A couple of weeks ago I got a letter from the Department of Motor Vehicles that required me to take a written driver's test in order to renew my license. You see I am old, and I guess they wanted to make sure I still knew the rules after more than 50 years of driving.
Lately I have been reading about a lot of bad experiences at DMV offices all over the state: long wait times, surly clerks, and unpleasant buildings. But if I wanted to continue driving, I would have to submit to the potential torture chamber.
It wasn't like I expected; the instructions in the letter were simple. Set up an appointment online, fill out an application, and there were even several practice tests to prepare you for the big day.
On the appointed day and time, I trudged over to the DMV office in Lompoc. It's located in a very nice and roomy facility at the north end of town. Although there were several people waiting, it wasn't noisy nor were the people waiting unhappy. Everyone just accepted that it was going to take a few minutes in order to finish processing their needs.
I found the line that said, appointments here," and the clerk checked me in after he looked over my paperwork. He then instructed me to go to another window on the other side of this large building; I hadn't completed my application online because apparently, I misunderstood the online instruction that said if you make an appointment, you didn't need to fill out an application.
Filling out the application was relatively simple on the touch screen computers provided. I don't know how someone who doesn't know how to use a computer would complete this or the "written test," which isn't really written at all, but it's also electronic by touch screen.
For some reason, the state allows people to take the tests and fill out applications in about a dozen different languages. This doesn't make sense. All the street signs and information placards are in English, so why aren't applicants required to have enough English language skills to enable them to pass the test?
Next, I was sent back across the room and told to wait until my number was called. My paper was clearly marked "2:30 appointment" but by now, it was a little later than that. Finally, at about 3 p.m. my number was called.
Once again, the clerk took my paperwork, checked it over. I had asked for a veteran's designation on the license because I was retired from active duty. I thought that this would be a simple process. It wasn't. The clerk said, "Do you have a Veterans Administration certification that you are a veteran?"
Well no, I said, but I have my military identification card that clearly says, "United States Uniformed Services" and "U.S. Air Force Retired" on the front. That wasn't enough, she said, so I said, "forget it."
Next was the hardest part of the entire process, placing my thumbprint into the system. I tried three times and somehow the system wouldn't accept it, so they went to plan "B"—simply use my driver's license number to retrieve the print already in the system. At this point I thought, "Holy cow, if just submitting my thumbprint and not being able to prove I was a veteran was so hard, how will the test go?"
I would soon find out. The clerk once again directed me across the wide expanse to another area to take the test and have my picture taken. And once again my thumbprint didn't work, but this time the clerk provided a substance that cashiers and bank tellers use to help count printed money. Bingo, it worked perfectly!
Next I was off to finally take my test; this wasn't like the last time when I was handed a very long piece of paper and told to "carefully fill in the ovals." This was a touch screen, and it was easy to operate; the instructions were clear, and after a few minutes the machine congratulated me for a 100 percent score.
It wasn't that I was so brilliant, it was the way the test questions were written and the answers presented. Considering the millions of people of various backgrounds who must take these tests, anyone with average ability can easily pass the tests.
Finally, I was finished; I had paid my $35, finally got my thumbprint to work, and it only took an hour-and-a-half to finish.
Overall though, the clerks in Lompoc were very friendly and I left feeling like I had a good experience during my trip to the DMV. Δ
Ron Fink writes to New Times from Lompoc. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.