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DMV delivers with courtesy, efficiency & without incident

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POSTED March 11, 2009 4:32 a.m.
Call it the 11-minute miracle.

That is how long it took me to get my driver’s license renewed Tuesday at the Manteca Department of Motor Vehicles office.

It’s a miracle for several reasons. First, and foremost, the dedicated and hardworking frontline state workers were doing their job – quite pleasantly I might add – despite having to take a pay cut. The last time I had to physically go into a DMV office for a driver’s license was 1991 at the Davis Street location. It took well over 90 minutes. I admit I was expecting an hour plus again even though I had made the appointment via the automated phone system. The reason was simple. I couldn’t get an appointment for over three weeks when I called in. The system, though, works as it is supposed to.

Almost as amazing is the sheer number of licensed drivers in this state. California has 22,657,288 licensed drivers as of Jan. 1. To understand what the DMV is dealing with, that is more than the total of all residents in the country’s third most populated state - New York which has a population of 19,490,297. Only Texas has more residents than we do motorists with a population of 24,326,974.

Regulating drivers and vehicles is a major state function. There is arguably no other regulated activity that impacts us as much in our day-to-day lives. Auto accidents are also the most likely non-natural cause of death in this state. Keeping tabs on all of the daily chaos is the DMV’s job. The massive data bank they maintain at DMV headquarters in Sacramento is also key to effective law enforcement as the driver’s license serves as your identification.

During my short wait, Manteca Fire Department as well as Manteca Ambulance arrived on a code call. Apparently the stress got a bit too much for someone waiting in the behind-the-wheel exam room for the next DMV examiner.

It was reminiscent of the day I got my driver’s license back when I was 16. It was back for my second behind-the-wheel exam. I had drawn the infamous “red-headed” guy (kids who had him used another term instead of “guy”) who made it a point to fail every first-time driver. Eventually I assumed it was so you wouldn’t get too confident.

At any rate, the first time out he had me parallel park backing up a slight hill when he screamed for me to stop the car as he threw up his hands including the one holding the dreaded clipboard that he had been grimly marking for the past 10 minutes as we drove through Roseville. He jumped out, took a tape measure from his pocket, measured the distance from the right rear wheel to the curb and then got back into the car. He told me I was doing fine until then but he’d have to fail me because I could have gotten us killed the way I backed up.

On the second time around, I went into the office with my mom, making note of the number of examiners. There were three examiners including the red-headed guy.

I was freaking out. My mom said not to worry that he always failed people the first time and I should do fine the second time around. So with mom on the passenger side, I pulled her 1970 Impala V8 sedan into line. There was a full-size Chevy pick-up ahead of us, a small Datsun pickup truck, and a 1967 Mustang convertible. Imagine my reaction when the red-headed guy got into the passenger side of the Mustang. My fate was sealed. I’d get him on the rotation.

Fate was kind, though. Apparently after he told the teen-age girl behind the wheel to adjust her mirrors and to put it in drive, she instead put it in reverse, hit the gas, and slammed into the Datsun pick-up truck which in turn hit the Chevy truck in front of me.

To make a long story short, the Roseville Fire Department had to use the Jaws of Life to get the rather portly gentleman out of the Datsun as both doors had crumpled making them impossible to open.

The red-headed guy didn’t do any more drivers’ exams that day and I got my driver’s license.

Tuesday’s DMV visit was uneventful and pleasant.

That’s the way I like them.
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