My Life

Dispatches from the Wasteland: The Amazing Way in Which Things Can Hit the Fan in a Shockingly Abrupt Manner


While I’m generally one of those people who gets things done when they need to get done, I have certain fail-blog areas that have caused me considerable pain in the past. There’s just some psychological mis-wiring in my brain that keeps me from doing some things in a timely manner.

  For instance, I cannot stand to renew my driver’s license. Especially back in the day, when you had to physically report to a run-down building on an obscure street in order to take care of this. There was just something about the whole experience that made my skin crawl. (Modern times are a little less traumatic, what with that online renewal business and all, but still.)

  So, with that bit of necessary background detail out of the way, let’s travel back to yet another moment of angst and humiliation in my life. It’s the early 90’s, and I’ve just moved from Tulsa to Dallas for the third time. (Long story.) And, of course, such an interstate transition dictates that you must get a fresh driver’s license at some point. This horrifying eventuality had me crying at night, alone in my cold and basically empty apartment. (Those were much leaner times in my arc of life. I ate a lot of ramen noodles and drank generic beer. That kind of lean.)

  Now, typically, there’s some type of grace period before you have to get a new license in a new state. I didn’t really care about that part. All I knew is that my Oklahoma license still had plenty of quality time left on it, and I was going to milk it for all it was worth. If, by chance, there happened to be an official inquiry into my law-violating tardiness, I had several standby falsehoods prepared, most of them involving feigned puppy rescues and/or my humanitarian efforts in a vague foreign country.

  To be fair, I didn’t seriously intend to wait until the last possible minute. A few weeks before the impending Armageddon deadline, I actually called up and spoke with someone in the decrepit building concerning what I actually had to do. Because I was coming from another state, especially a questionable one like Oklahoma, whose statehood has always been considered a blasphemous act if you ask any Texan, I would have to take the vision test and the written test.

  “No driving test?”

  “As long as your Oklahoma license is still valid, no. If it expires, yes.”

  I glanced down at my license, doing the math. I had 10 days. Surely, this was doable. “Um, do I need to study the book for the written? Do you know if the laws are that different?”

  There’s a moment of silence on her end, as she bites down on what she would really like to say to me, then: “I would suggest that you read the book. I’m sure there are some differences.” Her tone indicates that these differences are most likely major. After all, this is Texas, where we do everything right. Who knows what the laws might be in Oklahoma, what with the hillbillies and the tractor-pulls and whatnot. Do they even have a driver’s manual?

  “Okay, where can I get this book?”

  She doesn’t even try to hide her impatience at this point. I’m boring, a bit simple, and she has other things to do. “You can drop by and pick one up.” (Oh GOD no.) “Or I can mail you one.” (Hurray!) “But it will take a few days.” Translation: I will actually have to take your address and shove something in an envelope, and that depresses me.

  I don’t care. I already hate that building and I’ve never even been in it. “Please mail. Please. And your dress is really pretty today.”

  She sighs, gets my information, then slams the phone down.

  A week later, not just a few days, the booklet arrives. (Well, there’s something we do a littler faster and better in Oklahoma. I guess our postal workers aren’t distracted by all the tall buildings and restaurants with actual silverware they have down here.) I rip open the package and start reading.

  Hmm. She lied. The rules are basically the same. Yes, there are a few differences, like how one is expected to behave when approaching exit ramps on highways. (And that mess is worth an entirely separate blog post.) Oh, and every photo in the book seems to include a cow for some reason. Not sure what that means. But in the end, I shouldn’t have a problem with this.

  What I do have a problem with is actually getting my ass to the decrepit building. As the days until the deadline dwindle away, I keep coming up with excuses. (Clean the apartment! Wash my car! Bowling!) As expected, I wait until the very last day and then I have no choice.

  Wiping tears from my eyes, I turn into the neglected parking lot that is overgrown with weeds and those suspicious people who stand around and don’t seem to have a purpose in life, other than to serve as the “before” photo in laundry detergent ads. (I’ve never understood why the D.O.T. offices have to be so trashy. Maybe they’re nice and clean in other places, but they suck around here. Is it a state rule of some kind?)

  I park as far away as possible, because I don’t want repulsive people getting random body fluids on my car, and then I march to the door of the building. Throwing said door open, my senses are hit by a wave of unwashed beastliness billowing toward me. Yep, this must be the place. I step inside, while my eyes refocus after the bright, innocent sunshine outside.

  There are at least 200 people in this room. Granted, some of them are sitting at little desks that dot the perimeter, but most of them are packed into several lines leading up to windows behind which government workers are doing things which apparently cause them to not smile. No one in line is smiling, either. This is a dark, dark place.

  I sigh, calculate which line seems to have the best combination of fewer people and signs of intelligence, and take my place. Immediately, three babies start crying in my chosen queue. No one does anything about it. At all. For a long time.

