A Visit to the BMV

After visiting Dr. George last week I took his parking prescription to the local license branch for my handicap parking sign.

Our BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) probably looks like every other one you’ve seen – a large room with rows of simple chairs facing a bank of desks where the government clerks sit on patrol. Although ours is a new facility, it’s much like the old place across town only with newer chairs and a magic number machine. It’s a government facility with new paint.

I entered our new facility anticipating the customary wait. To my surprise the waiting room chairs were empty and I appeared to be first in line. I stood patiently in what I took to be the cue position and carefully eyed each of the three open clerks waiting for a nod to proceed to her desk. The clerks occasionally looked at their screens and then at each other… Solitaire?  Finally, the open clerk closest to me caught my eye but told me I first needed to take a number. This was new to me so I smiled a thank you, looked behind me and found the number issuing system. I waved my hand before the machine and out came number 143.

I went back to my position holding my ticket and observed the empty chairs, three open clerks and no one behind me. After a few moments of official waiting, the one who had signaled earlier then indicated I should proceed to her station. It was as though she hadn’t noticed me before but the magic paper suddenly gave me presence. She took the paper, threw it in the trash and asked for my papers.

As she worked I scanned the rest of the facility. No one new had entered so two clerks remained open. At the far end of the room a 70ish grandmother stepped up to the license photo station. Her sheepish grin indicated a bit of embarrassment that she hadn’t worn a nicer blouse today or fixed her hair better. As she moved into position she unfurled a beautiful smile . . .  one you’d want to send to all the family at Christmas time. This was a pin-up grandmother smile – one for the photo frames on sale at Hobby Lobby. The photographer moved her forward then back, then right and left to position her before the camera and the cheap background. Just before snapping the picture she was instructed to lose the smile – this is for the government – and her countenance fell as did mine.  I thought we were the good guys.

They haven’t discovered smiles at the BMV yet but I’m hopeful. The only smiles you’re guaranteed  are on the official photographs of the Governor and the Secretary of State (the wanna be governor) as they look down on the waiting room like the Abe Lincoln or George Washington portraits we had in grade school. I’ve been coming to the BMV for over thirty years now and it’s been my goal on each visit to leave the facility having received a smile from one of the clerks. I’m running far less than 50/50.  I give them every opportunity – I’ll have a funny line or give my best smile of appreciation – but usually it returns a perfunctory “take this to the cashier” response. I like the smiling and friendly Governor Daniels but apparently it would take a third term to find time to work a policy of smiles down to the BMV.

In the meantime, smiles remain a weapon of a free citizenry in the battle of bureaucracy.


One thought on “A Visit to the BMV

  1. I have had near meltdowns at the DMV and am quite certain they all get the memo to be as calloused and uncaring as possible. I have also read that smiles are almost always returned and that smiles translate into every language. So, you have to believe that these folks go into some kind of CIA-like training to avoid smiling or being polite and kind. I suspect that the reason they don’t have you smile for your drivers license photo is because if you are ever pulled over for a traffic violation, you will NOT be smiling, so the police will be more likely to recognize you without a smile. Don’t you think that’s the reason? Keep on smiling anyway — it is contagious in most situations! Love, Jan

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