|Waiting at the MVA
Seems like it was just two years ago but the Motor Vehicle Administration of Maryland informs me that after eight years, it is time to renew my license. They also tell me that I need to do it in person. I assume it is because I need a new photo even if I still look the same as I did eight years ago.
I expect about an hour wait and make the logical assumption that the best time to go is in the middle of the day. People working 9-5 might go into work late after going to the MVA or they might leave work early to get there before 4:30 when they close.
As I enter the Glen Burnie parking lot, signs tell me that I need to go to Building B. I do not have to drive around very long before I find a parking space. My logic looks good.
Entering the building, I am assaulted by a sea of bodies sitting on metal benches, 13 stations that I note immediately and two monitors. I am forced to look far to my right, in an illogical spot, to discover the information line. It moves quickly, I tell the clerk that I am there for license renewal and she hands me a printed slip of paper with the number B 100.
I find an empty seat on one of the benches with the backrest angled way too far back. I would find out soon that maybe there was some thought put into the bench design. Maybe people could more easily take a nap, although I don’t see how anyone could take a nap in that environment and I do not notice anyone doing so.
The Alphabet Lineup
Every few minutes, an automatic voice announces, “Now serving [a letter and number] at counter [1-15].” The problem I notice right away is that none of the letters is B, mine. The sounds of the letters run together. Why do they choose letters that sound the same, especially with an automated voice? BCDEGPTVZ all sound the same as do XFS, IY, MN and JK. Why don’t they choose letters that do not sound like one another such as AHLOQRUW? I begin to wish they had decided on the lettersBINGO. At least the letters do not sound the same and I could imagine my bingo chips in a straight row.
I do not look at the monitors after I notice rapidly changing images and text. Why should I submit myself to advertising and public service announcements? After I begin to confuse the sounds of T with G and V and the sound of F with S, I look at the monitors again. There in large letters on the left monitor is the number being serviced and the station that is servicing it. Duh! That must be for the sound challenged people like me and for the numerous Latino people waiting on the benches with me. I spend a few minutes looking at the content. Each ad flashes on the screen for about ten seconds while the service number that is announced flashes large on the screen for about seven or eight seconds before it moves over to the smaller list on the left. Advertising receives priority even at the MVA.
Now I notice the sequence of numbers: T 524, G 47, G 48, S 33, V 68. Some of the T’s are three-digit numbers while some have only two digits. Makes no sense. And where are the B’s? I want to hear them buzzing. I figure the different numbers stand for various categories of MVA business and eventually I hear a few B’s. It is disconcerting, however, that the B numbers are around B 34 when I arrived while my slip of paper shows B 100. My optimistic brain tells me that I might be waiting an hour and a half rather than the hour I was expecting. Thank goodness for my iPhone and a water fountain in the back.
Wait Time Outlasts Battery
After an hour and a half, I hear B 71 but this is in the middle of many other letters. By the time I hear T 43, my phone is down to 40% battery power. K 17 is annouced in Spanish but the other K’s are not. How do they know they need to announce that one K in Spanish but not the other K’s? Right after T 525, a middle-aged blond woman storms out of B Building yelling, “Fucking stupid! Dumb jerk!” No one pays much attention because their thoughts are also filled with four-letter words in the discomfort of their long wait.
By the time K 14 is announced and not long before B 55, my phone is down to 29% power. Then at T 52, the low battery warning pops up. That’s when I turn my Mophie charger/case switch to green to juice my phone before the battery dies. I hear B 96 just before a man sits close enough to me that I immediately know he is a heavy smoker, but I can now feel the light at the end of the tunnel and I don’t move.
B 100! Bingo! I unfold my body and walk to station #2 as directed and find a pleasant MVA employee handling my license renewal. She takes my photo which looks just like I feel inside and offers to take another one. The second looks a lot worse than the one on my old license. Could it be that I am ten pounds heavier and eight years older or could it be that the color their equipment turns out is so poor that I look jaundiced?
When I ask about the wait time, the nice woman putting together my new license explains that the letters stand for different types of business that people are there for such as learners’ permits, name changes and other details. For some reason the learners’ permits get through faster because of earlier closing for that category. As a result, there are more employees handling B numbers, license renewals, later in the day after the learners’ permits are finished.
She says that early, just before the MVA opens at 8 a.m. or late, around 4:20 just before they close the doors at 4:30, are the best times to come for shorter wait times. This I learn after little more than 2 ½ hours waiting to renew my license. At least I can warn my husband—his renewal is next.
So much for my theory about the middle of the day at MVA.