Saturday, November 23, 2013

2 days in the California DMV office

I've just moved from Chicago to California and I needed to change my car's title and registration, as well as get me a California licence. I read online that one has to do this within 20 days of taking residency in the state. My current Illinois plate is valid till Feb next year, and its only October, so I thought to delay my registration work as much as I can. Typical Indian mentality, you know. I try to extract maximum benefit out of everything :)
Considering that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is very busy for any American office establishment, with most of the employees taking vacations and all that, I thought it'd be safe to get these things done just before the holiday season kicks off. So I booked the appointment for 21st Nov 2013, Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving. I picked 3pm as I thought, I'd be in office that day and if I leave around 2pm, I'll beat the traffic. See, not only am I an astute planner, I'm cost effective too. I always look out for ways to save money and time. Important. Great. Booking is done, and I couldn't be more proud of myself. I thanked heavens for bestowing me with intelligence. What'd I've done, if I were a moron!

Its Wednesday, the 20th. I prepared my paper works, looked up online for the list of required documents, arranged them in the order of preferences. My backpack contains my work laptop and a folder of documents. I knew I do not have to give a driving test but I'll need to pass in my written exam. Something that I've been through already, when I moved from Florida to Illinois. I found out the CA driving manual pdf. It was a huge file, as usual. I did started studying seriously first few pages but then soon started to quickly glanced through the pages, hitting 'page down' key after every 5 seconds. What information I read from the initial pages were very ordinary and usual stuff. Like pedestrians have right of way when crossing, bikers and motorcyclists have same rights etc etc. I'm smart enough to know such things already, plus I boast of being a very safe driver. One speeding ticket being an exception, my record is otherwise clean. Plus I'm a very nice guy. I care about pedestrians, bikers and motorcyclists and their interest is always on my mind when I'm driving :) Its a shame to my smartness that I need to study such trivial things. So thats it. I went to sleep.

Its Thursday, the 21st, 2pm. I dropped an email to my team that I'll be out of office rest of the day, and then left. As planned, there was little traffic. At 2:30, I'm in the DMV office. As I went in, I saw a familiar scene. Typical office hustle bustle, loads of people, both old and young. Then there were two lines. One for appointments only, one for without appointments. I smiled at myself and took my place in the appointments only line. I condescendingly looked at the people in the other line, with a mischievous smile. Yeah bitch! I'll be out of here before you even see the service lady at the other side of the desk. My chest automatically taking in few extra ounces of oxygen, the only thing missing was my fist thumping on it. I noticed a placard, "The wait time for non-appointment holders is approx 1hr 50mins". Did somebody say I'm a genius?

The lady at the counter greets me. She checks my papers and tells me to get my car checked by the DMV officer. I drove around the building and at the back, was a lane for vehicle inspection. I had 3 cars in front of me. The second car had two motorbikes in a trailer and it took the DMV officer forever to get that checked out. The officers couldn't have been more confused. There were people going in and out of the building and nobody seemed to know what they were doing. Anyways, the car in front of me was blocking the view. It took 40 minutes before my turn came. The officer was an Indian middle age guy, possibly south Indian as evidenced by his mustache. Or it could have been Movember thing, but I doubt at his age, he has got the appetite for this sort of thing. He followed routine process, check odometer, VIN, licence plate number and registration etc. I think the officers were thrown off their comfort zone when they saw trailer with motorbikes. Like a robot who is programmed for making coffee in a particular machine but gets confused when it sees a different machine. I went in the building with my papers. I went to a corner and filled out my DL forms and noticed that the car verification form that the officer gave me outside, at the bottom was a place for owner's signature. Me being meticulous, I signed and dated it. Took my bunch of papers and the lady at the counter gave me a ticket. F-169. I love a number which has 69!

Currently F-165 was being served. Soon, I heard the magical words. "Now serving F-169 at window 13".
I looked at the tv screen and it said window 18, at the end of the row. I thought may be its a mistake. I went to window 18 and the the lady there was surprised to see me.

"Did I ask your number?" She wasn't expecting anyone as she hurriedly put down her coffee mug.
"Yes. Its F-169 and Window 18 as the screen shows".
"Are you sure? Because I didn't call ..."

Before she could finish, the announcer went off, "Now serving F-169 at window 13". Hmm, what is going on? I looked up at the tv screen, the end of the row now said window 8. I do not believe this. Is this some joke the dmv is playing with me. Is there a hidden camera somewhere? I looked down, closed my eyes, took a deep breath and .....naah, nothing.
I just looked up at the tv screen again and this time, I looked close and found out the problem.

