is lower than yesterday. I skip the audit line, because this time I know what I’m doing.
The room is noticeably hostile. Because there’s no school, people have brought their wailing small children with them. There’s a growing energy of outrage coming from every bench, as a new number is called with the frequency of a new moon. Someone in management decides to help out the vibe by playing Celine Dion on repeat through the PA system. Now I’m hostile too.
There’s a young married couple next to me, on whom I’ve eavesdropped well enough to understand that they are registering a car in both of their names, which is why they are there together. His phone is dying, she needs to get to work, he says he has a call and needs to step outside. She is panicked that he’ll step out and miss their turn. I glance over at their number and see her folly. He could drive to the city for a meeting and not miss their turn.
I am worried for this couple. Tensions are rising, and I want to make one of them leave before they say something they might regret. I want to tell her to just let him register the car in his name and then work it out in the divorce. Like normal people.
The man sitting behind me knows the F word, and he wants to make sure we all know. He’s good at using it. He uses the gerund form with regard to the building, the staff, the government, and the waste of his time. He’s yelling at the back of my head, and I’m worried that the young couple may start using that kind of talk. They are like exceptionally dry kindling and just need a match.
My number is called well into hour four. I jump off my bench and have to stop myself from yelling, “Bingo!”