Viva la Freedom! Vivan Los Firecrackers!

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.)

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25 Responses to Viva la Freedom! Vivan Los Firecrackers!

  1. Christian says:

    That police story is one of the funniest things I have ever heard. It’s so true about the awesomeness of doing whatever you want in the Third World. I remember being at the Baja 250 truck race in Mexico, where people line a very bumpy desert trail to be within a couple feet of these huge trucks that are bouncing around (often bouncing off the trail) at 50 or 60 mph. Ambulances are standing by because they know that people will be hit and sometimes killed. I remember thinking “man, you could never do this race in the U.S. and that’s tragic.”

  2. kaitlyn says:

    ha. while the police story is pretty dang funny I’m not so sure the luxury of being able to blow stuff up whenever I want is worth the freedoms I cherish living in US of A. I’d say we are pretty blessed, but what do I know I’ve never lost two fingers playing with firecracker, maybe I’m missing out.

  3. Andrea W. says:

    Those stories are hilarious, as long as they are a faint distant memory of someone else. I would have a heart attack in about 2 seconds living that way. Seriously, couldn’t hack it. I would also go insane living in NY with all those regulations. I’m happy out here in the wild, wild west 🙂

  4. Candice says:

    I agree Andrea, but even in the Lawless state of Utah, we have to put 8 year-olds in car seats.

  5. Braden says:

    “I am talking about a 40-year career of waking up, stopping at Maverik to fill my 84 Oz. mug of Diet Coke”

    Brilliant, Dave. You have nailed this type of person now.

    The DMV up in Queens by the Whitestone bridge is less offensive than most in NYC, I found.

    Good luck. I am seriously sorry you have an NYC DMV trip imminent.

  6. Wade says:

    Someone at the DMV (yes, the singular DMV is in fact the appropriate noun here) has to have realized by now that people are waiting in line. A lot of people. All the time. Is there something in the DMV handbook that says you may never have enough staff available to handle the number of people waiting in line? Has there been a hiring freeze in place at the DMV since the invention of the automobile? I don’t understand.

  7. Wade says:

    On the flip side, I went on a river rafting trip in Costa Rica. The local tour company had overbooked the group and ran out of room in the big army truck hauling us up the canyon. Without a second thought, the leader fired up the truck and yelled “ok, jus hole on to dee sides” as we pulled away. 3 or 4 stunned tourists did what they were told, clutching onto life on the outside of the truck bed, just inches from a 150 foot drop down the canyon while tree branches and jungle growth whacked at them during our 45 minute drive. A second thought given to the situation by the friendly tour company? No. Awesome? Yes.

  8. Rebecca says:

    funny story, wade. davis- all these stories are hilarious, esp about the firecrackers. i remember on my mission, my companion and I would walk along the side of this seemingly country, pothole-stricken road (which is really what all the roads seemed like in the philippines) and huge, rickety, old passenger buses would come zooming along (at about 70 mph, full to the brim with people). The “ticket-taker” would be hanging out the front door, his hand and one foot the only thing attached to the bus, looking around for even more possible passengers to fill the bus. One day, I remember hearing that a little kid had been hit by one of these buses and taken to the hospital. I asked my companion (a Filipina) if anything could be done to the bus driver or bus or anything. She said, “No, you walk along the sides of the road at your own risk. That bus probably just kept right on going.” True story.

  9. Davis says:

    Kook, the Baja 250 is the Third World at its finest. Unadulterated “enter at your own risk”-ness.

    Kaitlyn, while I don’t personally wish to blow my fingers off with a firecracker, I will fight to the death to preserve the right of others to do so.

    Andrea, the West is much better about this kind of thing than the East is. I started writing about that but then Lyla came up to me and proudly presented me with a bag of rat poison that she’d eaten, so I had to tend to that.

    Candice: It’s true. Can you imagine how fun it was to be a kid back in the 60s and 70s, before everyone got all uptight about car seats and seat belts?

    Braden: Thanks for the tip. Nothing adds to the experience of the New York DMV like a commute to Queens.

    Wade: I don’t understand, either. You would think after becoming a national punchline someone somewhere would have decided to take action. Nope. I love your Costa Rica story. It’s this mentality that always makes me a little nervous when participating in equipment-based sports activities in Latin America. We did a zip line when we were there, and it was apparent that the place hadn’t exactly been inspected by OSHA.

  10. Davis says:

    Rebecca, I’ve heard multiple stories that in the ‘Pines if they hit you, they roll back over you a few times to make sure you don’t sue.

  11. Rebecca says:

    actually, now that you say that davis, i do remember one of my comps telling me that if the buses do hit you, they like to make sure it’s a fatal blow so as to prevent any legal action.

  12. Molly P says:

    HIlarious post Davis! What crazy stories.

    And yes, DMV’s are not created equal. When we moved here, we had to get our car registered…we thought maybe a 2 hour ordeal. No, we pull up to see people waiting in line around the block…it felt like we were waiting in line at a Soup kitchen or something…way too many crazies for one location. Not to mention we had 2 tator tot boys in tow. We ended up being there for something like 7 hours…not our finest parental moments…but it was decent!

  13. Rachel says:

    If Dawn Brancheau lived and worked at a whale entertainment facility in a third world country, she’d probably still be alive. And some poor, dumb schmuck tourist who paid good money to swim with the whales would be dead instead. All because they don’t care who swims with the dolphins there, or if the water is contaminated beyond belief.

