There was this migrainey vision in my head: of long lines with short tempers; of mumbled vulgarities with vacuous vacancies; of snide asides and rude results.
Yes – it was time to visit the Department of Motor Vehicles.
I wasn't looking forward to this. Off the top of my head, I can think of no government agency – not even Social Security – with a bureaucracy so devoted to paperclipism as the DMV. No matter what business you have to conduct with this office, there's usually a two-hour wait involved (unless you have an appointment). That's two hours of our lives we'll never see again.
And this time, you have to be there. You cannot get your Real ID online. You have to appear in person, bringing with you as proof of your existence your certified birth certificate, your Social Security number and two documents showing your North Carolina residency with your name and address (in my case, it was my voter registration card and my Spectrum bill).
Kim had to bring all of this stuff, along with a marriage certificate to explain why her last name is Wehrle and not Martin, since Martin is the last name on her birth certificate.
Pass the paper clips, please.
Under a Homeland Security mandate, you need to get your Real ID before October of this year. Your Real ID – indicated by a star in the upper right hand corner of your driver's license, which pretty much explains why we're going to the DMV – allows you to fly domestically. This is important to me because I have one brother in Alaska and another in Oklahoma. Two of us are already collecting our Social Security and the other has gray in his beard, so you never know when short notice will tell you to take wing.
So with our proper documents in hand, the quest for our Real ID was on.
Kim had off from work on Dec. 26, so we decided that would be a good time to go to the DMV.
Wrong. We got there around 2 p.m. (the DMV closes at 5 p.m.) and there was a line running down the hallway of people just trying to get their number to be called for their turn to be processed. The line ran past the 24-seat waiting room. The woman in front of me stuck her head in the door and asked, to anybody, "How long have you been waiting?"
A waiting room wag responded, "Two days," and nobody laughed. Then he said, "About two hours."
"That's it for me," said the woman, and she huffed out the door. Maybe she can drive to Alaska – or wherever – if she needs to. My guess is that she'll be back.
Kim and I decided to leave, too, and try again another day. But at 4:30, just out of curiosity, we drove by the DMV on our way to get a meal, just to see if they were open on Saturday (they are not). This time, the parking lot had only a handful of cars. I got out and walked in the front door and took a look inside. With a half-hour to go, there was no line. Hmmm.
Unfortunately, we didn't have our documents with us.
Anyway, on Dec. 31 – New Year's Eve Day – I drove by the DMV at 8 a.m. just to run a reconnaissance, thinking who would show up on a holiday?
Everybody, it seems. This time, the line ran out the front door and into the parking lot. I was getting antsy.
But based on what I had seen late on the day on the previous Friday, we showed up again, this time around 3:30 p.m.
There was no line. We got our numbers and headed to the waiting room, where there were two other people. Within five minutes, Kim's number was called. A few moments later, so was mine. We were both processed within 15 minutes and issued temporary licenses (at $13 apiece), with the real Real IDs coming in the mail in 10 business days.
I think we got lucky, but I still sighed a huge sigh of relief. I can fly to Alaska now. I can go to a military reservation or enter a Federal building. I can even visit a nuclear power plant, if I want.
I've got my Real ID. It doesn't even matter that, based on my DMV experience, it's 15 minutes I'll never get back again.