  Hours later, I get to the window, and I am non-greeted by a woman who will soon become the focus of every ounce of hatred I have in my body. I politely explain that I need to renew my license. Could she assist me with that?

  She just looks at me, debating on whether or not she even has the strength to respond. Finally: “Where’s your form?”

  “My form? I don’t have one. Shouldn’t I be getting that from you?”

  She sighs with such force that the lady behind me falls off her wedgie sandals. “No. You’re supposed to get the form from that BOX over there and have it filled out before you ever get in line. Can’t you read?”

  Wow. This little bucket of sunshine is bubbling over with attitude. I glance in the direction she is pointing with her bad-nail-job finger. Granted, there’s a tray on a table off to one side. And it appears that there are forms in it. But no indication what the tray or the forms are all about. I point this out to Haggatha.

  “If you would just read the sign, you would know what to do.”

  I’m not letting her get away with trying to make me look stupid. “But I don’t see a sign to read. Where is this sign?”

  Hag slams down her pen, reaches up to whip her little plastic-glass partition to the side, and leans out. (Where is all this aggression coming from? I hope she has a therapist.) She points again with more force, using all of her arm and most of her upper body. “THAT SIGN RIGHT-”

  We both see what’s happened at the same time. There’s a piece of poster board lying face down in front of the tray table, covered in hundreds of scuffy footprints. I can’t help but smile. “Oh, that sign. The one that nobody can read?”

  The snake-woman just glares at me as she recoils into her nest, slamming the window shut. “Yes, THAT sign. Get the form and fill it out. Next!”

  As the woman who was behind me in line breaks into tears because it’s now her turn, I walk over to the table and snatch up one of the forms, then look around for one of the little desks that might be empty. Of course, they’re all full. Filled with people, I might add, who aren’t filling anything out. Just sitting there, waiting for their lives to end. Fine. I end up using the back wall as my desk.

  Once I’ve scribbled in all the details, with penmanship that looks like I’m a psycho-killer because both my frustration and my anxiety have peaked in a duet of emotional tumult, I turn around and head back to Haggatha’s window.

  She stops me before I can even open my mouth. “NO! Oh no you don’t. You get back in line just like everybody else.”

  “But I’ve already been in line and-”

  “Get BACK in line. Do you want the license or not?”

  I stand there for a second. Is this real? Then a frazzled-looking man beside me whispers: “She made me do it, too. She don’t play. I’ve been here since 1972.”

  I consider just getting in another line. Then I realize that the other lines are all much longer, probably because people have been fleeing Haggatha’s line in total fear, muttering prayers and clutching crucifixes. Fine, no problem. I can deal with her again. I walk to the end of the line and assume the position. (“Does the snapping of the latex glove have you a bit unsettled, my little pretty?” Yes, Evil Nazi Doctor, it does.)

  Once again, nothing of any relevance happens for a very long time.

  Eventually, I’m face-to-face with Medusa once more. She snatches my form away, studies it briefly, then barks: “Go through the door on the right for the tests.” I head toward what I hope is the correct door (still no signs, people, what’s up with the signage?). As I open it, I hear Haggatha saying “Letha, take the window. I got this.”

  She’s got this? What the hell does that mean? Is she going to give me the tests, hoping that I fail so she can have the satisfaction of watching it happen? Damn, there, there’s some rotten French fries in her happy meal.

  And yep, I round the corner and there she is, standing next to a primitive (by today’s standards) computer. “Sit here.” I do. Then she punches something on the keyboard, and we get a display reading “The Texas Department of Transportation Welcomes You!”, which is a total lie, considering the devil-spawn breathing on the side of my neck. “Get started, you have 30 minutes.”

  And then she just stands there, glaring at me.

  I take a deep breath and start punching in answers, hoping she’ll just go away. She doesn’t. There are 20 other people in the room, also taking the driver’s test, but she couldn’t care less about them. Cheat away. She’s only got stink eyes for me.

  Despite the pressure, I only miss one question. (And yes, there were at least two pictures that included cows, if you’re keeping score.) This thrills me, and I try to think of the most enjoyable way to rub this in Haggatha’s face. But my victory is short-lived.

  “Vision test. Follow me.” And she marches off.

  We go to another part of the room, where we have more ancient equipment lined along a wall. These look like giant viewfinders from back in the day, those plastic things you held up to your eyes and then clicked your way through boring, tiny photos on a cardboard disc. I take a seat in front of one of them.

  Haggatha flips a switch, and the machine comes to life, unhappily so, as if awakened after slumbering in the Egyptian desert for 2,000 years. “Look in there and read me the letters,” says Cleopatra, twirling an asp. I start to lean my head down. “Wait, hang on.” She starts fiddling with some dials on the side of the machine. “Now do it.”