Ticket     Window    Ticket     Window
F-169      13            B-132     8
F-169      13            A-65       18

Fuck! Embarrassing. Some dude decided to use two columns. I tried to find a hole big enough for me to hide into. I apologized to window 18 lady and headed straight to window 13, before anyone else could notice what a moron I am. I'm sure the non-appointment queue people were happy. I cannot say 'Fuck' enough times to vent my frustration. As it turned out, the day wasn't done.

So here I am, being serviced at Window 13. Sat behind the desk was a pretty women, I'd say in her mid 30s, probably Latin american, with a cute accent. And she was pretty. She had a very soft voice and sweet smile. Great! Better than some old ladies and older men sitting behind some other windows. We were having small talks, like "I need to see your passport", "Ok. Please sign here and here" etc. And I was pretty involved in trying to make more than small talks with her. I had my reasons. I had seen in the website that the written test can sometimes be waived off only if the dmv officer deems fit. I had in my mind, a plan. A plan to talk my way through it. Enter the smooth and charming me. May be with my charm, and deadly smile, and smooth talks, I'll talk my way around the written test. And it certainly helped my plan to see a beautiful women on the other side. Had it been a dude or granny, I'd have to think hard about it :)
The flirting I tried, didn't help, probably because I wasn't good at flirting. I was occasionally drawing blank coming up with some killer one liners but Ramiaza, as she goes by the name, was in fact giving me opportunities. Fuck again! Smartness but not flirting enough, I'm such a waste. I ain't Joey with 'How you doin?'

R: "Ok. So lets do the registration part first. All the paper work looks good...oh wait. Oh you were not supposed to sign at the bottom of this verification form without me telling you so"

With her fingertips she showed me the section and my signature, and I was thunderstruck. Being too careful cannot be a bad thing, right.

Me: "Oh I'm sorry. I didn't know that. I saw an empty field, and I filled it."
R:  "Oh, so you'll sign wherever you'll see the signature field?" She said with a smile that pierced my heart and thousand more. With her soft voice and a hint of flirt in it, I knew I've salvaged something of mine, even though I'm an idiot for her.
Me: "I'm truly sorry. I didn't know."

She smiled to acknowledge and the dim light of hope lingered on in my mind. Time to kill...
Me: "I was wondering if you could waive the written test for me, please."
R: "Well, I've already waived the driving test for you but I cannot waive off written."

Oh, with the faintest of smile and softest of voice, she declined but it didn't feel like it. In other words, she just said "Look, dude, if I can call you that, but here's the thing. I gave you couple of opportunities to remain permanent in my memory, instead you turned out to be a moron, idiot, confused and boring. Not funny or creative but just like some other guy, may be worse. Please give the written test and don't press your luck too much else I'll put you for driving test too".

I collected my new plates from her and my DL slip. She pointed me another section of the office with two lines, Line C and D, and asked me to be in C for my new DL work.
I get my picture taken, and the granny there handed me the test paper and pointed me to the test area.
The less I speak about the test, the better it is. There were basically three categories of questions in there, for me. Easy, 50-50 and utterly confusing. I ticked off the easy questions first. Speed limit in residential area, I know is 25, because a good 3 mile stretch from my home to office goes through it and my eyes were bored of seeing the signs "Speed Limit 25". Body Alcohol Limit is 0.08 because I've undergone a DUI test once, I was driving too slow at 3 in the morning. The 50-50 questions were something the answer to which were not obvious straightaway. But after carefully going through the options, I could make a reasonable decision. Then there were utterly confusing questions. What to do if a person with cane is starting to cross the road but then he pulls back? I mean, is it a test of how nice of a person you are? And the answer options left me totally clueless. Should I continue driving because he is not ready, should I wait for him to cross? I decided to use my best behavior. I thought what would a nice person like me, a person so caring, gentle and selfless and so intelligent, will do? Of course I'll wait for him to cross first. Just because I've a used car, doesn't mean I'll forget my roots. I used to be a pedestrian too :)
And this was just one example. 36 questions, and 3 categories, with more or less, the same distribution. You do the math. I didn't expect the test to go like this. I thought this would be a piece of cake but it wasn't. While standing in another line, to get my answers checked, I was cursing myself for being lazy and over confident. This was just casual, wasn't it. I am an atheist, but at times like these, I just pray for some supernatural force to get me to the other side.
The same granny checks my answers. Boom, boom, boom, tick, tick, boom, boom....and so on went the sequence. After 3 mistakes on the first page of the test itself, I had given up hope, while she turned over the page and sprinkled salt on my open wound. Total of 7 mistakes and I had already known the verdict long before. I have read online that you fail the test if you get more than 3 wrong so there was no point, isn't it?
And by the way, I am supposed to cross the road because the fucking pedestrian with the fucking cane is not ready to cross. What the fuck! This is the reward for being a nice guy on the road? Failure, a looser. She torn off the right top corner of the test paper and gave it to me along with my other documents. She told me I can retake the test and I need to be in Line D now, however its already 4:30pm and written tests are not allowed now.
Fuck me! As a consolation of my day's effort, I need not take an appointment or stand in the start line again. I can straightaway come and stand in Line D instead. Yeah, thank you for that. Geez...
I left the dmv, head down, and a big 'L' written on my forehead. Miserable. Tomorrow is Friday, and I'll try to come again and get this thing right.