    See this story: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-02-27/news/os-seaworld-orlando-shamu-injury-20100224_1_killer-whale-trainer-killer-whales

  14. Macy Bell says:

    LoL. Wow, Davis. Some crazy stores. I am sure it is so much worse in a third world country, and New York, but one of my worst days ever was spent at the DMV in Virginia, not even the District, just Arlington. You can tell how many hours spent and how horrible it all was by my VA drivers license photo. I look so haggered and bugged. I have nightmares about that place. Utah does have pretty good in that regard.

  15. maweesa says:

    remember that one day when you made me go to the dmv in nyc, and i told you that i would just go the next week in utah, but you wouldn’t drop it so i went and waited in line for two hours, got to the counter and some mean fat lady told me that i didn’t have the right paperwork?? and then i went in utah and was in and out in 30 minutes.. thanks for that wonderful memory.

  16. Jeff says:

    Ah yes, the triangular firecrackers of doom. That was definitely a memorable 4th of July. I think we crossed the line though when Jon tried to blow up the dead dog…

  17. Jeff says:

    I hated firecrackers in Guat! I was on a split and some houses were packed in rows on a hill. In between houses a 12 foot cinder block wall then a sidewalk and then another 12 foot wall. We are walking down the sidewalk not worrying about anything when BAM! I don’t know which other side of the wall it came from but somebody lobbed a cohete over the wall and it exploded about a half a foot behind and to the side of me at ear level. I didn’t even see it coming. My ears rang for 2 days and there was zero chance of catching who did it. They were obviously professionals.

  18. ron says:

    i disagree with the statement that “all DMVs are not created equal.” they most certainly are. i’ve experienced the DMV in cleveland oh, provo ut, buffalo ny, arlington va, alexandria va, ashburn, va, ny ny, and just last week in slc ut. i can say categorically that everyone of those experiences was as painful as a marathon date with vienna from the bachelor.

    in fact, if i had to choose between reliving my most recent experience with the slc DMV, or spending a week alone with vienna on an island, i would gladly choose lathering him, i mean her, up with mud while starring into her strong eye. for seven days.

    i waited in the screening line for 30 mintues. i made it to the front. to the guy whose job it is to make sure you have all your documents in order to move to the next line. he gave me the green light. i waited another hour. my number was called. i joyfully skipped to my assigned window only to find out that i was missing a certain form. i drove home annoyed and got said form. i returned. i gave former attendant said form and was then told i must take a test. a test! i’ve been driving for 16 years and previously owned a utah driver’s license (which utah surely has on record) but neither could prove that i do, in fact, know what a stop sign looks like. so i took the test. and i passed. and it’s a good thing i did. had i not, and had i been required to return, i would gladly have done so wearing a trench coat and enough guatemalan fireworks to turn a dead dog inside out.

    please do not tell me that all DMVs are not created equal. after 5 hours dealing with the slc DMV i can say with great authortiy – they most certainly are.

  19. Troy says:

    Vienna’s strong eye — LOLOL

  20. Katherine Lewis says:

    Jeff – were you serving in chimalt in the summer of 2002?

  21. Davis says:

    Molly: 7 hours???? Are you kidding me? I loved your last line.

    Rachel: You totally convinced me to visit a Sea World-type aquarium in Nicaragua.

    Macy: I went to the same one in Arlington. It’s a gulag.

    Melissa: Remember how it took you a year to change your name?

    Jeff G.: Pretty much everything that whole summer went too far. Which is why it was so amazing.

    Jeff N.: I can only imagine what that would have done to your ears. Did blood come out? I bet blood came out.

    Ron: Utah has become much, much worse in the last few months because of some new law. It didn’t use to be like that.

    Katherine: LOL. The thing is – drunk on the freedom of Guatemala – I totally would have thrown some firecrackers on missionaries in an alley.

  22. Sherri says:

    VIVA!!! que viva DDDT!!! you got me laughing down here in the third world. Recently my boys asked me how a person goes about getting a license here. I explained. “Well you go and pay some money, and they give you your license.” hmmmm… i wonder at times if neverland is losing its charm… and contemplate heading back up to the home of rules and regulations. But… then I would sure miss all the full moon parties on “our” beach…. and Zi-dog and Zelda there with us, no leashes required… and oh the firecrackers! And I would have to go to the DMV : (
    Dear funny brothers: Keep em coming. You guys are my daily dose. Gracias

  23. Kerstin Bean says:

    Gotta love the Utah DMV. I put off going because of all my experiences at the Chicago and Boston DMVs. I had to mentally prepare for this trip for days and even found a sitter for my daughter for 4+ hours. The day came and I made my trip to the Utah DMV fully expecting the worst plus fully expecting to take that stupid written test. I got to the counter in a matter of 30 minutes and then to top that off the man waived my written test with a wink followed by, “Don’t tell anyone.” I took down his name and work schedule and plan on visiting him next time around.

  24. Troy says:

    If anyone happened to catch Dateline last night about the guy that got kidnapped for ransom and tortured for 7 months in Mexico, well, the policework in that case made me think of this post. Corruption and ineptitude at its finest.

  25. Elisa says:

    I went to the DMV recently in Farmington and thought of this post. My kids were screaming and touching the blinds (huge NO NO) and I didn’t have enough ID to get assimilated back into the Utah culture. The man behind the curtain felt sorry for me, gave me a get-out-of-jail-free-card and I was outta there in 15 minutes.

    Jealous? I thought so.

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