  I peek inside. It’s an eye chart. And instantly, I know something is not right. I’m looking at that first row with a single letter which is usually an “E”, perched atop a pyramid of descending lines that become increasingly diminutive. But that top line is already fuzzy. I’d never worn glasses in my life up to that point, perfect vision. I pull back and look at her. “It’s an ‘E’, but I don’t think this thing is set right.”

  She just scoffs. “I know what I’m doing. Do YOU work here? No. Finish the test.”

  I lean back in. The second row is more difficult, and I’m guessing on half of the letters. By the third row, I can’t tell what anything is, just blurry spots. I look at her again. “I’m telling you, this is not right. I can’t see anything.”

  She smiles for the first time. “Then I guess you need glasses. And until you get them and can pass this vision test, you can’t have a license. And look here, your Oklahoma license expires at the end of the day. Which means you’ll also have to take the physical driving test if you want a Texas license. I guess you aren’t as special as you think you are.”

  I am furious at this point, convinced that she’s jacked the test. “I want to talk to somebody in charge.”

  She keeps smiling. “I’M in charge. This is my office. And I need you to leave now. You can go out that door over there. Or can you even see the door? It’s the big rectangle thing with a knob.”

  Hoo boy. This game was ON.


Click here to read the sad resolution to this story…


Previously published in “Memory Remix” and “The Sound and the Fury” as “Run Around- Part I”, and then as part of the “Dispatches from the Wasteland” series here on Bonnywood. Modified mildly for this latest version. Story behind the photo: Close-up detail of an otherwise innocent patio chair at my friend Paula’s house. I like how the snap reads as somehow sinister (can you see menacing half-mask?), which perfectly fits this story…


40 replies »

  1. I think these women are bred specifically to work at DMV’s around the country. We have her clone in Maine. She sent me home 3 times for paperwork she decided she didn’t need when I first moved here.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, hon, you should have moved to South Carolina where the Department of Motor Vehicles doesn’t make me take another vision test until I’m 85.
    Unfortunately, I failed Pretty’s test so I can’t drive past the McDonald’s by myself.
    And only then if an iced coffee is the only thing standing between me and my pursuit of happiness.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I remember this tale (fondly) and your saga of “Brutzilla the Hun”. I’m in agreement. I think they only hire people who have a special brand of snottiness to work the counters. One other qualification those people have is the inability to take an attractive photo of anyone for their Driver’s License. I always come out looking as if there should be a number across the bottom of the photo and I should be clad in prison stripes. I don’t know how anybody checking my I.D. could mistake that grim faced woman in the photo for me or vice versa. Maybe that explains why I got stopped at the border twixt Canada and the USA. That border patrol agent? Was related to Brutzilla. He didn’t actually search my car, but he made everyone in my brother’s van get out and then searched that vigorously, even taking all the luggage out. I was surprised there wasn’t a drug sniffing dog on hand. I’m sure we all looked very furtive and subversive.,,all Mormons from Utah or Idaho. Yeah. O_o a real “cell” right there. Good for you for fighting onward in your quest to obtain legality.

    I got the same kind of bullshit in 2012 when I went to renew mine. It was perhaps a week after hubby dropped dead, and the last thing on my mind was my $!#% driver’s license, so I forgot all about it until March rolled around. They wouldn’t just take my old driver’s license for proof that I was who I said I was, noooo. I had to go to the Office of Vital Statistics and obtain a moldy copy of my birth certificate. I thought they were going to ask for further identification.

    One thing I did learn in all that. The Driver’s License facilities across the USA never hire anyone who exhibits the least common sense nor logic. I think that’s a firin’ offense right there!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It just amazes me how often we encounter folks who work in “public-service” situations that are not the least bit interested in either the “public” or the “service” angle. Sure, they have to deal with lots of assholes (because many people are, true story) and such encounters can make them jaded. But I dealt with assholes in the corporate world as well, and a decent person simply learns how to put on a professional mask, play nice, and try not to stab anyone.

      I have never taken a decent driver’s license photo in my entire life. And yet there are many examples of folks looking splendid and glowing in their own government photos. Of course, many of these examples were shared during episodes of the “true crime” TV series that I love to peruse, and most of those people end up on a slab in the morgue, the result of having been brutalized to death by a cattle prod on a remote Wyoming ranch. So I suppose that I should be happy that I don’t look prod-worthy in my photo IDs. Win some, lose some.

