Tuesday, August 01, 2006

an afternoon in purgatory

i arrived at the nora license branch at 11:07 a.m. the sign-in desk is located in the far corner of the branch, and the line to check in stretched from there to the entrance. there were more people sitting or standing around waiting than there were chairs in the lobby, so people collected near the entrance and sat on the windowsills.

the first thing i heard clearly upon entering was a woman on her cell phone explaining to someone that she'd been there for an hour and a half, and expected to be able to leave soon, but had no idea, really. a few seconds later, i listened to a man describing how this was his fifth visit to the bureau in as many weeks; the bmv's downed computers and paperwork snafus had prevented him from completing his registration during his previous four visits. over the course of my visit, i overheard several more such conversations.

at 11:27 a.m. i reached the sign-in desk. the woman there scanned my driver's license and administered my brief vision test ("press your forehead against the bar and read line 5"), which i passed. she then instructed me to sit down and my wait for my name to be called. i took a seat on the windowsill by the entrance.

visiting the indiana bmv in the silverman era is a decidedly kafkaesque experience. i mentioned in my previous post that silverman had all the clocks removed from license branch walls. i guess the idea is that if there are no clocks, customers can't spend all their time staring at them, which is supposed to make visits seem shorter. but it doesn't really work like that. instead, the clockless walls make the branch feel like you're trapped in some kind of timeless limbo. this feeling was augmented by the fact that there were never fewer than 80–100 people in the lobby at any time, many of whom had been there long enough that they started getting chummy with the people around them, developing single-serving friendships and even de facto social groups. the people sitting by the windows became comforting, familiar faces to me over time. one woman left to go eat lunch (the nora bmv is conveniently located in a strip mall in between a subway and china king II), and came back to find all the same people who'd been sitting there when she left some 30 minutes earlier.

another silverman change (i'm pretty sure it's one of silverman's) is that you no longer get a number when you sign in. you just sit down and wait for someone to call your name. the net result is that, from the point of view of the bmv patrons, there is no discernible logic to who gets called when. some people seemed to sit around for hours. others were called multiple times, only to sit back down each time. still others came in much later than i had, only to leave much earlier. (and that doesn't include the many people who turned around and left rather than suffer the long wait. i lost count of how many people i saw do that, but it was at least 20.) however, whoever took down all the clocks didn't think to take down or even turn off the big "now calling" sign, which remained stuck at 21, as though if customer #21 would ever show up, the line would start moving and everyone could go home.

i have to assume that there was some underlying logic determining who was called. after all, the bmv offers a number of services, and it seemed each bmv employee was only taking care of particular services—some people were doing driver's licenses, others were doing registrations, and others were doing titles—but with so many people waiting for so long, and with no way to ascertain when you might be called, it felt like some sort of lottery. who would be the next lucky winner? i started fantasizing about hearing the price is right music whenever another person was called. "stAllio!, come on down!"

around 12:15 or 12:30, i started to wonder whether someone had already called my name and i had simply missed it somehow. i'd been listening intently the whole time, but an hour had passed since i'd checked in, which started to seem unreasonable considering i was waiting for a simple driver's license renewal. this wasn't the first time i'd spent more than an hour in the bmv, but not (i didn't think) for something so routine. occam's razor would suggest that maybe i just didn't hear my name over the background noise of 100 bored patrons chatting with each other. of course, this wasn't the case, but i had to wonder.

finally, at 1:10 p.m. i thought i heard someone say my name. i wasn't positive that i had, or who had said it, but i got up and walked toward the area where i suspected the licenses were being made (near the camera and blue backdrop for id photos). one of the employees there was standing up, and sure enough, it was my turn.

the employee asked whether my address was the same, and i told her it wasn't. i produced a piece of mail featuring my new address (my latest mortgage escrow analysis, which i figured would be official enough), which she photocopied. she then spent a few minutes typing, had me sign a couple things, charged me $21, and told me to sit back down. my license would be ready in a couple minutes.

while near the counter, i noticed the fliers that were taped to the backs of many of the computer monitors. "How long is YOUR wait time?" they asked, proudly proclaiming that your wait time is printed on your receipt, and explaining that "your wait time is the time between when you check in and when you pay" (paraphrase). so your official bmv wait time does not include the time you spent waiting at the sign-in line (20 minutes in my case), nor any time you might spend after you have paid while you wait for your finished license. fortunately, my license was indeed ready in a couple minutes.

i walked out the door at 1:20, new driver's license in hand. my official bmv wait time, as listed on my receipt, was 01:45:46. according to my watch, i was there for around 2 hours and 13 minutes. as i walked out, an attractive asian woman who had also just received her license remarked to me, "well, that was a fun way to spend half an afternoon!"

for the curious, my new driver's license photo is not very good—we're in the middle of a massive heat wave so i was sweaty, and my hair never behaves well in heavy humidity—but it could be worse. i would consider scanning it to post, but i don't have a scanner. (not that i wouldn't love to have one; i just don't have space for one in my work area.)

update: today's indy star has a nice story on the bmv's woes, including many fascinating details i haven't mentioned. check it out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i have a scanner if you want to figure out how to use it.