Twice this week I’ve had to go to the Division of Motor Vehicles with Forest, so twice this week I sat in the moveable chair feast of DMV surrealism. There’s something about being in a place where the wait is several hours that brings out the friendly gonzo in everyone. Maybe it’s the cheer that people try to spread, knowing ahead of time that time will expand beyond horizons while here. Maybe it’s constant standing up and moving to the next seat down the line. Whatever it is, I was struck by how much strangers tend to act like family in such places.
Today, when a woman waving a giant cross and talking extremely loud with a DMV staff person called out for someone to let her use a cell phone for a long-distance call, people looked at each other. One woman started to get up with her phone in hand. “Don’t,” a man said to her. “She’ll be on your phone for a long time.” Others looked at each other or across to people they were just seeing for the first time, and politely debated whether it made sense to lend one’s phone to someone not tethered to the seemingly same reality as the rest of us. Finally, one woman walked over and lent her phone. The woman with the giant cross talked for a long time and loudly. “At least we’re safe from vampires,” one man said to a teenager next to him. We all nodded.
There were conversations about what people were having for dinner (two women were planning on big steaks and mashed potatoes), whether a new driver really wanted to declare herself a Libertarian while registering to vote (“Do you even know what a Libertarian is?” someone asked her), and how sitting on these hard plastic chairs was a treat after riding a motorcycle.
Finally, it was our turn, and by the time we left, close to two hours after we arrived, I didn’t feel tense from two hours of waiting (having a laptop to work on the whole time helped), but bemused by how in the bureaucratic staleness of an understaffed agency, we could hang out with each other as if we were old friends who had seen it all.