By Aaron Turpen, automotive writer
I recently visited the Department of Motor Vehicles building here in Cheyenne. It’s now up at the old rest area near the Flying J truck stop and that wrong-way monstrosity of a freeway overpass at exit 7. The DMV is affiliated with neither of those things.
Driving down the long “20 mph” entryway, past the CDL testing zone and into the parking lot, one begins to get the feeling that there are going to be a lot of people there. The parking lot always appears full. Or near to it. It doesn’t help that the building itself appears too small as well.
My first time entering the DMV for this renewal was during the holiday break when kids were out of school. It was packed. The parking lot was in “you’ll need to just make up a spot” mode with cars and trucks seemingly thrown akilter. Inside, there was no line to the reception desk, but the large crowd of standing room only people showed that things were busy. Like going to the bar on Saturday night knowing that the Galactic Lemons are about to play, but without the crowd anticipation or inebriation.
I learned quickly that the wait times were around four hours. Because every parent in the greater Cheyenne area has the idea that because kids are out of school for a couple of weeks during the holiday, it’s the perfect opportunity to go into the DMV and get that kid a learner’s permit. Right about the time when a lot of state workers probably want to take vacation time to be with family. These same people probably all shop at Walmart on December 24 and then take to Facebook to complain about the long lines and terrible service from overwrought and stressed employees.
Since I had plenty of time before my driver’s license would lapse (the state conveniently sends notice a couple of months in advance), I talked with a friend who was there to catch up (Hi, Andy!) and then went home to try again another day. A week later, I was in the same seemingly packed parking lot, though with considerably less creative parking choices, and went inside to find a short line to the reception and a 20 minute wait time.
I took that 20 minutes to think about the parking lot outside the too-small building. The DMV, being a converted rest area, has a weird lot shape. There are still little brick pavilions for “picknicking” and the parking space is all curves and dips. Sometime in the 1980s when that lot was probably designed, I’m sure, it was all the rage to have non-linear, unsquared parking lots. You know, to facilitate “radical distribution and bitchin openness” and such. This was before “synergy” was a buzz term and long before hashtags were anything more than pound signs. Back when the “@” on the keyboard was still a secretary’s mark that nobody else used. A different era for sure.
So back in the #DMV parking lot, I realized that the reason it always looked full is that most of the parking spaces that were up front near the building were going to be where people going there would naturally congregate. That building was the point of being there now. In the before times, that building was where you went to use the restroom, but the rest of the lot was where travelers took naps, ate theoretical picnics, let the dog drop a message to congress in the grass, and so forth. Nobody does that anymore.
At any rate, my time in the DMV was pretty short and kind of fun. I took the eye test and, despite my newly-advanced age, passed without question. I then posed for pictures for my new license; including one in which I made the face made when the cop has pulled you over and another for when I want to look totally legitimate so the security person will let me on the plane. I ultimately chose the latter for my license. Cops are less likely to question whether the picture matches your face. TSA? Not as forgiving.
I was given a very suspect piece of paper to use as a temporary license until my newly-minted, plastic-covered version arrives. Laura behind the desk assured me that this was totally normal and that agencies and law enforcement types would happily accept this paper as identification. I generally have my doubts, but I can use my social media profiles as backup ID in the meantime.
Long story short, my trips to the DMV were not the hell I was promised by Les Claypool when he sang about it in that Primus song I used to quote often. Perhaps the new age has brought improvements to the bureaucracy that Claypool referenced. Or maybe it’s just that I’m not attending a DMV in California.
Aaron Turpen is an automotive journalist living in Cheyenne, Wyoming. His background includes commercial transportation, computer science, and a lot of adventures that begin with the phrase “the law is a pretty good suggestion, I guess.” His automotive focus is on consumer interest and both electronic and engineering technology. Turpen is a longtime writer for Car Talk and New Atlas.