I’m finally legit. I am a New Yorker! Woo Hoo! I couldn’t be happier.
I took a very important step toward solidifying My Life in New York recently. I finally got my New York driver’s license. Yeah, it took me long enough. I guess a small part of me was still holding on to being a Michigander. My “citizenship” in Michigan. But little by little…I’m cutting those ties.
Took me nearly nine years to do it. The law says you must convert / transfer your license within 30 days. I just never got around to it and I had no burning desire to do so, for getting my NY license would mean giving up my affiliation with Michigan, and I love “my” Michigan. I couldn’t do it. So I was technically an illegal, but in the smallest sense of the word.
I also got tired of explaining every time I rent a car why my license is from Michigan, yet my place of residence is in New York.
Then, somehow, that small part of me finally let Michigan go. Now I’m a bona fide New Yorker and I have the license to prove it. But getting it was anything but easy.
In fact, I have new respect for those hard working Michigan Secretary of State employees and absolutely zero empathy, ZERO for anyone from Michigan who whines about the process over there in the Great Lakes State.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. I used to be one of those complainers about having to go to the Secretary of State’s office. The wait, the hassle of it all. Looking back? The process was a walk in the park. If you don’t believe me, try getting a license in New York.
The “adventure” took me a little more than four and a half hours. But actually even longer because I had to first get Michigan to send me a letter verifying I actually drove a motor vehicle there and that I, indeed, was licensed to do so. All because Michigan doesn’t print on the license itself the date it issues a license. For that little technicality, I had to get a letter. So the process actually started about a month ago.
It starts and ends with that blasted letter. Oh, Michigan was great. I actually cut and pasted from the New York Department of Motor Vehicles website what Michigan had to send to me so I could take that letter to the NY DMV office. And it did. Timely too. Such service! Thank you Michigan Secretary of State!
So the big day arrives. I even got up early to go to the DMV. I straightened my hair. I put on makeup. Vanity? Not really. I have to live with that driver’s license photo for nearly the next five years.
So, with my coveted letter, passport, Michigan license and ConEd bill (proof of NY residency) in hand, I head to the License Express Office on 34th St. I was late. It opened at 8:30am. I got there at 8:33 and there already were more than 100 people ahead of me in line. The first line. The line where you stand in line so they can give you a number to stand in another line. Note: License Express — the name is a joke, right? Nothing fast about this place. And…I couldn’t get a license here. Instead, after I stood in the line to get to the line, I was told needed to go to the “other” DMV office “in the Daffy’s Building.” Strike One. Fortunately, I knew where that was, on Broadway, about two very long (Avenue vs. Street) blocks away.
So I go. And first I wait in the elevator line, which was at least 30 deep. Then I waited in the line that gives you a number for the real line you’re supposed to stand in. First I needed to get change because they don’t have pens on chains to fill out forms at this office. Instead, you pay a quarter and buy a pen. And no, nobody leaves pens behind on the table. In fact, they sweep through and take pens left behind and recycle them.
The line to the elevator. To wait in line to learn which line to stand in at the DMV
OK, you ask, why didn’t, why wouldn‘t I bring a pen? Why would I? Even in banks they have the pens on chains. Plus, I was going to run (I am training for a half marathon) afterward. I had a T-shirt. No pen. Strike Two. The man said “passport, social, proof of ID, license?” I said “yes.” Then I said “wait…passport AND Social Security card?” He responds: “both.” Argh. Misunderstanding on my part. I thought one OR the other. Strike three. I cannot pass go. I must go home, get the SS card and come back. I said “another day.” Then I said “No. Today. I can’t go through this again.”
So I run home. I pick up my card. I fill out the form in the comfort of my own apartment with my very own pen (use only blue or black ink). One silver lining here, I had time to put my earrings on. Vanity? Not necessarily. I run back, stood in the elevator line. Jumped the line to get in the line line and go straight to the photo line, where I waited for more than an hour. Again, more than 100 people ahead of me, three employees taking the photos.
Bring your own pen. Blue or black ink only
This is a sad line. Many people are clueless. Lots of people from other countries who are trying to get their first license and have trouble deciphering the forms. Others who are new brides wanting to “officially”change their names (oh, don’t bother, half of you will have to go through this whole process again to change it back after you get divorced.) There are people here who don’t have all of the proper forms of ID and have to leave (like I did) and come back. Some carry cartons of every document they own. Others are annoyed or pressed for time and leave the line (we cheer, their exit makes this line move faster). Some people, yes, some, are crying with frustration.
I finally get to the counter where a pleasant enough woman in purple asks what I need. I give her all of my paperwork and proudly exclaim that I will be getting a NY driver’s license today. “Oh no you won’t. The letter is wrong,” she says. WHAT? The letter shows the date Michigan issued my license. Right there in black and white: 10/01/2009. She said “you need your driving record.” I said “No, I don’t. The website said I needed a letter to tell you when my license was issued. I even cut and paste that info and sent it to Michigan.”
