Getting a new driver's license is not supposed to be a big deal. A little paperwork, an eye test, some money and it's all done, right? RIGHT?
I was warned that the office we were going to this morning is always crazy busy. We arrived an hour before the office opened and the parking lot was full of cars. There were at least 150 people in a line snaking out from the front door, down the sidewalk and into the parking lot. The people in line were already bunched up, tired and hot. I think it was 80 degrees by 7 a.m. I got in line and hoped for the best. The shade in front of the building was only 50 or 60 people away. I'd be there in no time flat.
Two hours later, the sun was creeping ever higher in the sky and the shade next to the building was disappearing at an alarming rate. I was nowhere near the shade. But I had all my paperwork, a bottle of water, a vat of sunscreen smeared on my face and I was ready to stand there all day. Melting. Burning. Blistering. Dying. Drying up and blowing away in the wind like dust. If this is what it takes to get my Texas driver's license, so be it. An elderly couple pulled into the parking lot, parked in the handicap space, and slowly got out of their car. Together, they weighed maybe 80 pounds and I'm pretty sure 10 minutes in the hot sun would kill them. No one made eye contact as the octogenarian couple in their matching his-and-hers orthopedic shoes shuffled across the parking lot to the end of the line.
And then the state trooper came out of the building and walked up and down the line checking on everyone. He was concerned about people passing out from the heat. So I waved my hand in the air to get his attention and told him to please please please take that elderly couple into the building and put them at the front of the line. He did. And I felt a little better as I reached a new level of hot. Hell has nothing on the Texas sun in August. If I don't have sunscreen on, within five minutes my skin stings like I'm being stabbed with a thousand little needles. If there's even one skin cell on my face or arms that has even the tiniest niggling of an idea to turn into cancer, I'm dead. I am now on a mission to find a new sun hat because otherwise I will probably end up bald after my hair bursts into flames and consumes itself.
Another hour went by and finally I was at the front door, sandwiched between huge, sweaty, angry men, and we all shoved our way into the waiting room. The waiting room was full of at least another hundred people being served by eight state employees. Not one employee made eye contact with anyone until that person had his or her number called and walked (or I should say stumbled since we were all so tired and dehydrated) up to one of the clerks at the long counter. But there was air conditioning! And ceiling fans! And a water fountain! And a restroom! And chairs! Normally, I'd say Hell is any government waiting room, but in this case it was so cool, dim and wonderful that I didn't care if I had to sit there all day. Just as I was fantasizing about getting in the water fountain and taking a cool bath, I hear a raised voice at the "Welcome" desk.
Before anyone saw the clerks in back, they had to see the "Welcome" lady first to determine if they were worthy of seeing a clerk at the back counter.
"I'm sorry, Ma'am, but your driver's license expired last week so you must show a birth certificate to get a photo ID card," the Welcome Lady was saying. "It's to prevent identity theft."
The lady protesting Welcome Lady's assessment of her paperwork was at least 100 years old, and all she wanted was a photo ID card so she could, oh, I don't know, have proof of identity on her body in case she died in some out of the way place and no one found her until she was so decomposed that her family wouldn't recognize her?
The old lady shook with rage. She clutched the handles of her walker and leaned over the desk as far as the hump on her back would let her and said, "I was sick for a month. I couldn't get out of bed. And then it took me two weeks to arrange for my daughter to bring me down here to get my ID. All I want is a picture on a card with my name on it! How hard is that?"
And then the old lady grabbed her papers, stuffed them in her purse which hung on the arm of the walker, and rolled out of the office at the speed of molasses on a cold day.
"They didn't even HAVE birth certificates in my day!" she yelled over her shoulder. "I've had a driver's license since I was 18 years old and NO ONE HAD A PROBLEM WITH IT!"
The Welcome Lady punched at some keys on her computer keyboard and pretended to not hear a thing. The clerks were perched on their chairs in a line behind the long, dark counter. Each one used towelettes to carefully wipe down anything that had been touched after each customer left lest someone spread some dreadful disease. All of them began to look like trolls just waiting to deny a poor soul their driver's license. One troll, with upper arms the size of Christmas hams, sat in her chair and stared at a spot on the far wall, avoiding anyone who tried to get her attention to ask her a question.
"Miss?" one young man said, grinning and bobbing his head to try and get Christmas Ham Arms' attention. "Miss? I have a quick question..."
Miss Christmas Ham Arms stared blankly over his head and ignored him, clutching a pen in one hand and tapping her first finger of the other hand on the counter. The man looked a little confused, and then he gave Miss Christmas Ham Arms a dirty look and slouched back to his chair to sit and wait with the rest of us.
And then, finally, it was my turn at the Welcome Desk.
"Ma'am, what can I help you with today?" Welcome Lady asked me.
"I need to surrender my Washington license and get a Texas license today," I said, smiling and putting my stack of papers down on the Welcome counter.
The Welcome Lady laid all of my papers out in a neat row, frowning and shaking her head. "You will need at least one more piece of paper that proves your place of residence."
"But I have everything on the list," I said, smiling wider.
The Welcome Lady pulled a brochure off a stack of papers to her right and held it up in front of my eyes. "Did you consult this before you came down here?"
It wasn't the brochure I'd downloaded from the department website. "Is that new?" I asked.
"As of May 7th, these are the rules. I'm surprised you didn't see this if you were on our website," Welcome Lady said without smiling.
I wasn't smiling, either.
I left before I said anything unfortunate. The state trooper was still in the building. Four hours of misery and I still have my old driver's license. What the hell. It doesn't expire until 2016. I might not even be living here by 2016 so I'll just keep it for a while.