Apologies, gentle reader, for my lapses in the blogosphere. Where have I been? Not far. In fact, as close as one can get to blogging, vis-à-vis, writing. The book. I am working diligently to finish the damn book.

Of course, I have been a place or two. The San Francisco office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles being the latest. I was there twice. First, to attempt to get a new driving permit and a thing called a Real ID. The latter is either a manifestation of the security state or signs of a speedier future at the world’s airports. Either way, it is stressing an already stressed DMV system. However, I am glad I got this out of the way. By my calculation, this may be my last driver’s license renewal ever. I don’t plan to keep driving forever. And into my eighties, forget it. I’m already thinking about forgetting it now in my early/mid seventies.

There is only one office of the DMV in San Francisco. And in this heavily stratified society, it must be one of the few places where everyone, rich or poor, rub shoulders.

On my first visit to the offices on Fell Street, I was politely rebuffed. The Real ID thing, the closest to a national identity card I’ve ever seen in this country, requires certain things. Social Security card. Or evidence of having a Social Security card. This is where I ran afoul of the long arm of the homeland security law. I had brought in a copy of my Social Security monthly statement, not the original. Big mistake. A woman politely handed it back. I schlepped to my home across San Francisco, then days later I schlepped back.

The place is grim. It is a cinderblock fortress, far too small for its purpose. It is noisy, a computer-generated voice endlessly intoning numbers. Mine was K032, if you want to know, and I earned this number by approaching a woman behind a card table. She looked over my papers, pronounced them acceptable on this, my second trip to the DMV, and told me to wait.

I now joined the throngs, literally up against the wall, the beige cinderblock wall. Just beyond that wall is the eastern end of the Golden Gate Park’s extension, locally known as the Panhandle. Slightly to the north of that is a block of Art Deco apartments or a hospital or something like that, discreetly reeking of money. And outside, it must be noted, is a sunny November day. 

One would never know any of this inside the windowless DMV. All we know is that we are up against the wall, all of us, an elderly Chinese woman, an Hispanic family, a college student, a middle-aged woman, a man in a mechanic’s jumpsuit, a young executive, and so on, multiplied about 150 times. We have no view of the outside world. We have no sense of where we are. We are all numbers, and those numbers are endlessly intoned over the public address system.

Not all of the public likes being addressed, of course. One man storms out yelling loudly, and with impressive theatrical projection, “fuck you people and your documents.” Few could disagree. Watching the woman behind the card table, I can see that many have been sent home for being bureaucratically naughty, arriving with a copy, say, of their Social Security card, not the real thing. Nerves are frayed. No one wants to be here. And it’s too crowded. To get this job done, the DMV needs approximately twice the space. When I am called to the counter, I can barely maneuver between those waiting. Plastic chairs scrape on the linoleum, making way.

A slightly comedic adventure in quadriplegia ensues. I am supposed to put my thumb on an electronic reader. Naturally, my paralyzed right hand cannot reach the machine. The clerk has to come around and adapt. My eyes are tested, and they are found acceptable. I now take my test of California driving laws, which also requires that my thumb go on an electronic reader. Again, a clerk intervenes.

Finally, it is all over. Identity and driving permit will arrive in the mail. I take a last look at this pitiful, grim office that keeps driving legal and/or safe and wonder why it has to be like this. But in this late age of America, contempt for government has infected everything. A.k.a., contempt for the Commons. I am old. I depart in search of the utterly shared #24 bus.

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