March 8, 2012
Island Living: The DMV took my license because they
thought I was God, and other everyday frustrations


One of the unchanging aspects of American life is that there are institutions with fancy initials in place whose sole purpose seems to be to test the patience and tolerance of the people, like the IRS, locally the NPS, and probably most notably, the DMV.

This is magnified around these parts because for us islanders, a trip to the DMV is in fact a day-long ordeal that requires a half tank of gas, a road trip to Manteo, at least two magazines, a packed lunch, and the inherent ability to stare off into space in a crowded waiting room without looking other weary people in the eye.

When I renewed my license a few years ago in Raleigh, after three hours, two out-of-date TV Guides, and who knows how many bags of vending machine Doritos, I ended up walking out of there with a plastic photo of me grinning like a total idiot. Why was I so thrilled? Because I was finally free of the DMV.

That license picture has caused convenience and grocery store remarks ever since, with clerks usually glancing at me in confusion and saying something to the effect of “Wow. You look so… happy.”

The only reply I’ve ever been able to come up with is, “Yeah, well, I was at the DMV so… you know…” which usually makes them look at me even more awkwardly as they silently hope this crazy woman will quickly get out of their store before she breaks into maniacal laughter. Clearly, they think that someone so seemingly ecstatic to be at the DMV has some issues.

So, I’ve always been frustrated with the DMV. Who hasn’t?  But it was always just a mild irritation – nothing that would get me so wrapped up in my own little world of frustration that everything else in my otherwise happy life would be put on the back burner.

But that was before the DMV thought I was God.

Now, I’ll admit that this debacle was technically all my fault.

About a year ago I was driving around, somehow oblivious to the fact that I had an expired registration and no inspection, which is apparently needed to operate a motor vehicle. I have no excuse for this except to say that I had far more important things on my mind -- like what fish were biting or if Conner’s had any Easter candy yet.

Of course, I was eventually pulled over, and the officer, who was as nice as could be, took pity on my confused self and said that if I could get my paperwork together the ticket would be resolved, and I could go about my merry way, driving around in search of Cadbury Cream Eggs. Fabulous.

So I did and sent everything in. The paperwork was successfully received and I figured that all was forgiven.

Then in June I received a mysterious letter from the DMV, which is never a good thing to find in your mailbox.  The letter said that I had missed a court date, and I hadn’t resolved my missing inspection. So I called a lawyer and explained the situation. The lawyer’s office discovered there was a clerical misspelling with my name along the way that caused the issue not to go away but that, once again, all was forgiven.

Now this is not the first time an “H” has accidently popped up in my name.

My mortgage was in the name of “Joy Christ” for ages, and I always hear “Christ” shouted when I’m in waiting rooms. I was even in a group school photo in a newspaper once with a caption that identified me as “J. Christ.” (I kept that newspaper for years because, c’mon, that’s just funny.)

I’ve also met at least two people who, after initial introductions, said “Oh, you live in the beach house with the big blue “CRIST” sign? That makes sense now. We always just thought whoever lived there was very religious, but didn’t know how to spell.”

So this didn’t bother me, and the matter was considered settled and, subsequently, closed for months.

Fast forward to a recent weekend. As I was driving home from our friend’s house in Buxton, I was pulled over because, according to the folks at the central office of the DMV, my license is revoked and suspended indefinitely.

Why? Because, as I later learned, when all my paperwork and ticket stuff was resolved by the DMV, I was, in fact, Ms. Christ.

Thank goodness the officer who pulled me over was the same awesome deputy from the first time, and he recognized that there had been an error and helped me in every way he possibly could. He really couldn’t have been nicer or more accommodating, especially when he didn’t have to help me out in the first place.

But, unfortunately for me, the law is still the law, so my license was confiscated, and I was left with the sinking feeling that I was about to do battle with the DMV to figure this all out.

And that stupid “Joy Christ” got off scot-free, while the real Joy Crist was left to clean up her mess.

This surprise license-losing happened on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and the officer assured me that everything would be worked out on Monday morning when the court and DMV offices were open.

But naturally I didn’t believe him. I mean, come on, it’s the DMV! They thought Joy Christ was in the clear for months, so I doubt I can convince them in a day that Ms. Christ does not in fact exist, and Ms. Crist is actually the innocent party. Seriously, doesn’t that sound like the worst soap opera plot ever?

So that gave me the rest of the weekend to stew and fester.

And fester I did.

My poor fiancÚ was left to cancel our weekend hiking and brunch plans while I wallowed on the couch watching “Law and Order”.

He’d try to appease me on occasion with perfectly rational arguments like “If there’s nothing you can do about it right now, then there’s no sense dwelling on it,” “This can only bother you if you let it,” and his most common argument, “This is not the end of the world.”

But I was a festering fool.  And his perfectly reasonable arguments fell on deaf and defiant ears.

So I didn’t go hiking through Buxton Woods or meet our friends for brunch or spend Sunday afternoon getting my hands dirty in my sorely neglected garden, as was my original plan.

Nope. Instead, I spent an entire 48 hours stewing and cursing the DMV.

Monday finally rolled around, and I had stewed myself into a roaring good boil as I started making calls, as the officer instructed, to sort it all out. To my happy surprise, all the folks I talked to from the court offices, to the Manteo DMV office, to the Sheriff’s Office were actually pleasant and amazingly effective, and seemingly oblivious to my whiny tone, and by the end of the day, I was in the clear and able to retrieve my license, super-smiley photo and all.

I was relieved and delighted with how quickly it all worked out, but, honestly, I was still dissatisfied.

Because the thing is that after you have gotten out of your simmer and that overall seeing-red feeling of “I can’t BELIEVE I have to put up with this nonsense!” has drained out of your system, you’re left with a big uncomfortable and undeniable feeling of “Maybe, I overreacted.”

Granted, dealing with the DMV on any level can be frustrating, so the prospect of having to explain to the DMV that they made a mistake and accidently thought you were God in order to ever drive in the state of North Carolina again is just a little daunting.

And at that point there was no way I could have known that everyone was going to be so helpful and do their best to get it settled as soon as possible, so it was somewhat reasonable to assume that I had a big ordeal on my hands.

But you know what? Stuff happens.

My good friend, who has gone through more bad stuff in his life than anyone else I know, has always looked at every bad situation and said with a shrug, “If this is the worst thing that ever happens to me, then I guess life ain’t so bad.”  Then he’ll go do something awesome, like parasailing or eating an entire box of donuts and have a fabulous time in the process.

When faced with an opportunity to shrug it off and just accept that sometimes everyday life has weird road bumps, I instead retreated to my couch with a box of stale Wheat Thins.

And as much as I know he’ll rub it in, I have to admit publically that my fiancÚ was right – if you can’t do anything about a problem, then there’s no sense dwelling on it.

I do wish I had heeded his advice. If I had, the outcome would have been the same, but in between I would have had a wonderful brunch with friends, a good long walk, and a garden that doesn’t have weeds and leftover remodeling insulation in it.

So here’s hoping that the next time a government institution mistakes me for Ms. Christ -- it is tax season after all -- I will actually be able to brush it off as a minor inconvenience, one of many that everyone puts up with, and not put everything on hold while I let the little things take over, test my patience, and ruin a perfectly good island weekend.

Life is short, and it’s silly to dwell on the small stuff, especially if it pertains to the DMV. There’s just too much to enjoy, especially on Hatteras Island, to let the little frustrating things get in the way.

And as a result, I’ll probably end up being just as happy as that grinning maniac on my driver’s license.

(Joy Crist lives in Avon where she is seldom mistaken for a deity.)

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