Yesterday I noted with dread and loathing that my motorcycle permit is almost expired, which will of course require a trip to the local DMV. I can sense the rising concern in you, and I want to put you at ease:I’m not going to make very many DMV jokes. They are the province of the hackiest hack, and I will try to limit my contributions to this terrible body of work. Please allow me to say just this: DMVs are not created equal. I would rather work at the DMV in Utah than spend a few hours in the DMV in New York.
When I say “work at the DMV in Utah” I am talking about a 40-year career of waking up, stopping at Maverik to fill my 84 Oz. mug of Diet Coke, punching in, dealing with harried mothers swatting children and impatient businessmen trying to renew their license on their lunch hour, administering literally tens of thousands of eye exams, sending enraged patrons home for lacking that eighth and most important form of ID after they’ve waited in line for three hours, and having “Luau Day” be the highlight of my month because I get to mix things up a little by wearing a Hawaiian shirt. I would accept all of this in order not to have to go back to the New York DMV.
As I was dreading my upcoming trip to the DMV, I realized that I was thinking like someone who has never spent any time in the developing world. I thought about the places I’ve been to in Africa and Latin America and realized that even the New York DMV would be the national pride of any developing country on earth. I mean it. You put the New York DMV in, say, Nicaragua, and it would be on postage stamps. The guy who set it up would be President in two years. A minor example:
I spent a couple of years in Argentina (wink, wink) where I became acquainted with an American who managed a large ranch. He told me of an incident in which the ranch was threatened by several armed intruders; understandably alarmed, my friend called the local police department. I should note that 90% of the men in any small, rural town in Argentina are employed by the local police department. Given the bucolic and tranquil nature of these towns, these massive police departments typically have very little to do beyond deploying their officers to stand idly on street corners, licking ice cream cones and leering at women.
Excited by the chance to actually fight some crime, the police commander dispatched nearly 50 of his men to the scene. They took their positions around my friend’s home, at which point my friend heaved a giant sigh of relief. Not long after, the police commander knocked at the door. Hat literally in hand, he said, “Sir, I must ask you for a favor. We have left our bullets at the station. I sent the truck back to fetch some, but it has run out of gas in route. May I please borrow some gas? And, perhaps, some bullets?”
Did that anecdote make you think, “I’m so lucky to live in the US?” Then you missed the point. If you’re thinking clearly, it should make you wish you lived in Argentina, or some other place in Latin America or Africa or Asia. While it’s true that people in those places put up with a lot of inefficiency and corruption, they also pretty much get to do whatever they want. I lived in Guatemala for a summer and somehow one of the people I was with stumbled upon Guatemalan firecrackers. Do you know what a Guatemalan firecracker is? It is gunpowder wrapped up in newspaper with a fuse sticking out. They cost about $0.25 and two fingers. These are sold openly to children.
We started buying them in bulk and testing their destructive force. We put one in a shoe, and were gratified to see it blow the sole off the shoe, sending both around 100 feet in the air. We then put a few in a large cylinder made of concrete, receiving a first-hand education in the power of shrapnel. And you know what? We never once received a visit from the police or the fire department, and the only complaint we got from neighbors was that we threw them too quickly after lighting them. Apparently half the fun is waiting until you can’t see the fuse anymore before throwing it (said the two-fingered man).
I now live in a place where you have to buy a permit to play tennis on the public courts, where you’re only allowed to go into the ocean in a few narrow roped-off sections – and even then you can’t go in past your chest. So yes, a trip to the DMV in Guatemala would require waiting in line for 4 days. But the point is that if you lived in Guatemala you wouldn’t bother going to the DMV to get a license to ride around on a scooter. You’d just throw your family of six on the scooter and head into town to buy your three year-old some firecrackers for his birthday.
(Ed: Major technical difficulties this morning both with posting and with my dog, which is why there are no pictures and the formatting looks a little screwy. Are you thinking about getting a dog? This decision can be made by answering a simple question: Are you a person who has too much money? Are you tired of all the things you’ve been doing to get rid of this troublesome money? Has putting money in a paper shredder lost its thrill? You should get a dog.)