There are 315,019 jokes listed online about the Department of Motor Vehicles, which is an awful lot of laughing associated with a place normally bereft of guffaws.
Here's DMV joke #21,394, from comedian Dane Cook:
"You know what they should do at the DMV? When you walk in the door, they should have somebody who is hiding, just punch you in the face as hard as they can. Cause at least after that, you'd feel like waiting in line, wasn't so bad."
Why is the Department of Motor Vehicles such easy pickins for late night talk show hosts, comedians and self-righteous bloggers?
Two things stand out. And I do mean stand - as in, you will stand waiting in line at the DMV longer than people used to stand in line to get free cheese, except at least back then you got somethin for nuthin, even if the cheese tasted weird and you couldn't make a decent grilled cheese sandwich out of it cause the cheese wouldn't really melt, it would just...sorta sit there and ooze while it laughed at your frying pan.
The free cheese program was also run by The Department of Motor Vehicles.
The second reason the DMV gets fried is because the people who work there have a reputation for being humorless.
Driver: "Now what does 'D' on the shifter mean again? Heh-heh..."
DMV Driving Tester:
Driver: "Uh...I'm really nervous. I keep thinking of The Brady Bunch episode where Marcia imagines her tester is only wearing his boxers, ya know, to loosen her up. Remember that? That cracked me up..."
DMV Driving Tester:
Driver: "...Hey, I bet you also make your wife nervous when you ride and she drives, am I right? Although you probably don't score her driving! Not if you want to make it home! Ha ha!"
DMV Driving Tester:
Driver: "I want my mommie."
Here in Iowa, the DMV takes our licensing renewal pain seriously - so much so that they were nice enough to build us a brand new state of the art multi-quadrillion dollar facility in the middle of a cornfield in southeastern Ankeny.
Because if there's one thing every single driver in Polk County was asking for, it was a longer drive to a nicer place to still wait in long lines to pay fines, take the driving test and renew their DL.
If you're wondering how the new DMV looks through the hyper-critical eyes of a skilled, professionally trained secret shopper evaluator - frankly, so am I and I hope they get one in there soon to break it down cause wouldn't that be cool to find out and junk?
In the meantime, please take a number and a seat because you're going to be here awhile - as The Unsecret Shopper takes its usual Thursday Secret Shopper stroll, this time through the aisles of The Iowa Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles in Ankeny.
First, a review of the ratings system:
Just like past Secret Shopper evaluations of other stores, I followed the same template, and visited the DMV twice on the same day, dressed differently each time:
I know what you're thinking - why should gender make any difference?
What I can tell you is that I have heard many a woeful tale told by many a man, of their horrific experience at the DMV; slow lines, mono-syllabic responses from staff, slow lines, no response whatsoever from staff, slooowwww lines, can't get ESPN on the monitors. Is this southern Missouri or the U S of A?
Yet not once in my 45.284 years on Earth can I recall one negative word about the DMV, uttered from the Revlon-transfer-resistent-Frosted-Cream-Teak-Rose-#445-coated lips of a woman. Not an un-positive peep!
And so I set out on a quest - to see with my own two eye-linered eyes if there was, indeed, a customer service gender gap at the Iowa Department of Motor Vehicles - by visiting first as a man, "Jonnie," and then again as a woman, "Joanna."
The results, as you'll soon see, brave reader, will blow the Pamprin lid off one of the darkest secrets in the history of our Department of Transportation - a massive cover-up whose breath and width will make the alien bodies and spaceship remains of Area 51, seem like a couple dead extraterrestrials and some goofy metallurgy that defied the laws of physics - big whoop!
Brenda, the greeter at the DMV in Ankeny, should be working at a high-end restaurant. Or they should start selling fine steaks and seafood at the DMV. Okay, the second one.
As I joined in the human line forming outside the DMV entrance, along the properly organized maze of metal poles and nylon straps, the next person in line was summoned forward by Brenda, who greeted with an enthusiastic "Hi!" and a nice smile - very impressive.
Each visitor then shared their particular problem with her: "I need to renew my driver's license;" "I need to get my learner's permit;" "I think I may have run over somebody with my car;" "I'm here to pay a ticket..."
"We no longer do that here."
Oh. So much for me taking care of this three-month old "77 in a 65" reminder from a pleasant enough highway patrolman.
I tried something else.
"I'd like to get my registration updated."
"That building's down on Court Avenue."
A swing and a miss. I was already looking for Plan C when I'd only brought an A.
I rolled the dice.
"Are you suuuuuuuuuure I can't pay my ticket here?"
Finally I remembered that the address on my driver's license was incorrect, that I'd (somewhat) recently moved to a different apartment in the same complex but hadn't changed the number.
Whomp! There it was - Brenda punched a button and handed me a clipboard with a form to fill out, and a simple white ticket:
Welcome to Iowa DOT
Renewal Exp Issu Post Cam
I didn't know what that third line meant - but I knew I was in.
I took two steps forward - saw 60 forlorn-faced DMV inhabitants holding 60 similar-looking tickets - and immediately wanted back out.
Right out of the gate I knew something was different.
As I entered the back of the long DMV line, the patrons in front of me quickly stepped aside, allowing me to immediately walk up to Brenda the greeter - with whom there was no repeat of my awkward "I'm trying to figure out a reason to be here" moment. In fact I didn't have to say a word - she just knew something was wrong.
Gently taking me by one of my gloved hands, she escorted me past DMV staff, down a long corridor into a small room, where she placed her chin in a security device that scanned her retina.
Immediately a door previously hidden from my disbelieving eyes slid open, revealing an older, distinguished looking gentleman, daperly dressed in tux and tails, holding a beautiful flower arrangement, which he extended out towards me as he took my hand, kissed it, then looked deep into my eyes.
"Welcome. We've been expecting you."
I kept my composure. But inside I was seething. The DMV had been playing us boys for chumps all these years - three-hour line waits and ambivalent counter help for men while women were being treated like fairy princesses. This was the living, breathing proof of gender bias that I'd suspected!
The worst was yet to come.
"Now serving ticket number 5-5-5, at counter G," the automated voice droned on.
I glanced at my white stub as I sat in the DMV waiting area.
This probably won't take long.
Each counter also had a lighted scoreboard sign above it which showed, in huge flashing numbers, who was next up at that counter. "555" flashed like an accusation.
I got up and walked around. There were several signs to read, to help kill time and to take everyone's mind off the counter staff who were yelling out numbers of people who were reading signs and not paying attention to the automated voice and flashing numbers.
"Five fifty five? Five five five?! Is there a five hundred and fifty five?!!"
A woman yelled the number with amazing jet-engine decibality while uttering it in every conceivable numerical format except, apparently, the one that the number's owner could understand.
Before she could start screaming it in Portuguese and Mandarin, I turned my attention back to reading the signs that were scattered along the DMV walls.
Sorry, we do not accept debit or credit cards at this time.
I had 57 cents, a Visa and a Bank of The West debit card. This probably won't take long.
Please turn off cell phone.
Click. This probably won't take long.
The flashing number suddenly switched - from 555 to 541. I was no math genius, but...this probably won't take long.
Then, a new number. "Five sixty nine?!"
The world of mathematics had been turned on its head in this waiting area. I waited for people to start floating.
I hovered over to a seat, sat down and started reading the form on the clipboard that Brenda had given me.
In order to process your request in a timely manner...
I was laughing too hard to read the rest.
The waiting area was being super-cooled by blowers that apparently were mistakenly reading the 72 degree outdoor temperature in celcius. I looked for a bathroom but found a sign that said, "Gotta pee? Hold it."
This probably won't take long.
I went back to the questionnaire.
Would you like 'medical alert' indicated on your license?
How about urination alert! written on my forehead?
"Six seventy three? Six seventy four? Six seventy five?"
They were dropping like flies now. This wouldn't take long...
"Five fifty five?"
Then, the words I'd been waiting to hear.
"Quinientas cincuenta y cinco?"
Then the other words.
"Six hundred seventy seven?!"
Saliva formed in my mouth again. I walked up to Counter H, where Georgie, a pleasant but a bit too casually dressed in jeans and t-shirt DMV employee, asked for my completed form, and this oldie but goodie:
"Do you have any mental or physical issues that could impare your driving?"
My driving? Frankly, the incessant screaming numbers and meat locker air temp makes me feel like I just checked out of Guantanamo Bay and couldn't steer a Hot Wheel in a straight line, but...sure, I'm cool. Uh, fine.
Apparently I answered correctly because she told me to wait over by the picture-taking station to hear my name called. Unless my name was "Five Fifty Five," I wasn't sure how that would be possible but, okay, I was never really happy with "Jon Wright," anyway.
Ten minutes later, against all odds, a woman bellered "Jon Wright" three times before she turned around and saw me who'd been standing there since the first beller.
Kathy asked me politely to stand against a plain backdrop while she took my photo. As I dialed up a huge smile, she said something I hadn't heard since a phone call from Mark Rogers.
"Don't open your mouth."
It was nicer coming from Kathy, but more confusing. Why?
Kathy explained that the DMV has new cameras which scan your face and place it into a national data base. So if someone comes in to any DMV in the country trying to impersinate you and create a fake ID - and can sit for forty bone-numbing minutes listening to numbers and names being hollered without running out of the building screaming until they make it to picture-taking time - the camera software will call them out as a fake you, and they'll be asked to take a number and wait until police arrive.
I smiled the dumbest closed-mouth grin of my life, the million dollar HAL 9000 took a pic, Kathy laid it on a table to dry like the spit-out from a $49 Polaroid SX-70, and 51 minutes after my 1:14pm time stamp, I was heading out the DMV auto sliding doors, updated driver's license in hand.
And looking for a tree.
For me, the DMV now stood for something else entirely: Delightful Massage and Vegetables on my eyes.
As my flowers were placed in sugar-water, I was whisked away to a private massage room, where DMV employees I recognized from my earlier "Jonnie, the dude" visit had quickly replaced their bright blue work shirts with pleasant terry-cloth robes, and began skillfully massaging my skin.
In the distance I could hear voices yelling - it was the DMV number screamers. Oh my poor male brethren - I could feel their pain! I"m with you, my long-suffering brothers!
"Could someone turn up the radio?" I asked.
A smooth blend of vocal harmony was brought to the forefront - it was Kool And The Gang's Joanna.
They knew. Somehow...they just knew.
My mind was racing. Women were getting massages and flowers and old guys in suits slobbering on their hands and who knew what else behind closed doors at the DMV - what perks were they were receiving from other government agencies? Somebody had to bust the lid on this lipstick case.
While I contemplated which cute little outfit I'd wear over to the Census Bureau office, I was asked to flip over. The pampering continued, as did my thinking.
The word had to be gotten out. Who could I go to? The Register? Of course. Marc Hansen would kill for the exclusive print rights. There was TV-8's Eric Hansen for the hard news, and I just knew Michelle Beschen would die for the all natural facial wrap recipe. Certainly there were bloggers, but who reads those?
Then, a hand bell was wrung. I'd been massaged, pedicured, coiffed and spoiled for three hours - but now it was time to go. I was escorted to a back door, where my car awaited me.
But before I got in, a photographer appeared, raised his camera and said "smile!" I gave him my best Angelina Jolie.
"We'll mail you your new driver's license," he kindly offered.
As "Jonnie" my customer service experience at The Department of Motor Vehicles in Ankeny went beyond my expectations.
I was especially impressed with Brenda, who not only served as a DMV tour director but also as a simple good will ambassador. It's smart to put the friendliest person on the front lines - other companies could learn much from the DMV's template.
The wait time of 51 minutes felt like less, in part because the staff worked hard to keep things moving. It also helped that DMV employees (and visitors) seemed in constant motion. And all that yelling didn't hurt, either.
As for "Joanna's" experience, may business owners and the employees they work with, take something from it today - pamper yourself by giving yourself and others the freedom to occasionally laugh at you. They will quickly laugh with you - especially on this glorious April 1st.
Happy April Fool's Day! :)
Look for another retail store evaluation next Thursday
Jonnie Wright is a customer service evaluator and trainer, professional secret shopper, marketing strategist and radio show host. "The Unsecret Shopper Radio Show" airs Saturday mornings 8-9am on 1350 KRNT. Email Jonnie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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