In March 2006, after living in New York City for four months, I decided it was time to get my New York driver's license. I might have waited longer, but my old license was about to expire, so I had to "get 'er done."
I looked online to find out where their offices were located and was surprised to discover that, instead of only needing my old license, the New York state DMV required a bunch of other stuff, too.
There was a "point" system that I couldn't understand. They had assigned different items, each a potential form of ID, a number of points. You had to bring in items which totaled six points.
I looked at the list of things, such as valid license from another state, birth certificate, social security card, etc., mentally adding up the points.
Let's see, old driver's license=2 points. Social security card=3 points, and so forth. I noticed that the birth certificate wasn't worth any points at all. So, why was it on the list?
I didn't even consider taking it since it didn't help me achieve my six point total.
On a cold, drizzly day in late March, I made a special trip downtown to the DMV, toting all six precious points worth of items. Even though I had my map and compass with me, I got lost and walked blocks in the wrong direction before realizing my mistake and retracing my steps.
I finally found the place and shoved through the revolving brass door into a stiflingly hot lobby. At the reception desk was a large, belligerent woman. She had braided hair, tight against her head, that was dyed red. Not a natural red, but bright, Christmas red.
In order to enter the place, I had to get past her. She was looking at people's paperwork and handing out numbers.
I heard her ask the man ahead of me, "Do you have your birth certificate?"
His English wasn't good, and there was a bit of a discussion before he was sent away, without receiving a number. I had heard their conversation, but since he seemed to be from a foreign country, I wasn't worried about not having my birth certificate with me. I figured all foreigners probably had to show a birth certificate, but hey, I'm an American.
The kind folks at the DMV in New Mexico (and several other states before that) had previously issued me a driver's license. It had my date of birth on it, so it shouldn't be a problem.
"Next!" I realized that she meant me.
I boldly approached the reception desk with my paperwork. She barely glanced at it. "Where's your birth certificate?"
I started sputtering, "But the birth certificate isn't worth any points." I held out all the other stuff I had lugged with me, but she ignored it.
"You have to show proof of date of birth."
I pointed to my old license. "It's right here...on my license."
"You have to have your birth certificate."
"You have to have your birth certificate."
"You have to have your birth certificate." I backed away because it became obvious that she wasn't going to budge and there was a long line behind me. Not to mention that she was beginning to sound like a parrot, repeating itself over and over again.
I left in shame, avoiding eye contact with all the people in line, whom I sincerely hoped had possession of their birth certificates.
I knew where my birth certificate was. I had a file of "important" papers that I could easily get my hands on, but I didn't run home, get it, and rush right back down to the DMV. Several weeks went by before I felt courageous enough to face that woman again.
When I finally went back, I took no chances. I had my old driver's license, my passport, my social security card, my apartment lease, an electric bill, and of course, the birth certificate.
Armed with my bag full of ID, I went through the revolving door back into the overheated lobby. I went on a different day of the week, hoping that the braided-haired woman would have that day off.
No such luck. She was behind the reception desk, still handing out numbers and attitude. She must have seen hundreds of people every day.
I got in line. As I worked my way toward her, she glanced up at me. When I approached her desk, she looked me straight in the eye and demanded, "Do you have your birth certificate this time?"
I was speechless that she would remember little ol' me, out of all the people that she saw every day. "Yes," I squeaked.
She looked at all my paperwork before shoving it back into my hands. "Is the form filled out?" I nodded. "Lemme see it."
Looking it over, she started shaking her braided head. "Unh-uh. You gotta finish this part." She pointed to a section of the application. "And sign this."
Grudgingly, she gave me the prize, a coveted number, and told me to go stand somewhere else to complete all the paperwork.
Dismissed, I slunk away to a tall table where I could stand and fill in all the missing information.
I was in, but the number only got me past her. I still had to wait an hour until they called my number. Then, I could get in line for the eye test, and after that, in another line for the photo.
I didn't get to see the photo, but the photographer promised me that, if I didn't like it, I could return and he would redo it. At that point, I didn't care if I looked like Ronald McDonald.
After the photo, there was another wait for the cashier line. When it was my turn, I had to answer a bunch of questions about residency and criminal activity and I-can't-remember-what-else while the clerk eyed me with suspicion.
I answered her questions, gave her my paperwork, and surrendered my old driver's license. She took it all and my money, too, before handing me a piece of paper.
Expecting to get my license, I looked at the paper. It was a temporary driver's permit. "What is this? Where's my license?"
She explained that, once my paperwork had been "cleared," I would receive my license in the mail within four to six weeks.
This was the first time I had walked out of a DMV without a license, but sure enough, I received it in the mail within about three weeks. The photo was god-awful, but I didn't care.
Eleven years later, and ironically, I've never driven in the state of New York.