      Liked by 1 person

      • An odd little note that has nothing whatever to do with our discussion above. When I got the email informing me of your comment and I opened the link to lead me here, my malware blocker popped up and rated “Bonnywood” as unsafe. O_o It detected some kind of malware on here, and I thought you might like to know that you MIGHT have a wee infection or something. I’ve never had problems before this, but this computer (new) has Windows 10 and it’s over the top in wrapping us all in cotton wool and sealing us hermetically in political incorrectness free saran wrap. I hate it when they make the simple complicated like they’ve done at ol’ Microsoft. They’re seriously shatting on their shoes…

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for the heads up. I took a gander at all my settings and ran some virus programs, none of which found anything. I encountered something similar to this about a month ago. I get email notifications when anyone does anything on my blogs, and I use the links in those emails to visit the those websites to see if they have any fresh posts I should peruse. Suddenly, I started getting “risky site” warnings on many of the links, even for those I have visited hundreds of times over the years. I knew these sites were fine, so I would click on the “proceed anyway” button, and the next time I got an email notification, there was no warning. It took several days, but the warnings finally stopped on all the notifications.

          I personally think it was a glitch that some programmer somewhere finally resolved. But if you keep getting this warning, please let me know and I will contact WordPress…

          Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘Please take Mr Brian-Smith to Room 101 for final testing and processing.’ Brian, ya gotta know ya can’t fight City Hall and Ms Ball-Braekker, surely? This ain’t Oklahoma, this ain’t Kansas any more, this is big-ego big-ass Texas. Part Two is gonna be a tear-jerker I fear.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. When I moved from NC to Louisiana someone stole my wallet which of course contained my driver’s license. I had to get proof from Raleigh I had a valid license. When that came I had went back to take the written test. I too only missed one/ They checked that test four times to make sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems that some people are determined to find fault in others, regardless of the situation. Why can’t we spend more time celebrating each other’s achievements? Isn’t that better for everybody?… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • It would be a much happier place for one thing. Where I used to work if you screwed up, like most places, if the screw up was bad enough, you got wrote up and that went into your permanent folder. In all of the near 30 years that I worked there, only once, was I given a commendation for something good. Not because that was the only time, not because that one time was so much more outstanding, but because they didn’t do that. Actually, thinking now, I’m betting that paper never made it to the folder. I asked once, and was told that the good things were all just a part of the job and needed no acknowledgement. As in they don’t want anything good in there that might overshadow any bad.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Maybe the DMV lady I dealt with had been eating “Special” gummies (perfectly legal in California), cuz she was nice, efficient and friendly. I don’t remember how many I missed, but I got my license.

    I hope you got her good… after obtaining your license of course.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m rather jelly of the gummy option in Cali, because I think the heat-blasted, mean-spirited state I live in would be much better off if everyone had gummies for breakfast. But I digress.

      You’ll have to stay tuned for the resolution of the story. There IS redemption, but not in the way I expected…

      Liked by 1 person

  7. My most embarrassing DMV moment came when I returned to Washington state (where I had previously been licensed for 27 years) after six years in Kansas. I did not look at the booklet and flunked the written test because they had added a disproportionate amount of alcohol questions. I knew driving drunk was illegal but did not know how many beers equaled a glass of wine or two shots of whiskey, etc..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those written tests are absurd, in my humble opinion. Sure, some of the queries are on point and relevant, but many of them are not. Why don’t we focus on the mechanics and friendly-driving protocol of operating a motor vehicle? Is that too much to ask? Apparently so. I’m going to get quizzed on the proper response to a farm tractor crossing the road (which doesn’t happen in Dallas) but not about how to deal with incomprehensible road rage (which DOES happen in Dallas). Sheesh.

      Like

  8. A couple of weeks ago, I was in a fabric store, and I brought a bolt of fabric to the counter. “The sign clearly says NOT to bring the fabric up,” the clerk said. “What sign?” I asked, and followed her as she tromped around looking for one, of which there were none. She had the decency to apologize, unlike Haggatha.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I just kills me when I’m in a situation wherein I’m castigated for not following some protocol that I know nothing about. Ya gotta give me some kind of clue, guys and gals. I can’t read your minds. Communication is clearly an unappreciated art form with many aspects of life.

      And no, Haggatha would never apologize for anything she’s ever done. I’m sure she eventually voted for Trump, assuming that somebody didn’t take her out in a dark alley somewhere. (Yes, I’m still bitter.) 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  9. This have me anxiety reading haha.. I hate having to go to the dmv. I gotta go in two weeks for this same scenario, but unfortunately will also need to take the driving test as well. So not looking forward to it. (I’m in OR now, but I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing Dallas DMVs 🥲)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Trust, my anxiety was spiking the entire time. Some people just insist on making things more complicated than they really need to be.

      Good luck with your upcoming adventure at the DMV. Just don’t let them intimidate you and you’ll be fine. And I’m sorry that you had to experience Dallas DMVs in the past. No decent person should have to go through that mess… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

      • They seriously do. I can’t imagine why the people working there basically impose that stress on themselves 🙄

        Thanks! I’ve got everything done except the driving test as they were scheduled out for months. Hoping I pass so I don’t have to go there again, ugh. No kidding about the Dallas DMVs haha

        Liked by 2 people

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