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License to Smile

March 3, 2013 | by Mordechai Schmutter

Time for my favorite errand – a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles!

I can’t believe that every time I go to the DMV, I’m surprised there’s a line. Every time. You’d think I’d know by now. I’m always like, “Whoa, it’s out the door? What is this line for?” And the guy in front of me says, “This is the line to find out which line we have to wait in.” Apparently, we have to wait our turns for that too.

They asked me for my weight. Doesn’t that change over every Jewish holiday?

My wife and I recently had to get our licenses renewed at the DMV, or “Department of Motor Vehicles”, as opposed to any other kinds of vehicles, such as the Department of Bikes and Skateboards. This is something that the state makes us do, in person, so they could know for sure whether we’re still alive since the last time. (Apparently there’s a big problem these days of dead people driving cars, in case you didn’t notice by the pace of the people on the road in front of you.) And then they have to take another picture of us, to show that we’re still alive, even though we can all agree that most license photos do not actually do a very good job of showing that.

Whereas with people, at least in the State of New Jersey (where I live, for some reason), we have to show up with at least, according to the paper they sent us in the mail, “Six Points of ID”. Apparently, every kind of ID is worth a certain amount of points, and if you have enough points, you can win valuable prizes later. You’d think the fact that you exist and are there should be good for at least a point or two.

But it’s not. Obviously, if you show up, they know someone’s not dead. But they don’t know that that’s you who’s not dead. It could be someone else pretending to be you, not dead.

It’s kind of a Catch-22. Normally, what all these official places require as proof is a valid driver’s license. But the reason you’re there in the first place is that your driver’s license is rapidly becoming no longer valid. Sure, you can show them your old license. But isn’t part of the point that you no longer look like that picture? At best, you look like that person’s older sibling. At worst, you look like their bubby.

So you have to go on a scavenger hunt to find pieces of paper that can prove that you are who you say you are, rather than just being someone who stole pieces of paper from the person you say you are. This scavenger hunt shows commitment. It shows that you’re committed to getting your license renewed, even if it means tracking down a piece of paper that’s as old as you are, which is not easy, because for the first few years there, you thought paper was something you were supposed to eat.

Thankfully, the DMV does send out a list of everything you can bring in, and how many points each one is worth:

  • Piece of paper as old as you are, with original bite marks. – 4 points
  • Bringing along a next door neighbor who knows you – 1 point
  • Personally knowing the guy at the DMV – 6 points
  • JDate profile, with photo – 2 points
  • Document that you have to pass back and forth from husband to wife while they’re simultaneously being helped at two separate counters because they came in one car – 2 points
  • Aliyah card from your shul, complete with your father’s name – 1 point
  • Personalized check with a signature – 1 point for every two zeros
  • Article you’ve written for the internet, with bio – 0 points, apparently
  • Actual number of your house, taken off your front door – 1 point. But only valid if you also bring in a street sign from your corner.
  • Photo of your home, with your car parked in the driveway – 2 points
  • Valid NJ firearm card (this is really on the list) – 3 points
  • Valid NJ firearm – 12 points
  • Picture in the paper (with caption), unless it’s because you got arrested – 2 points
  • Copy of your bank statement clearly showing that you’re not someone that people would lie about being – 2 points

But even though you have to prove you’re alive beyond shadow of a doubt so they can then take a picture of you, you don’t have to retake the test, I guess because they assume that once you take it, that means you know everything. Though that’s ridiculous. In reality, once you take a test, everything you studied goes straight out the window. I say this as a teacher. And as a driver whose spent time on the road, watching people forget rules as they drive.

But you do have to fill out a form. I did that while waiting on the second line of the day, using my big pile of points as a surface. One question that the form asked was my weight. Why? Doesn’t that change over every Jewish holiday? Or at least in the 4 years until I have to get another license? Why do they ask for details that are constantly fluctuating? Like hair color. Or height. Because I noticed on my way home that I wrote a shorter number on the form than I did the last time. This doesn’t mean I’m shrinking, I don’t think. I used to believe I was six feet tall. I described myself as “about six feet”, for dating purposes. But after enough people who were clearly taller than me insisting that they, too, were 6 feet tall, and why would they lie to make themselves shorter? I found out that I’m more like 5’ 11”, by which I secretly mean 5’ 10”.

But does your height matter? When the cop pulls you over, you’re sitting in a car. He’s not going to make you get out so he can verify your height. And what about your weight? Does the cop need to know if he can lift you, or put you on the back of his bike and haul you to the station? Maybe it’s just an incentive to keep our weight down as much as we can, to get our country’s stats down. The weight I’m at now is the weight I have to stay at for the next 4 years. On the other hand, I’m afraid to lose weight too. It’s like after I buy a Shabbos suit.

Anyway, it turns out they didn’t even put my weight on the license. It’s just some impolite question they ask off the bat for no reason, to get you in a grumpy mood before you’re even in the building.

The weight did show up in my picture, though.

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