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My Dreaded Trip to the DMV

March 7, 2021 | by Emuna Braverman

When we let go of prior expectations (and dare I say prejudices), it’s amazing what we can discover.

Having watched the scene with the sloths in Zootopia one too many times, I was really dreading my trip to the DMV to transfer my license. Added to my already dismal expectations were the extra lines created by Covid back-up and the ensuing frustrations sure to abound among staff and clients.

But instead of a slow-moving “sloth-like” staff, instead of the stereotypical government employees (I said stereotype; I’m not bashing government employees), I found efficiency and even helpfulness. The procedure went much more smoothly than expected with the line and customers proceeding in an orderly fashion from one booth to the next.

I realized how much my expectations had shaped my experience and how foolish it was to allow that. I had actually built up a whole level of anxiety about how long it would be, what documents they would demand (the ones I didn’t bring of course!), how bureaucratic and irrational they would be, which supervisor I would need to ask for and so on. But it was none of that and, as happens so frequently, my worries were completely unfounded. (How many times do I need to learn this lesson and stop fretting?)

But more than that, I developed a new appreciation for the staff at the local DMV and I realized that I had been judging them without appreciating the challenges they themselves had to go through (another lesson that seems to require constant learning and relearning). Not only do many people come ill-equipped (without the aforementioned required documents which are listed quite clearly on the website – although what you do if you don’t have a utility bill in both spouses names I don’t know!) but even answering some of the basic questions seems to challenge the patience of both employee and petitioner.

To wit, my husband (in the same predicament as me but with a slightly earlier appointment) watched this interaction unfold.

“Sir, what color are your eyes?”
“They’re blue or green.”
“Sir, which one?”
“Well, it depends on what I wear.”
“Sir, blue or green?”

And so it went until a mutually satisfying color was agreed upon. Interactions like this could certainly lead a DMV employee to pull out their hair and they might be forgiven for being slightly less generous and patient with the person who, through no fault of their own, was next in line.

Solely for our own entertainment we began to imagine other scenarios: “What’s your weight?” “Do you mean morning or evening? Before Shabbos or after Shabbos? It really fluctuates.” “Sir, what’s your weight?”

We began to see the experience through the eyes of the DMV instead of our own and came out with a whole new appreciation of what the job requires – the levels of patience, the constant dealing with people’s frustrations and disappointments (and I’m not even touching the situation where tests – written or other – are failed).

There was one woman whose job it was to direct us to the correct line and to help people figure out what they needed. There were so many people who arrived with frustrations already in place – the online system couldn’t deal with their exceptional circumstances or had failed them in some other way, they didn’t have the required documentation and had no means of acquiring it. She helped everyone with patience and calm and clarity.

Not only did I not expect that level of competence or assistance at the DMV (my bad), I certainly didn’t expect to learn lessons about patience, tolerance and understanding. I certainly didn’t expect to empathize with the employees there or feel that perhaps they were insulted by their depiction in Zootopia.

When we let go of prior expectations (and dare I say prejudices), it’s amazing what we can discover.

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