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Never-ending dance of frustration at DMV

Jeff Ackerman, Publisher
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It would be nice if a nickel of every dollar spent to register my car actually went to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Maybe then we’d start to see signs of innovation in that agency.

I had a lot of time to ponder that one while sitting in Line A at the Grass Valley DMV office on Sutton Way a couple of weeks ago.



And before I dig myself a hole so deep that it’ll cost me a million dollars to register my car next year, let me say the employees at the DMV are doing the best they can with what they’ve been handed. I’m not just saying that to get a free pass on my next eye exam, either. I mean it. They can only make a pig smell so good.

But honest to gosh, that office hasn’t really changed since I first learned to drive, which was just after I hit the police car by accident in 1967. That’s a story for another day.




The one that kills me is the DMV Line Dance. You know … the one where they have a row of uncomfortable chairs and every time the guy at the head of the line gets done, everyone behind him stands up at once and plays musical chairs?

It’s like a Hoedown from Hell. All that’s missing is the dance instructor with the microphone.

“Tap your partner. Stand up. Shuffle two steps to the left. Sit down. Put your hands on your knees. Say pretty please.”

By the time you get to the head of the line, your knees feel like someone hit them with a baseball bat 42 times.

“Yes. I’d like to register my car,” you finally stammer, almost forgetting where you are.

“Did you bring your birth certificate?” the clerk asks, forgetting her lines for a moment.

“For my car?” you ask, suddenly confused.

“Never mind,” she says. “Do you have a smog certificate?”

“What’s that?” you ask, leafing through your auto paperwork.

“Smog?” says the clerk. “It’s a hazy, yellowish cloud that mostly covers all of Burbank. It makes your eyes water.”

“I know that,” you say. “I’m talking about the certificate. Where do I get one of those?”

“From a smog certificate outlet, of course,” says the clerk, working a computer keyboard to determine if the car has recently been stolen or impounded.

“How about proof of insurance? Do you have that?” she continues, apparently getting no outstanding warrants on her screen.

“I have that,” you proudly announce. “I get $50,000 for each limb lost, $25,000 for an eyeball, or $100,000 if I’m completely paralyzed from the neck down.”

“I mean car insurance,” she chastises. “Do you have auto insurance?”

You show that to her, too, and then she asks if you want a personalized plate.

You spend the next 30 minutes playing with letters and numbers, trying to come up with something really clever, before noticing that the folks in the chair line behind you are playing with their weapons.

“No. Just give me whatever you have. Looks like someone already took ‘IAMCOOL.'”

Then it’s time for your driver’s license, which begins with the line at your right. The one with no musical chairs.

“You have your birth certificate?” she asks. “It’s got to be the kind with the purple stamp to show it’s authentic.”

“Mine has a green stamp,” you reply, hoping green will work the same as purple.

“Nope,” she says. “I need purple.”

You go home and turn your house upside down, looking for a purple birth certificate. Then you call the hospital where you were born.

“Yes, this is Jeff Ackerman,” you say to the hospital lady. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was born there 50 years ago, and I need a favor.”

“Yes, Jeff!” she shouts. “How have you been?”

“Great,” I say. “I’m all grown up now, and I need a purple birth certificate.”

“OK” she says. “Just send me a letter with a photocopy of your driver’s license.”

Two weeks later, you’re back at the DMV at the end of Line B at the right. You’ve got one hand over your left eye and you’re trying to read Row 4 of the eye chart.

The letters in that row are much smaller than the SUVs you really need to worry about while driving, but you know it’s important to someone in the state that you can read right to left and left to right, so you do it.

Then you take the written test, needing to answer 26 out of 30 correctly in order to drive legally. The first question is a toughie, but you pick the one that says you probably should stop at the railroad tracks when a train is coming.

The second question is also a tricky one, but you guess that it’s not legal to drive on the sidewalk, even in Marysville.

You miss three out of 30, forgetting for a moment that red means stop and green means go. But it’s 95 degrees at the DMV that day and your armpits are muggy.

The DMV lady takes your old license and punches a hole in the middle, telling you that your new California driver’s license will be mailed to you in two weeks, which is exactly how long it took to mail it to you 35 years ago.

The next morning, the headlines say the governor wants to double the costs of registering your vehicles in order to balance the budget.

You start to wonder if you need a driver’s license to drive in Saipan.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,


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