Good afternoon and welcome to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Your wait may be long and there is the possibility you will die of old age before you get to the window. To increase your chances of survival, it is important that you look at the number you were given at least every 30 seconds. You never know, it could change. Magical things happen at the BMV. Please sit back, relax and keep suicidal thoughts to yourself. Entertainment will be provided by your fellow sufferers.

The man to my left was dealing quite stoically with his agony. While going through a divorce, he had moved out of his house, as divorced people are known to do. A short time later, he was pulled over by a policeman who observed that the uprooted young man had not notified the BMV of the address change within 10 days.

Ten days!

Imagine that. You leave your wife and your home behind and pretty much rip your life into halves labeled THE OLD and THE UNCERTAIN NEW. And in the midst of that hell of lawyers and arguments, you are to get your ass down to the BMV and let them know at once that you are not where you were a week ago.

But this poor sap forgot to do so and a cop who must be one in a hundred who actually know of this law wrote him up. My new friend got smoked with a $134 fine for failing to report the address change. He forgot to pay off the fine in full and then his license to drive got yanked. The next time he got pulled over by Officer Friendly, things were significantly hairier.

And now here he was, leaned back in his chair holding a number in the one-sixties while the high-nineties were approaching the window with sundial speed. All of this so he could get his license reinstated in order to load boxes and suitcases into his trunk and make the long drive back to his new wifeless home.

And he was handling it with great serenity.

No such calm was on display at the center window. There, an older couple from Aroostook County were trying to sort out a vehicle-related problem for their son. But they were being confronted by newfangled rules and regulations for which they didn’t care at all, and the Wrath of the Clampetts was about to come down.

“Why in God’s name does m’boy need insurance if he ain’t gonna drive the gol-darn thing?” the elderly woman demanded, in the same piercing tone a hen makes when you start fooling around with her eggs.

She was seated at the window, her wrinkled face pressed into the glass, growing redder by the moment. Above her, a large husband leaned in, impressive belly crowding the window. He repeatedly adjusted his ball cap and asserted that big-city folk don’t know nothing about nothing.

“We already went to Augusta,” he spat at one point, uttering the name of the state capital as though he were talking about a symptom of food poisoning. “They don’t know nothing about nothing up there.”

Fantastic entertainment. At the BMV, people are slaves to these rules and regulations. There is no bargaining here. The people before the glass can beg or yell or threaten all they want, but the men and women behind the glass cannot bend even the tiniest of laws.

While the Aroostook County couple went old-school on the eternally patient clerk (I didn’t ask what horrific brand of trouble brought them all the way to Androscoggin County. What, you think I wanted a whooping?), a man to the right of me was rocking back and forth in his chair. Every minute or so, he examined the number squeezed in his hand, waiting for it to change, and then glanced up to scan the numbers displayed over the windows.

I leaned over to ask him for his story at one point, but he looked at me with such intense desperation, I lost whatever words I had prepared. The agitated fellow looked like a freshly convicted man waiting to hear if he would be sentenced to the chair or merely to life in prison.

Why there is no reality show set inside a bureau of motor vehicles is beyond me.

In my way, I love the BMV. It’s the ultimate equalizer, a microcosm where the rich and the poor are required to suck in a healthy dose of humility at the door. Every day of every week, you will find its halls jammed with a fascinating cross-section of the population. The well-to-do are there right beside the repeat offenders, men in thousand-dollar suits sitting elbow to elbow with men in paint-stained overalls. These are people who never mingle in the real world and yet here they are, brothers in bureaucratic pain.

You’ve got the hard cases weaving through a labyrinth of paperwork after fulfilling all the requirements that follow a third or fourth drunken driving conviction. You’ve got the rigid law-abiding taking an eye test or renewing a license.

At the BMV, these people are equal because if either has forgotten Form X14, they will be laughed out the door and instructed to come back another day when all their brain cells are back in order.

But it’s not so bad, really. My wait was 50 minutes and I was entertained the whole time, by tales of red-tape horror and Potato County rage. When it was over, I had a fresh new license allowing me to ride a motorcycle at night, with a passenger, while juggling zoo animals in tuxedos balanced atop my handlebars.

You think I’m making that part up, and that just proves to me that you haven’t taken the time to read the BMV motorcycle license literature, as I have. Rube. You thought you could get away with just skimming the paperwork and look at you now: all decked out in that slick Armani and yet woefully uninformed about the laws of the road.

You disgust me, Philistine. When you get right down to it, you city folk really don’t know nothing about nothing.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal reporter.


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