Its Friday, the 22st, 2:15pm. I leave the office again, this time without dropping any emails. I'm already carrying a looser tag around my neck. I used to feel sarcastic for friends who fail dmv written and now I'm one of them too. What goes around, comes around, with some extra baggage of humiliation :)
At the dmv, I went straight to Line D and the Asian lady does my paperwork. While standing in the line for my written test, I was feeling confident I'll crack it this time. I had gone over the test questions of yesterday and have memorized the ones that I got wrong. As soon as I get the paper, I'll tick the boxes and get done with it, since I already know the questions. My turn came.
"Ok. so this is your second attempt, take this and go to the test area", said the granny while handing me the test paper.It was a different set of questions. What the hell is wrong with me? How can I be so stupid to think that the dmv is so stupid that they will use the same questions for every attempt? I felt like I never left the dmv yesterday. I'm back to where it all started. And my self-pride and (over) confidence had prohibited me to study the manual pdf.
I took my time. Almost 45 minutes. I targeted the easy ones first, for the ones which I was confident I couldn't go wrong. Then the 50-50s with making some reasonable logic. The came the confused questions part. After much head scratching, knuckle cracking moments, I finished all questions. Then while standing in line, I thought I'll use my smartphone to look up one question that was really confusing. Confining myself between the person ahead and behind me, and keeping my hands closer to my chest, I did a google search, and as it turned out, I was incorrect. Oh my God! And I am an atheist. Fuck! Whatever little of confidence was left, deserted me. I came out of the line, and back to the testing area. I corrected my answer, but know I wanted to know more. Since I've already spent nearly an hour on this, I didn't have time to look over all the questions. So I marked the ones that were utterly confusing, and started looking them up in my phone browser. Smartphones are amazing, aren't they. And they definitely suggest the person using it is smart too. Boom, another revelation, another incorrect answer. Change it quickly. Scratch off the old tick and replace with a new tick mark in a new box. I moved my cube few times, kept an eye out, to not attract attention. Another query, another search, another incorrect answer. Fuck!
After the painful exercise, I finally corrected my confused answers. Stood in line then handed over my paper to the granny. My chest automatically swelling....but wait....what!!!!
Boom...boom...boom..tick..tick...Boom.. went the sequence again. What the fuck! And this time, not the confusing questions, but my confident questions were wrong answers. Fuck me! I cannot be this bad. This is horrendous. Just bury me here. Kill me now, kill me!
First page, 4 incorrect answers. While she turned over the page, I readied my backpack, checked that I've got my wallet, car keys and house keys. I knew I've failed again so lets just grab my papers and get going. I'll come again on Monday, or may be never. May be I'll never drive again. Just take cab or stay home.
Second page, 2 incorrect. Granny draws a circle over -6 and then below it, a circle over -P. Hmm, what happened here? She handed my papers back and told me to stand in line D. I asked her if I passed but she kept yelling LineD, LineD. Alright, alright. I'll move grandma. Keep calm.
There was a dude in front of me and I wanted to know whats going on. I asked him how much did he miss. He had missed 3. There was a circle over -3 and -P in his paper. I knew there, that I've passed. Oh you beauty. What a smart guy am I? Brilliant. Genius. Cracked the dmv test on 2 attempts and by the skin of my teeth, had failed in one and passed in another. As I found out later, the pass limit was 6 incorrect answers.
Phew....job well done, isn't it...

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