My Descent Into Madness at the Department of Motor Vehicles

It is a Tuesday morning at 8:07 a.m. I am going to the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles temporary location on C Street to get my new DC license. The DMV opens at 8:15. I am prepared for everything but I am cautiously optimistic. I turn the corner onto C St. and see there is no line outside the building. This is a good start, right?

It is not. Inside, a line of 45 people snakes back and forth 3 times before going through a metal detector. There is one person working the metal detector. They seem extremely uninterested in being there. Someone has tweezers…the line is delayed. Someone has nail scissors….the line stops again. Without air conditioning, I begin sweating. Optimism is gone.

After 23 minutes, it is my turn to play the metal detector game. I win. I take a sigh of relief. Finally we can move –

“Sir, can you turn on your computer?”

“Huh? Why?”

“Sir can you turn on your computer?”

Coming to the DMV before work has provided to cause a problem. I turn the computer on. Of course, it sputters during the loading. We wait. I am holding up the line because the security woman needs to see my computer in action. It finally gets to the welcome screen.

“Do I need to login?”

“You’re good, sir.”

I am directed down the hall to get my license. It’s another line of 15 people. There is one person working at the counter. The first woman in line has broken down – she is crying hysterically. This is not going to go well.

Celebrities don’t go to the DMV, right? Or do they? I can’t imagine Warren Buffet or Robert De Niro standing in this line waiting to get their license. Are there special DMVs where famous and/or rich people go to? How much does it cost to access to the VIP DMV? Im thinking how much I would pay to get out of this scene and walk out immediately with my license. At this point, I’m thinking I’d gladly pay $200 for my license. I have to pay $44 anyway, whats an extra $150?

The woman at the front of the line has been ushered away. The DMV defeated her. I frantically recheck all of my documents. I will win this battle.

I reach the counter and tell the woman I need to get a license. She asks me how I’m going to pay. I say, “credit card” and am handed a blue ticket. I need to wait in the room to be called. I believe I am close.

The blue tickets are called – we have numbers and blue 1 through 12 are ushered into another room. The DMV has turned into a neverending Disney line without the promise of Space Mountain. There are five people across the counter waiting to help people and an older black man, who looks like Andre 3000 if Andre 3000 was 55 and worked in the DMV, manning the license camera.

Two other DMV employees are in a deep and passionate discussion about how to make a sit to ensure everyone is called appropriately. Remember – every ticket has a number and that’s how we will go up. Saying the number out loud apparently is beyond comprehension. We are sat in two rows of 5, with me and #11, a lovely gentleman who doesn’t speak English, in a third row. The counter says, “Who’s next?” and no one gets up.

I shouldn’t have listened to that Call Me Maybe song this morning. It’s stuck in my head and I can’t get it out. Why did I do that? Is the song catchy, sure, but it’s not worth it. And why is a 26-year old woman singing like that? If she was 18, I think it’d be cute. But at 26? It’s weird. Although I think the secret to the song is that it sounds like she’s smiling as she sings. It can be endearing.

I have now thought way too much about a catchy, annoying pop song. The 5 people at the counter are still up there after 15 minutes.


A young woman is the next to break. She does not have a utility bill to prove her residence. She calls her mother. She puts her mother on speakerphone. They have an argument that everyone gets to hear.

“Mom! I need you to fax a bill to the DMV!”

“But I’m at the gym.”


It’s become unconfortamble. Even though we are in the blue room for credit cards, someone tries to pay with cash for new license plates. All hell has broken loose. It takes 3 employees and a new employee from a different room – think a mini Cee-Lo squeezed into an ill-fitting suit – to make the register work. Things are not going well.

In front of me are 3 people carrying on the most mindless conversation in history. There is a couple and a 3rd guy, who the girlfriend is clearly enamored with. The 3rd guy just moved to DC from Portland.

“I didn’t consider myself a normal Portland guy. I considered myself a normal guy living in Portland.”

The couple laughs. I have my first thoughts of murder. I would now pay $350 to leave with my license. The Portland guy tells the couple that Portlandia is “so spot on it’s scary” and says that it’s almost like Fred and Carrie followed him around. It takes every ounce of my being to not scream “Shenanigans!” or kick him in the nuts.

I replay Call Me Maybe in my head 3 more times. I am trying to will myself to think of other songs. I get through about five seconds of a Strokes song and Carly Rae Jepsen comes creeping back into my head like a zombie. Thus begat my first suicidal thoughts of the morning.

A new batch of blue tickets have entered the room. The man who tried to pay cash is still waiting. The younger woman is still yelling at her mother – they have gone off and on for about 30 minutes.

We have our third breakdown – a man with a thick foreign accent, it sounded Russian, has forgotten some form of identification. It takes 4 people to answer his question. He raises his voice and flails his arms. If he yells, “I must break him” today will all be worth it.

He does not.

