Thursday, July 23, 2009

Be More Variegated

Friends, the DMV has changed. First of all, it's called the BMV. Or maybe it has always been called the BMV in the great state of Indiana but was called the DMV in books; three guesses where I grew up. Secondly, my transaction took all of four minutes. Or three minutes and fifty two seconds if you want to be precise.

Four minutes! That's all it took for me to saddle myself with a truly appalling photograph for the next five years of my life. And we're not talking throwaway years, either: 29-34 is the prime of life, the good stuff, a time when you still have your health but are finally wise enough to appreciate it. Precisely that time of life when you don't need to face down a pasty, sullen, chinless, wall-eyed sanitarium escapee every time you open your wallet.

(A third change: Indiana BMV's no longer allow smiling. Come in for license renewal and you must face the camera dead on, as if you were a game animal hypnotized by the glow of approaching headlights, then stretch your lips into a strange, close-mouthed rictus. No tilting of the head; no showing of the teeth.)

Still, four minutes: not bad! I'd blocked off an hour and a half, so by the time I completed my transaction, 86 minutes early, I was so exhilarated that I voluntarily spent another half an hour perched contentedly on the misshapen plastic chairs in the BMV's holding pen, ogling the crowd.

And crowd it was! I saw a surprising number of children: white, Asian, black and Hispanic. (I shushed one of them by accident: working with kids is hazardous to your sense of what you'll put up with.) I heard parents, in between driving tests and license renewals, scold their progeny in three or four languages. I saw gangsters and hipsters, grandmothers and teenagers, the tattooed and the coiffed, the downtrodden and the upwardly mobile.

Our schools are largely segregated. Our neighborhoods are stratified by income. Our advertising is narrowly targeted. Our planes have sections.

The BMV may be smelly and ruled by an army of women in navy T-shirts, but it may also be the last bastion of integration. I wonder how often I can get my license renewed without attracting suspicion.

No comments: