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DMV — The 7 Circles of Red-Tape Hell

Eight years has flown by and it is time to renew my driver’s license.

The last time I got my driver’s license, I completely forgot about the picture. So for the last eight years, my driver’s license ID photo looked like I had just rolled out of bed. Which I probably did. But, if that wasn’t bad enough, the DMV printer had mechanical issues, so my head looked like I just came through the birth canal.

I was determined to be better prepared for my photo this time. I decided to go in for the renewal just after I had my hair done.

The great thing about living in Hawaii is that you don’t need an appointment to go to the DMV. You can just walk in and generally the lines are fairly short. Since it was just a renewal, I figured I would hand over my old license, do a simple eye test, snap a new photo, and be on my way.

Silly me.

Apparently, in 2012, Homeland Security and the Immigration Department decided to have a baby and call it the new DMV. What was once the happiest place on earth (at least on my 16th birthday) has turned into the seven circles of red-tape hell.

If you are a man, the new process is probably no big deal. If you are a woman and have never been married or changed your name, you are in the clear as well. Congratulations, by the way. But for those of us who are married, were married, or have ever changed our names, the process is horrible. And I suggest you read this VERY VERY carefully. I may be able to save you a lot of time and trouble.

Unaware of the new demands on those of us who have ever changed our name, I strolled into the DMV with my freshly coiffed hair and my cheerful pink blouse. Usually, I am in a simple white tee-shirt, but I wanted to brighten up my photo with something more colorful. Within moments my number was called to meet with one of the DMV clerks. She was super nice and smiley. I thought, “This is even easier than I thought.” I gave her my current driver’s license and she asked me if all the information on the license was still correct. I proudly said “Yes!” Then, just as I was digging my lip gloss out of my purse to re-apply for my photo, the nice lady explained that the Federal rules for renewal have changed. She handed me the renewal application and a list of legal documents required. None of which I had with me.

Determined to not waste a good hair day and with a few hours of free time, I decided to drive back to my house and get the required paperwork. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully appreciate just how specific this “list” really is. It is like some kind of sadistic-competitive scavenger hunt. So, I just grabbed every legal document that I had, along with my most recent utility bills, and raced back to the DMV before they closed. I waited 45 minutes for a clerk to call my number.

I was called to a different, but equally nice, lady and we started the process all over. She asked for my current driver’s license – Check!

She asked if my address was current. Check!

She requested my original birth certificate (Original! No copies!) – Check!

So far so good.

She asked for my social security card – Check!

Then she made a face. Uh oh.

She pointed out that my last name was different than on my license. Oops! I had accidentally grabbed my old social security card from my previous marriage. I pointed out the number has not changed and I happened to bring my divorce decree with me. Won’t that work? No. However, I could use a recent paycheck stub or a W-2. Great. Except that I didn’t have either of those things with me. They would be back at my house along with my current social security card. Oh and that would be another 60 minutes round trip.

Then she asked for TWO recent utility bills. No problem, I brought THREE! Check!

She made another face. No. Not check. All the utilities were in my husband’s name. But why does that matter, we’re married? I even brought my marriage certificate. So I hand her that. Check!

She looked it over and started shaking her head. Uh oh again. She explained that I brought a copy. Not the original! It MUST be the original!! Seriously??? And to make matters worse, I don’t know where the original is. She tells me that I better find it unless I have a passport.

Check! I DO have a passport AND I brought it with me. I proudly hand it over and she starts shaking her head again. Apparently, my passport expired six months ago.


At this point, she looks at me like I have failed my driver’s test. Except that I haven’t taken a driver’s test. I don’t need a driver’s test. I have a perfect driving record and a VALID driver’s license,

But for those of us who have ever changed their name, there is a new test at the DMV. It’s called “Prove that you exist in 10,000 different ways.” And I have failed that test.

So she sends me home with a list of homework. First, I need to get my passport renewed immediately. Then I need to come back with a valid passport and my original marriage certificate, my current social security card, two pieces of identification that prove where I live. And no, my VALID driver’s license ironically does not fulfill that requirement.

THEN I can take my photo and THEN I can get my driver’s license renewed.

So the next day I go to the post office. Apparently, a lot of post offices process passport applications. Unfortunately, not the post office that I chose.

So, I drove to another branch. The second post office did process passport applications, but they don’t take passport photos. So, they send me to a nearby Walgreen’s to take the passport photos.  But Walgreen’s couldn’t take my photo because I was wearing a white tee shirt.  If only I was wearing yesterday’s pink blouse. But since I had such a terrible day trying to get my driver’s license renewed, I figured the pink blouse was bad luck, so I went home and burned it. Now I was back in my usual white tee-shirt, but Walgreens takes their passport photos with a white background and the passport office won’t accept white shirts on a white. Not kidding.

So, I had to go buy something to put over my white tee-shirt so I could take the photo. Then I headed back to the post office and mailed off my passport application. I paid extra to expedite my passport processing. I paid extra to send it priority mail. All so that I could get my driver’s license.

I returned back to the DMV with all of the correct documentation and the proof of mailing the passport renewal. I had a different clerk help me this time, but fortunately, she was sitting next to the woman who had helped me the day before. She said, “Oh I remember you. You are the TV Producer.” She must have seen that in the “occupation” box on the form that I was required to fill out. The new clerk sifted through my mound of paperwork and issued me a temporary driver’s license until my new passport arrives or until I get my original wedding certificate sent from the state of California which requires a notary and won’t be available for several weeks.

Then both women quizzed me on what shows I have produced and suggested I do a show about the DMV. I assume they were suggesting a comedy, but at that moment, I failed to find any humor in this environment.

So, in turn, I suggested to them that they simply fingerprint people for their driver’s license and then they wouldn’t need this insurmountable amount of paperwork. It turns out they do that anyway.

Sooo, let me sum it all up:

-Three trips to the DMV

-Three trips to the post office

-Two trips to Walgreens

-AND the added pleasure of paying $400 in fees for my driver’s license renewal, passport renewal, passport photos, expedited passport processing, expedited mailing costs, and a request for a certified ORIGINAL marriage license…

I was finally ready for my new driver’s license photo!

Unfortunately, now I was in a plain white tee-shirt. My hair was no longer freshly blown dry. I was hot and sweaty from running around in the summer heat. So, even with a fresh coat of lip gloss, it turns out I am stuck with another dreadful driver’s license photo for the next eight years.


Reprinted with permission, from 52 Mondays Blog:

Former TV executive moves to Hawaii and tries to find herself through writing.  Producing my second act… one Monday at a time.  A personal blog —

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