Tales From The DMV (Two Countries)

Given a choice between having to go to the DMV or a dentist for a root canal I think most people would opt for the dentist. Both are pains. One in the mouth when stuck with needles. The other a pain in the pooper because you have to be there. Everyone has a DMV story. Here are a couple of mine.

Back in 1987, after having lived in Louisiana for the previous 10 years I needed to get a new Florida driver’s license. I went to the DMV in Plantation, just to the west of Fort Lauderdale. I knew it was going to be a huge hassle when there were two people inside the door passing out numbers as anyone entered. 

It was well over an hour before I was called to a counter and handed the written exam. I went to the testing desks, went through it and, when finished, returned to the counter. No, they wouldn’t grade it then because there were people who were issued the test before I was and they hadn’t finished yet. Well, SO EFFIN’ WHAT? They probably had to stop and rest during the test because their lips got tired of sounding out the words that had more than two syllables. Finally, when I got my test graded (Aced it, of course) I was told the place was closing for the day. I’d have to come back the next day to do the “practical” road test. 

So it was nearly two hours of hanging around the next morning before a tester was available. We met inside the building and I handed him my paperwork. I told him what kind of car I was driving and he told me he’d meet me at the front door. 

I got my car and pulled up in front of the DMV door at the strip mall and the tester got in.

“See that empty space between those two cars at the curb up ahead?” he asked.


“Pull in there and park.”

Aware that I was going to be graded on my performance I put on the blinker to signal that I was pulling away from the curb. I drove ahead, perhaps 100 feet, and parallel parked between the indicated cars. The tester scribbled something on the sheaf of papers in his lap, handed a couple of pages to me, grasped the handle of the car, opened it, and left without another word.

Inside the DMV I handed my papers over to the person behind the counter and was directed to stand in front of a white sheet where I was going to have my picture taken. 

“Smile,” the lady said.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” I replied. 


Two effin’ days! GEE ZUSS!


Forward a few decades. I’m now down in the Republic of Panama. I need to get a Panamanian driver’s license. It’s rather simple but kind of convoluted. I’m house-sitting in a place called Potrerillos Arriba, up in the mountains above David (dah VEED) in Chiriqui Province. It’s about 30 miles from the Costa Rican border and about 300 miles west of Panama City, or as the natives call it…”Panamá” accent on the final “a.” That’s what that little diacritical thingy means.

I have to make an appointment at the American Embassy in Panamá and then take a 7-hour bus ride across 2/3 of the country. I check in to an hostel for the evening. The next morning I take a cab out to the embassy where I wait for an hour or so before getting called to the counter. Thank heaven I always bring a book along. I’ve spent a good deal of my life waiting to get to talk to people behind counters and have always wondered at the people I see around me. Most, unbelievably, aren’t reading anything. They just sit there. Sometimes for HOURS. I wonder what the hell is going on in that vacuum between their ears during all that time? I mean, is it like white noise? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, until someone in minor authority says, “Next.”

So, you go to the counter, lay down your stateside driver’s license and they notarize it. You get in another cab and head for the Panamanian Foreign Ministry. You hand someone there your notarized papers. There was no wait when I went in, and you really don’t need to be able to speak Spanish. They’ve been through this drill thousands of times. When they have you papers you go down stairs to a bank on the first floor. There you purchase some “Timbres” (stamps). They know what you need so it’s a painless process. Upstairs they’ve given you a time to return. This will give them time to process the paperwork. When you get there at your appointed hour they actually lick the back of the stamps and paste them to your papers and that’s the second step in the process.

Spend a second night at the hostel and catch an early bus back to David.

The next day, after a two bus ride to the Chiriqui Mall where the DMV is located I encounter one of the truly wonderful things about Panama…the way they treat their older population. And even if you’re an “Etranjero” (foreigner) if you’re old enough, you get to be treated as the older Panamanians are. That is there are all kinds of discounts on such things as meals at restaurants, discounts on travel (buses, planes, but no taxis), entertainment, medicines, and others I don’t remember at the moment. But the best thing is “head of the line” privileges. When I went to get my license there was a line waiting outside the door waiting to be admitted. I got in the back of the line. I stood there for no more than a minute when the armed security guard at the door came up and said, “No. No. Vamanos..” He took me by the elbow and led me directly inside and to the head of the line. Nobody objected. Nobody said a word. That’s the way IT IS. And they don’t complain because one day it will be THEIR TURN. 

I handed over my papers to the girl behind a desk, took a quick eye test and an equally short hearing test, and had my picture taken. I went to another window where I paid a ridiculously low fee and a few minutes later I had my license and was back out in the heat and humidity that is Panama.

In the eight years I lived there I had to deal with the DMV four times. I NEVER spent more than 3/4 of an hour taking care of business. 

One thing they do down there with drivers is that once you reach 70, every two years you have to get a doctor, either an internist or a gerontologist, write a letter to the DMV stating that you are physically and mentally able to operate a motor vehicle. I think the same thing should apply here, too.


When I repatriated to the states about 5 years ago I needed to get a new Florida license. I went to the DMV in Bradenton and had absolutely NO PROBLEM getting a new license.

Today, March 23, I finally went to get a driver’s license since I’ve moved from Bradenton Beach to DeBary. You’re supposed to do it within 30 days of the move but it’s been a year plus. Oh well. Thing is I don’t have two pieces of identification (mail) with my new address on it. All I have, outside of my mail drop, is my car insurance. That was ALMOST good enough, but when I finally got up to the window after an hour and a half wait, I had to sign an affidavit that the address on the insurance card is the actual one I live at. While I could have used the mail drop address, and I DO have several pieces with that address, you can’t use a mail drop as a voting address and I wanted to shift my voter registration. I registered as a Republithug. Florida is a “closed” primary state. That means only someone who is registered in a party can vote in their primaries and I intend to be as disruptive as possible. 

I also got one of those blue Handicapped thingies that hang from your rear view mirror. My lung capacity is down to 21% and I need to be able to park in those spaces much of the time. Sixty years of smoking licit and illicit substances was NOT a good idea.

Once I got to the counter window the girl I waced was very efficient and the whole thing was done in no time at all. The Florida DMVs have certainly improved their performance over the years.

One observation I made is that there are a lot of really UGLY looking people living here in Central Florida. I’m not saying I’m anything all that hot but judging by the menagerie at the Orange City DMV I’m handsome! 

There were probably 40 or 50 people waiting to do something at the Orange City DMV and one overweight security guy. I don’t feel very comfortable being in a place like that. I’ve had my COVID-19 shots but STILL. What about the others. Many were wearing masks. Perhaps a few more than half. But here’s the thing that really made me uncomfortable and perhaps it’s just a U.S. thing, but several times I thought it’s entirely possible that some disgruntled dipshit who flunked his test could walk through the door and start shooting at random. It happens nearly EVERY DAY somewhere in this country. It’s a good reason to avoid being around people.

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