FROM THE NY DMV WEBSITE: The driver license that you exchange must show the date that your driver license was issued. The date is required to verify that the driver license was issued at least six months before you applied for a NYS driver license. If your out-of-state photo driver license does not show the date of issue, get a driver license record or (emhpasis added here, my own, pay special attention to the preceding word “or”) letter from the state that issued the driver license that indicates the date of issue. The letter or driver abstract must have been issued by the other state within six months before you submit the letter or driver abstract to the NYSDMV. The letter or driver record must be an original and must be on the letterhead of the Department of Motor Vehicles of the other state. The letter or driver abstract cannot be a copy or a fax.
Strike Four. “Here’s a number to stand in that line. Tell it to the supervisor. Maybe they’ll let you in.” WHAT? Then…THEN she says “Don’t cry, miss.” I said “Um, CRYING IS ABOUT THE LAST THING ON MY MIND THIS SECOND.”
So. I sit for (at least I get to sit this time) 45 minutes waiting for my number to be called in that next line. On pews, like in church, staring at a screen that resembles either a Bingo board or a Keno board. There are different designations. Mine was “I 16″ –yeah, you sunk my freakin’ Battle Ship! — others were numbers followed by the letters “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” “E”, “F,” “G” and “H” — at least that I saw — depending on what your problem is. “I” stood for supervisor and no “I” numbers were called in the 45 minutes I waited and waited and waited. Interestingly there were other TV monitors advertising for people interested in participating in medical studies and how to join one. One ad that played a lot — I’m not kidding – the one for anxiety. Perfect. Strike five.
Etched on the wall in the line for photos at the Herald Square DMV office
I was running out of time, as I worked the afternoon shift. So I brazenly barged back to the lady in purple, only to be shouted down in Spanish by another woman who got there ahead of me, for presumably the same reason. I do not speak much Spanish. But what I do know is this: she was cursing at me and she was threatening me (I wasn’t frightened, I could probably at least outrun her). I told her to relax. Worst. Thing. I. Could. Say. (at least at that moment.) It almost got very, very ugly.
After I graciously stepped aside, as I didn’t want my irritation to find a way into my DMV photo because of a needless brawl with a stranger who I really cared nothing about in the grand scheme of things (and I would never, ever survive at Rikers), I summoned the DMV website on my phone. Sauntered to Ms. Purple and pointed to the exact matching words on my letter that explain in black and white what is required. She said, “it says you need a driving record.” I said “no it doesn’t — it says a driving record OR a letter that states the date the license was issued.” I said “see the difference between AND and OR. This letter says OR. Here is “OR“ pointing to the date the license was issued line. I said “this is from YOUR website.”
Then I said “this must stop and it must stop now (or something very much to that effect).” Then she goes into the “let the supervisor decide” song and dance and I was having none of it. None of it. I had been there for hours already and this was my second visit! I said as much. She gave me the stony face routine. I mean, heck, what does she care? She has to be there all day. No. No. NO.
Keep in mind, I needed something from these fine people, so a full-blown meltdown or tantrum or breakdown was not going to cut it. So the “supervisor”saunters over from his desk. I explain to him. I point at the letter. I point at the word “OR.” I kept my simmering irritation and anger under check. I show him a beaming smile. I did all I could NOT to say “HA. I was right!” when the supervisor signed off on it. It took approximately :20 seconds for him to read the letter, get it and approve it.
So of course, the lady in purple was the one who took that picture I have to live with for the next nearly five years. I said “let me know whe…” FLASH! OMG. She got me. Touche, my dear, touche. Well played.
Then it’s on to another line to get “processed.” Another half hour wait. I should have brought a picnic lunch. I should’ve brought a book. “War and Peace” — unabridged version sounds like a good choice.
Start to finish, the “adventure”took nearly five hours.
So Michigan friends, those of you who drive your cars to a parking lot with free parking and you have all kinds of chairs on which to sit and you may be a few minutes late from lunch? Save it!
And my picture? Oh yeah, I got a glimpse of it. I get to carry that license with that photo for the next nearly five years.
Guess what? I look irritated. Surprise.
I look so thrilled, don’t I?
Looks like a mugshot.
Could’ve easily turned into one.
***SO…If you plan to get a driver’s license in New York: memorize that DMV website. Be ready to call it up on your phone. Have your letter. Have your Social Security Card. Have your Passport. Have your electricity bill. Bring your own pen in blue or black ink. Bring a book. Bring a date. Take the day off from work. Try to maintain a sense of humor. Or you’ll be in the line where everybody’s crying. And remember, although life in NYC goes 1000 miles per hour, it skids to a halt at the DMV. But take solace in the fact that you may meet some new friends.