A few days ago it was my birthday. I had finally made it to a quarter of a lifetime — the big 2-5. Somehow by reaching 25 years old I had imagined I would suddenly recognize myself as a mature, responsible adult ready to take on the world. As if a nicely-clad gentleman with an uncannily white smile would step out of the kitchen and hand me a participatory award just for making it out of bed. And the cameras would be rolling and I would say something witty and self-deprecatory into the microphone in which case the laugh track would applaud us all into a false sense of camaraderie. Needless to say, it didn’t go quite like that. And that sense of adulthood responsibility that I imagined I had garnered with my age instantly vanished as soon as my boyfriend and I celebrated with Putt-Putt golf and ice cream. I could have easily been mistaken for celebrating my fifth birthday instead of my twenty-fifth.
With my birthday also came an expired driver’s license. Not necessarily the best birthday present I’ve received in my time but if I was looking for a sense of maturity in my now “wizened” age, doing something as mundane as renewing my license was just the thing. The following day I headed to what could be ranked in the top ten of most despised places in the modern American society: the MVD.
I took my number and proceeded to settle in for what would become a long wait by the looks on the faces of those around me. Unfortunately for me, my phone had just died. The comforting blue glow of escapism had forsaken me. All I had left were my thoughts.
I had come to the conclusion in the first half hour of sitting in those vaguely elementary-style blue chairs that if a purgatory exists it looks and feels awfully like the inside of the Department of Transportation. Everyone waiting in anticipation with wrinkled tickets clasped in sweaty palms. Your number could be the next in numerical order but then they call a whole different number in a whole different hundred value. The weather channel drones on in it’s unfitting upbeat tempo. When someone’s ticket number is called a cheer goes out around the room, there are congratulatory handshakes, well wishes, happy tears, and a baby presented to be blessed by the ticket holder. The man or woman is then promptly body-surfed to the corresponding ticket window. Well… almost. Nevertheless, if I am correct in my theological assumption at least I know we will all be somewhat prepared for the mindless waiting.
In the course of two days I spent a total of four and a half hours sitting in those plastic chairs. The first day I waited two hours and after being called to the counter I was told to have my photo taken and then sit down until they called my number again. Thirty minutes later, I left. I was running late for work. The second day I, again, waited what would be another two hour headache of wrong documents and people bumping my chair to the point of insanity. In that combined amount of time Timothy Ferriss already finished his work week, an ostrich egg has been boiled, a bacteria cell has divided 18 times, and this blog could have written itself two times over. All this time wasted just to renew my license — this was not how I pictured starting off the wonderful age of 25. Was this the universe prophesying a banal future? Or was it my 25th year imparting some special nugget of wisdom in a year-long journey of new discoveries? I would soon find out.
Have you realized that when we enter the DMV we put up this defensive guard with an arsenal of complaints at the ready as if the receptionists have it out for each and everyone of us? “Wrong documents again, Laura?! Get it together!” “Frank, I’m going to need a birth certificate, social security number, two proofs of residency, DNA sample, and your unborn child.” Hell, I didn’t even smile when they took my driver’s license photo and I’m an all-around smiler. But after two days of waiting I was able to carefully observe the different reactions of the each person coming in to renew titles, get their driver’s license, or take a test and there was a definite trend of raising voices. One woman kept repeating that she couldn’t Prove Her Residency BecAUSE HER BILLS HADN’T COME IN THE MAIL YET!!! Before you go up to the DMV counter expecting a battle of documents consider this: when we go to the MVD it’s usually for a few hours a year. The receptionists deal with complaining, melodramatic sighs, and the occasional bribe (I’m not making that up, I’ve witnessed it!) 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. These men and women deserve to be sassy and those who aren’t are the saints among us mere mortals. So, just concede, show your gratitude (and your papers), and move along.
I recently heard it said that, “What you go into something looking for is what you will find.” I am starting to realize the truth to these words more and more of late. We head to the DMV with annoyance long before we even arrive and when we get there that is exactly what we receive. Why should we expect anything more? That goes the same with our relationships, our self confidence, our view about the day. But if we open ourselves up to the possibility that we have the ability to change the outcome of our expectations by changing our attitudes, then maybe moments like sitting at the MVD waiting room isn’t so bad after all. Maybe a moment like that is a gift and has the opportunity to teach us something new. For one thing, it can offer us unsolicited access to our thoughts — a rare commodity these days.
So, on day two at DMV, I brought a book. On day two I learned about the formation of the world’s first zoos and early 19th century’s age of natural sciences. It was the first time in, let’s face it, months that I had had nearly two uninterrupted hours of reading (aside from the gentleman bumping the back of my seat). Had I returned to the DMV with a sailor’s swear book and patience like a wildebeest then I would have missed a precious moment to unwind and catch up on some overdue reading. In hindsight, I realized that this was just the beginning of my path to enlightenment as a 25-year-old.
To those who have never had a bad MVD experience, I envy you. You are the unblemished, beautiful souls of this world. For the rest of us: next time you are at the DMV open yourselves up to the possibility that DMV receptionists are just regular human beings that truly deserve a full expense paid trip to the Bahamas and that the DMV is also a great place to catch up on little things: writing letters, reading a book, sketching, journaling, knitting, making origami, or blogging. So, keep your mind open in all moments and see the positive light in things. You just might find that you learned something new.