Sunday, April 3, 2011


The Department of Motor Vehicles does more than just issue licenses and register boats. It also teaches patience. Like a good Zen monk, the DMV asks the unanswerable questions. What is the sound of one hand waving you forward after waiting in line for over an hour? What moves: the flag or the wind? Because it certainly isn’t this line!

I have sat around the DMV quite regularly over the past few years. There was the purchase of two new vehicles for the wife and me, and then the three children all reached the age of licensing. Followed shortly thereafter by the purchase of several used vehicles for people who don’t deserve new cars.

In other words: teenagers.

With all three kids I took a few moments to discuss the benefits of going to the DMV to transact business. Even at a young age they had heard stories, probably from whiny adults they had come in contact with, of how horrible it was to have to go the DMV.

“Balderdash!” I would say. Gesturing toward the orderly folks at the Appointment line, I pointed out that they had planned ahead. The much longer Non-Appointment line, while full of people with last-minute business or an inability to schedule a visit weeks in advance, was still relatively calm.

“That, my dear child, is the sound of one hand clapping.”

Rather than treating it like an uncomfortable inconvenience, I choose to view the DMV as a place for some quiet introspection. Like the proctologist’s office, it can be either an intrusion or welcome relief. It’s up to you.

Last week I actually went to the DMV twice. The first time was on Wednesday, when I had two matters to deal with. A vehicle needed an updated annual registration, and though I could have done that online I also had to go to renew my own driver’s license. After many years of just renewing by mail, they were finally requiring a visit. To verify that I had a still had a pulse, perhaps.

What better way to achieve inner peace than doing two things at the DMV without an appointment! I waited in line for about fifteen minutes before receiving my queue number, and then found a molded plastic chair to wait some more. After thirty minutes I was at the counter and shoving a number of papers at the lady. She must have been a bit distracted because she processed the vehicle registration in whole dollars. I could have paid just over a buck but instead I spoke up like an honest Zen master and paid just over a hundred bucks.

For the first time in my life I had to pass the vision test with spectacles, and my driver’s license shall forevermore be stamped “corrective lenses.” Not only does that show my age, but two days later I went back to take my son, the third and final Baxter child, for his driving test. I must officially be an old man if all of my offspring are old enough to drive.

Kyle had excelled at the original written exam and been practicing on the roads with a driving school and his very patient parents. What else can you be but patient when hurtling down the open roads, an inexperienced child at the wheel, without a second brake pedal at your disposal?

Kyle’s driving test was on Friday, April 1, and you are no doubt aware of the joke-making that can be had on that particular day. I anticipated a bunch of comedy at the conclusion of the exam.


“Sorry, you didn’t pass. [pause] April Fools! You passed!”


“Congratulations, here’s your license. [pause] April Fools! You didn’t pass! Better luck next time.”

The proctor was in no mood for jokes, though. Kyle passed, and she told him simply that he had passed. Very boring. But he was excited, and I was excited, and I offered him a burger or caramel macchiato as a reward for a job well done. He preferred cash, as it was date night at the movies, so I gave him some cash. And he wants a car, but that just might take a little extra while to earn.

I have now unleashed three young drivers on the open roads, and I would like to officially absolve myself of all responsibility for the mayhem they have or will perpetrate. But I don’t know if I get to do that. Instead, I will simply focus on my breath, and think calm thoughts for them. And for all other new drivers out there. Maybe chanting will help.



  1. The first thing I thought was: "Appointment line? What appointment line?" Then I realized that somewhere along the way I remember reading that you are in California. Waaaaaaaay different than Texas in so many ways. . . apparently including the DMV. (I only WISH we had one of those appointment lines.)

    I have to note that you don't seem all that apprehensive about having all of your kids all out on the road, driving in this big scary world. My parents were always worried sick about me and my brothers for the first few years, but you seem to be taking it well. Kudos!

    Oh, and big LOL at your proctologist analogy. That makes it much easier, I'm sure.

  2. I'm not so sure that the DMV teaches patience so much as demands it mercilessly...