No one at the counter has successfully passed someone onto Old Andre 3000 yet. I believe that Mike Judge must have been sitting in the DMV when he came up with the idea behind Idiocracy. I immeaditely feel bad for that thought. But it’s true. How does one end up at the DMV? Is Old Andre 3000 a failed photographer who can’t give up the love of taking people’s pictures?

I really should have kept my Gameboy for moments like this. If I was sitting here for 3 hours playing Tetris, I’d be thrilled. Instead, I’m near tears.

We have such a finite time here on Earth and I’m losing some of it sitting in the same chair endlessly. Is this how humans are supposed to live? These are my first thoughts about life, death, religion and the universe of the day. I start to think about what lies within in a black hole and I get a cold shiver. I replay Call Me Maybe in my head.

We have another breakdown – a woman with a thick Jamacian accent walks out cursing. She forgot some form of paperwork. I check my paper work again. I have now convinced myself I have the wrong documents. It would not surprise me if I cried.

It should be time for #11 but when the person says, “Who’s next?” a woman from the new group of blue tickets standup.

“No!” I yell out loud. I turn to #11, “Don’t let her do that.” I motion for him to get up.

“What number are you?” #13 asks me. She thinks she’s pretty. She asks in a way that lets me know people usually don’t question her when she does something. The cleavage isn’t going to work today, hun, I’ve been here way too long.

“I’m #12.”

The rest of the new blue tickets group gives me the type of look someone gets when they rip a fart. I’m fine with that. In fact, I feel great about it. I contemplate whether I should actually fart in the closed room and see what would happen. My better judgment wins the day.

#11 failed. The DMV worker can’t even explain to him why because he doesn’t speak English. I am next.

I’m so nervous I might throw up. I hand him my passport, my Connecticut ID, my W-2 and my electric bill. I am more nervous at this moment than in any sporting event I ever played in. The odds of projectile vomit coming from my mouth is literally a 50-50 proposition. I am now tired, worn out and tired. Did I say tired already?

“Eye test.” The DMV points at the eye test next to me. He grunts when I shrug my shoulders. I read the numbers off. I pass. I can go wait into another line for Old Andre 3000 to take my picture.

Unfortunately, I must sit behind Portland Guy and the other couple. Their discussion about parking passes and rules in D.C. is the worst conversation I have ever heard in my life. All at once – I have thoughts about homicide, suicide and farting. My brain is frayed. I send a text to a friend – “I’m still at the DMV.” She does not respond. It is my only contact with the outside world. If there still is an outside world.

Old Andre 3000 calls my name and takes my picture. Four seconds later, he says, “uh-oh?”

Uh-oh? The system has gone down. My face broke the DMV. Old Andre 3000 and Mini Cee-Lo work together on fixing the license machine. We are informed that because we are at a temporary location, it is the only license machine. I have already seen them shred my Connecticut license. If this doesn’t get fixed, I may not legally exist.

The couple and Portland guy exchange pleasantries – “It was nice to meet you,” Portland guy says. WHAT?!? They’ve talked for more than 3 hours like that and they just met? In what world does that happen? They exchange phone numbers. Oh, come on. Who makes real friends in the DMV? The only saving grace is I’m 99% positive Portland Guy is going to bang that other guy’s girlfriend at some point in the next year.

I have now become vindictive.

The license machine starts work 29 minutes later – I kept tabs. There are 10 people waiting for licenses. They all receive them within 5 minutes. Except for me. Other people get their picture taken and get their licenses. I wait.

“Do I need to get another picture?” I ask Old Andre 3000.

“Did I take your picture already?”

“Uh, yes.”

“I need to check.”

He returns five minutes later, nods at me and doesn’t say anything. A minute later, 2 security guards walk in and nod at Old Andre 3000, look at me and walk out of the room.

What have I done? I am sweating profusely. My foot taps out of control. I bite my fingernails. Am I wanted for a crime I’m not aware of? Is there another Sean O’Leary wanted for something? Do they think I’m a violent risk? What is happening? The descent into madness is complete. I would pay any amount of money to leave this shithole. I want to go home. I want to go to work. I want to go outside and see the sun again. I want to feel grass. I want to watch television. God, I really want a cigarette. What if I never succeed in life? What if no one cares what I write? What if I never become the man I think I should be? What if….

“Sean O’Leary, your license.”

I hop up, grab it out of his hand and begin to sprint away.

“You have to check it!” he yells.

I only look down to see the expiration date – 2019. Nothing else mattered because I would become whoever DC thought I was if necessary. I was done for 7 years.

“It’s all good!”

I briskly walk out and head to the Metro station. My personal nightmate is – wait a minute. I look at my license. The angle of the picture gives me 3 chins and I look like Jason Segal playing Andre the Giant on SNL. God dammit, I have to look at this every day for the next 7 years. Eh, it’s better than going back.

I put my iPod on. I listen to Call Me Maybe. My shame spiral is complete.

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  1. I have had so many similar, soul crushing, faith destroying experiences at the DMV (in multiple locations and states). I feel that, perhaps, the DMV was created to have a proper place for joy and happiness to go to die.


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