The flourescents glare, the room reeks of the desperate sweat of the tormented innocent, and a pleasant voice lilts above the hum, as it has a thousand times already.
"Now serving number H seven six eight at window number two."
I glance down at my number. H906. Oh God. For a moment I half expect Robert Deniro to swing in through the window, dressed up in Gilliam-esque Brazil garb, and say "We're all in this together." Then I remember there are no windows.
I am in the DC Department of Motor Vehicles, located at 301 C St., NW. A simple task, have I. Some tags, a license, how hard could it be? And yet here I am, trapped in this nightmare of paper shuffling and number-calling.
For those of you not from DC (that is to say, almost all of you) the government procedures here are Byzantine and confusing, and frequently edge over the line into the surreal. The US Congress is nominally in charge of DC, but they're mostly too busy to do anything to fix the crumbling infrastructure and antiquated public services. They mainly use the District to try out their newest hare-brained social engineering experiments.
There are, to my knowlege, exactly two DMV offices in DC. For comparison, my hometown of Plymouth MA has five, and counting. You can imagine the population comparison. And every single DC resident was in the C St. DMV tonight (the only one that does both vehicle registration and license issuance), between the hours of six and ten PM.
During the second hour of our wait, I found myself slipping into a feverish daydream, no doubt the result of my mind shutting down against the horror with which it was being confronted. I saw the fate of all the petty bureaucrats and incompetent civil servants that create these places for us, and make us wait in them for so long. And it was right here.
You see, in the next world, all those bureaucrats will find themselves at Satan's DMV. It has nine floors, and a waiting room in the lobby. The waiting room has no chairs, and, naturally, is boiling hot. Once every millennium or so, they call out a number, a floor and a window. Whoever holds that number must get to that window within one minute exactly, in order to get a number for the next window.
Did I mention none of the elevators work?
And there are no stairs?
And they call out the numbers in a totally random order?
Ah yes. Not even Dante could have envisioned such a fiendishly clever and torturously inefficient system of eternal torment. No, only the administration of Marion Barry could have let a system like this flourish and grow, like some kind of cellar-dwelling rotten fungus, ever waiting to drag the unsuspecting into it's grasp and drive them insane with loathing and boredom.
Oh, and, former Mayor Barry? There's a very special number waiting for you down there.