I’ve lived in Williamsburg since I was 7. The Williamsburg DMV on Capitol Landing Road is where I got my leaner’s permit, my driver’s license, and where I registered and updated my first three cars. Sufficed to say, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in their waiting room. While no one exactly relishes a trip to the DMV, the Williamsburg Department of Motor Vehicles is so poorly run, so slow, and such a horrible experience that it sets itself apart from any other DMV I have ever gone to.
Recently, I learned that the old gallows that hanged colonists convicted of felonies in Virginia were placed where the DMV sits today. Apparently someone figured that they needed to keep the area filled with misery and suffering in order to respect the many men and women who died there, all those years ago. And wow do the staff at the DMV take their job very seriously.
Allow me to walk you through your average visit to the DMV. You arrive to a full waiting room and note that there are two clerks at the 10+ available windows. You go to the information desk and explain what you need to do that day. The clerk at the information desk asks to see your legal documents and whatever else you’ve brought with you and will roll her eyes if you make a mistake. Because clearly, everyone needs to know everything there is to know about the DMV and how they do business.
She then might give you some paper work to fill out, but she will give you a number. As you go to sit down in the waiting room with all of the other miserable people who have been waiting for hours, you might think to yourself that this time will be different. This time you will be in and out quickly and this won’t suck just as much as it did last time. As you wait you can fill out your paperwork or read War and Peace or paint a full-scale replica of the Sistine Chapel. You have plenty of time, so sit your ass in that uncomfortable chair and get ready.
Whatever you do, don’t talk to anyone there. Most people require to take an entire day off of work to go to the DMV. They have to make multiple trips there and travel all over town to acquire whatever paperwork the clerk said that they needed, even if another clerk says that you don’t need it at all. There’s cold coffee to sip on while you wait and a water fountain that doesn’t work.
As you wait, you might notice that the numbers aren’t called in order. There’s no logic to how the numbers are called and you have even less ability to gauge exactly when you will be next or where you are in line at all. But you have plenty of time and sit and ponder this, so don’t worry.
When you’re finally called, roughly two hours later, you go up to the window in relief. This is almost over. You’re probably hungry and tried and most likely uncomfortable from sitting on their chair. But you’ve been called and hope wells inside of you again. When you get to the window, it’s highly likely that any and all information the information clerk has given you will be wrong. You might have filled out the wrong form. You might have the wrong documentation. You might be missing something that you need. It could be that you don’t have the right signature in the same place.
It might seem to be inefficient to be told this after waiting multiple hours and checking with a desk clerk, but that’s just how the DMV is. If you get upset that you were told you had everything and now you have to get out of line and start the entire process all over again, the DMV clerk will fix you with the most blank, soulless look you have ever seen in your entire life. If apathy was tangible, Williamsburg DMV clerks could beat you to death with theirs.
So you’re back to square one. You might need to leave the building to go get something. You might need to fill out another form. You might need to offer a blood sacrifice at the next full moon. But let’s go with an easy one. You filled out the wrong form. Say that you then go back to the information clerk and tell her that she gave you the wrong paper. She won’t apologize, she won’t explain what happened, she won’t even look like there is an emotion stirring in her putrid soul at all. She’ll just hand you the correct paper, a clipboard and another number.
You go back to your seat in the waiting room. Now that you’ve been in the building for multiple hours, the seat has started to feel like home to you. It’s your property and it will comfort with its familiarity while you wait. So you fill out the form in five minutes. You have another two hours, at least, to wait. So you scrap your rendition of the Sistine Chapel and start on something else. Perhaps you could write a novel. Maybe become an expert on Egyptology. You could even earn an Associate’s Degree in the time it takes for you to be called again.
Finally, after killing your phone to play Bejeweled 3 in order to keep your mind from turning into jello, you’re called. You get up to the window again, that hope filling you once more. This time you’ll be done. This time you’ll accomplish what you need and then you can once again rejoin life outside of these walls. You find yourself at the same clerk. You try to smile and be polite, but she won’t make eye contact with you and her expression of hollow indifference does not move at all.
The clerk types on her computer for a while, but then stops. She clicks around. She types some more. She clicks around again. Then, she calls another clerk that was in the back over to her computer. You then realize that there are more DMV employees in the back of the building while their waiting room is completely full and their wait time is around 2 hours.
So the new employee looks at the computer in utter confusion. The two clerks have a hushed conversation that you don’t quite understand. They call someone else over. Then the three get into a huddle and talk and talk about whatever it was that they saw on the computer. You suddenly wonder what in the world could possibly have happened. Did they type in your name a warrant for your arrest came up? Was your car listed as stolen and right now they’re hitting a silent alarm button? Did the government flag you as a terrorist and they’re discussing the best way to get the CIA there?
But it’s none of those things. The dead-eyed clerk hands you back your paper and announces that you need to get it notarized. Notarized? You’ve never gotten anything notarized before. What does that even mean? When you ask the clerk fixes you with her permanent glare and explains to you that you have to go to a public notary in order to get the paper notarized. Of course, by this time, you’ve been at the DMV for about five hours, and all of the notaries are closed for the day. They tell you to go first thing tomorrow morning and then come back with your paperwork properly signed.
You try to explain to them that you’ve been waiting almost the entire day and if they would have told you that upfront, you could have had it taken care of, but the clerk’s completely uncaring gaze will tell you all that they need to know. No one at the DMV realizes that you’re a human being. To them, you are simply a thing that takes up their time between breaks. The fact that you were told the wrong information, had to wait, and now have to take another day out of your life to sit in their waiting room is of absolutely no consequence to them. These clerks lack empathy, they lack sympathy, they lack any shred of human decency that would allow them to understand just how horrible they make their work place for the people that need to use it.
But in some ways, this is probably a survival skill. If they realized how miserable they made people and how much inconvenience, torment, frustration, agony and soul-crushing despair they inflict on people every day, their psyche most likely wouldn’t be able to handle it. So they have built up impregnable defenses to shield themselves from the truth that they have been single-handedly responsible for the misery of thousands of people.
As you leave the DMV, you feel defeated. You question whether or not you REALLY need to get whatever you need accomplished done. You wonder if you were pulled over, you could explain to a cop just how hard you tried to take care of your paperwork, but couldn’t because of the DMV. In the end though, you don’t have a choice. If you want to be able to drive, you have to abide by traffic laws and rules and so you go home, utterly depressed. You feel this way not only because you have lost a day to the DMV, but because you will undoubtedly lose another day to the DMV the next day.
But, of course, there’s always the chance that after getting your paperwork notarized and going in with everything you were told that you needed the previous day, you will be informed by a different clerk, one with the same eerie dead eyes, that you didn’t need half of what you were told in the first place. You might be angry at that. You might even be enraged at the time you wasted. But there’s no point in expressing it to the clerk. Their defense against human emotion has been built too strong and it will do no good.
I’ve heard it said that other DMVs are worse. But so far, every single other DMV I’ve been to has been far better. Perhaps this isn’t the most horrible DMV in this history of existence, but between the inefficiency, the wait times, the complete disregard that you’re treated with and the unending frustration that is forced on you, it’s not an acceptable way for a business to be run. If this was a restaurant, patrons would have the option of just going to another restaurant. But this is a government building. It’s the only one in the city and some procedures require you to go to that specific establishment in order to do certain things.
If this was a ghost story, I would warn you to stay away from the DMV. But this isn’t a ghost story and sometimes you can’t avoid the DMV. So I suggest moving out of town in order to avoid it. It might seem drastic, but enough trips there will convince you that it’s totally worth it in order to get away from that place.