It was on a trip to Florida last winter that I first realized that it was time for me to pay a personal visit to my local Department of Motor Vehicles. I know, nobody actually ever wants to go to the DMV office, so other than taking my kids to get their learner’s permits, I was more than happy to keep on renewing my driver’s license by mail. Not only was it more convenient to just write out a check and pop my renewal in the mailbox, by some miracle, the picture on my license was actually a good one, so I didn’t want to risk taking another one that might make me look like an escaped convict having a bad hair day. But as I stood there that day in Palm Beach International Airport ready to hand my license over to the TSA agent, it occurred to me that the picture on my license had been taken one month before the birth of my second child, who was the mother of three and a half kids and about to turn 28. I wondered if the nice TSA lady was going to look at the photograph and proclaim me an impostor, but she did nothing of the sort, glancing down at my license and then up at my face, announcing cheerfully, “Yup, that’s definitely you!”
But even with that vote of confidence, there was another factor that had me planning a trip to the DMV: last June’s announcement by the State of New York saying that as of October 2020, all Empire State residents would need to upgrade their driver’s licenses to an enhanced or a Real ID because federally issued identification will be required to board even a domestic flight in the very near future. And while yes, I could just grab my passport the next time I want to visit my parents in Florida, my license was due to expire on my next birthday, so I bit the bullet and starting making plans to visit the DMV.
Living in the suburbs, the DMV is nowhere near as intimidating as it was in my teenage years, when I remember lining up on the seemingly endless red, yellow and blue chain lines in the overcrowded office in Jamaica, Queens. If by some chance you happen to have a choice of going to a DMV office in a major city or one that is located in a less populated area without traveling too far, by all means head for the ‘burbs where the lines will definitely be shorter.
No matter what office you choose, don’t even think about leaving the house without checking your state’s DMV website. Many offices now offer the opportunity to take care of certain matters online and also allow you to make an appointment for some transactions if you need to make a personal appearance. Look online or in your local yellow pages and see if there are any local businesses that can handle DMV business for you; while you may pay a small premium for their services, saving yourself a trip to the office can be worth the few extra dollars.
If your physical presence is actually required at the DMV, take the time to read up on what kind of documentation you need to bring along. I can tell you from personal experience that finally having your turn come and realizing that you left a mandatory proof of ID at home is supremely frustrating. Do yourself a favor and expedite the experience by printing and filling out the forms you need from the comfort of your home.
Other things to check in advance? Hours of operation – some offices may be open weekends or have late night or early morning hours to accommodate working folks, and written tests may only be given at certain times. Also, before you head out, verify which forms of payment are accepted – not all locations accept credit cards.
Timing is everything when it comes to the DMV. Avoid the beginning and end of every month, which is when many individuals are dealing with expiring registrations and licenses, as well as noon to 2 p.m. when people are taking advantage of their lunch breaks. The first and last day of the week and the days right before and just after a holiday are also not great choices, and if we can fast forward ahead to the summer and September of 2020, expect exceptionally long lines as the last minute stragglers make a crazed rush to upgrade to the federally approved enhanced or Real ID licenses.
The best times to go are first thing in the morning and around 11 a.m. when the initial wave of clients have finished their business, especially if you can time your visit for those middle of the week and middle of the month days when the offices are often less crowded. And if you are lucky enough to live in one of those states where the DMV website lists current wait times, be sure to check the expected time before you leave the house – I promise you, you’ll be glad you did.
Make your visit more productive by bringing something with you to pass the time. At my recent visit I was surprised to see that they had ongoing programming, including news and cooking videos, broadcast on overhead screens. Bring a Tehillim, your iPad, outstanding paperwork, a crossword puzzle or that book that you’ve been dying to read with you or take the opportunity to scroll through your phone and delete all those bad pictures, overly long chats or apps you never use. And, of course, every visit to the DMV is twenty times better than it was when I got my license now that those long lines have been replaced with benches where you can sit like a mentsh and wait for your number to be called. Whatever you do, don’t be that person sitting at the DMV office talking incessantly on your phone – not only is it rude, it probably isn’t a good idea to be having personal or business conversations in a public place.
That priceless piece of advice that your mom kept throwing at you all through your childhood applies equally well here: be nice and don’t forget to smile. DMV workers are sometimes said to be unpleasant and curt, but my last few visits to the office have been nothing but positive. Nine times out of ten, if you smile at someone, they will smile back at you, so when your number gets called and you go up to that little window, make sure to flash your pearly whites. Chances are that not only will you get a smile in return, but that your transaction will be much more pleasant and productive.
Last but not least, take a minute to think about your appearance before heading out the door. Put on a top that flatters your face, check that your hair is neat and ladies, pay a little bit of extra attention when you put on your makeup so that you look your best when you are facing that DMV camera. After all, 28 years from now you might find yourself handing that same picture over to a TSA agent, and I can tell you that nothing feels better than having them look at your license and then back up at your face before hearing them say “Yup, that’s definitely you!”