My Blah Blah Blog

DMV vs. France

One day recently I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to surrender my driver’s license. This was not because I had one too many DUIs but because, in the ten years since I was last required to renew in person, my vision had declined to illegal status. I knew there was no way I’d pass the vision test; I was DMV toast.

In fact I hadn’t driven in a long time. I kept the license updated for ID, or for potential emergencies such as, say, escaping death by wildfire. (I could drive to safety if I had to, although not without imperiling other vehicles on my route.) Still, it felt sadly final, giving up that little rectangle and the privileges it had entitled me to for forty years. It was in this wistful mood that I entered the jaws of the DMV.

As you know, DMV workers are kind of like the French in that they are notoriously irritable. The French have no excuse: they get to live in France, for God’s sake. The DMV workers do have to sit under fluorescent lighting in an unattractive space for several hours a day. But hen, so do most people, and most people are NOT as crabby as the lady who was delivering information at the Hollywood DMV on that day.

I told her I wanted an ID, not a license renewal, and I explained why. She was almost barking when she gave me a form to fill out and instructed me to “return to the red carpet” when it was complete. As a veteran of many Hollywood award events, these instructions were momentarily confusing. Clarity came when I noticed I was standing on a filthy, maroon square of rug.

“Will do,” I perkily told the woman whom I had mentally nick-named Miss Gulch. (I think that was the first time I have ever said that to anyone outside of an e-mail.)

Finding myself too impaired to fill out paperwork stating that I was too impaired to drive, I pulled a device from my bag that is both magnifier and flashlight in one. Even with this friendly tool visual tasks are slow: it took me twenty minutes to get back to the red(ish) carpet, giving Miss Gulch lot of time ratchet up her impatience.

“So, on the voter registration question,” I started to ask Miss Gulch, ”I already am…”

“Just say NO on line 18, “ she said, her tone suggesting that the top of her head was preparing to blow off. Rather than test her patience further by searching for my reading device and then for line 18, I gave up on the voter thing.

“Now go sit down,” Miss G. said.

“I have an appointment…”

“Yes we KNOW. Go sit DOWN,” she said, at which point she actually lifted her hands and her gaze heavenward as in, “God save me from the cretins.”

My next stop was window 13, which was manned by a guy who had also been trained at the DMV School of Fuck ‘Em. Speaking in the most unctuous tone I could muster, I told him I needed an ID only, as my vision had nose-dived. He checked my papers and informed me I’d put my date of birth on the wrong line.

“Oh, sorry. Where’s the correct line?”

“Top right.”

Without my device, I was lost. “Sorry, where?”

He dropped his head, cradling it in his hands, apparently praying for mercy. (These DMVers talk to God a lot.) Then he took the paper, held it up a couple inches from my face, tapping his finger fiercely on the appropriate spot.

When I had written my DOB close enough to where it was supposed be, he said, “Okay. That’s it. Go to the camera. You’re done.”


“TO THE CAMERA. Window 23. OVER THERE.” Poor guy. Only 11a.m. and I’d already given him cause to up his meds.

I just got my new ID in the mail. In the picture, I am smiling like I just won the lottery. That is because, on that day at the DMV, I knew that in three weeks time I was going to be in France, a place where the people are much nicer.


14 Responses
  1. Jon Davis says:

    Just saw Phantom of the Paradise…. I knew I recognized you, anyway, great fun! Sorry about your eyesight, comes too soon for all of us I guess. I hope people in Paris treat you better!

  2. Tom Dupree says:

    Come to Kentucky. I am good friends with the people who renew my license. I bring them goodies.

    When our children were quite young we got a new car that had satellite radio. There used to be a channel called XM Kids. We drove to FL for one Christmas break listening to that station the whole way. Your rap song called “Four Boys Named Jordan” played about every two hours. I memorized it.

  3. Kevin says:

    Love your story…

    Saw Phantom of the Paradise when it hit the theatres, behind my parents back, at the age of 11. Ended up home late for dinner with two pissed off parents waiting for me to get home. Had a crush on you for years, and ‘Old Souls’ has always remained my favorite, not just from the movie, simply one of my favorites songs ever…

    Catch up with your soul on another path in another life 🙂

  4. Sébastien says:

    USA DMV workers are secretly trained here in France, but we keep the “bests” of them for our own offices 🙂

    just watched the “phantom of paradise” with my oldest son (11) to build his cultural backbone, then I discovered your cooking blog.
    He will know you for your stunning voice and brithfull smile, but he will aslo remember the next days of his father cooking exeperiments (bloody non-metric quantities !)

    bon sejour en france.

  5. Sharon Terry says:

    OMG, you kill me Jessica – this is all too true, and so funny! We love you!

  6. Sofia Landon says:

    All too believable story. You won’t be surprised to hear they’re just as awful in NYC:) Love your telling of it, tho

  7. Anna says:

    Sigh. What a big milestone. I love the way you make blog lemonade out of a big fat lemon that life has delivered to you. xoxo

    What the heck is the MATTER with those people anyway?

  8. Grant Evanoff says:

    Sorry to hear about your eyesight, come to Brampton, they let anyone drive here!

  9. Robert D. Young says:

    My experience wasn’t as bad – must have hit them on a pay day. There shouldn’t be much of a need to return since there’s no more need for an eye test! Hope you are travelling with a companion to France – last time I took a wide body jet alone I had to early board since they print the seat numbers way up on the ceiling… 🙂

  10. Lloyd says:

    Hi Jessica,
    That is a great story. DMV sucks! Enjoy France, you are right the people there are much nicer. When I was there in 2003 they treated me great and very nice. Be safe.

  11. Diana says:

    Sorry you had to go through that, sister. Sounds horrific…but France is coming up as you say. Love, Diana

  12. night wolf says:


  13. Richard Krider says:

    The school of “Fuck Em”. I just lost it! Hilarious!!!! I commend you on your integrity and surrendering your DL.

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