Friends have epic war stories from the Jersey DMV. Waiting for hours only to have the line cut off just before you enter. Penna DMV was a stuffy 30×30 room with 75 customers packed in and 5 grim robots working too hard. “Papers?” Stamp. “Test?” Stamp. “Check?” Stamp. Indiana BMV was the best organized, with wait times posted online for each location.
But “wow,” Illinois DMV does friendly! Today I overheard and oversaw midwest-friendly in all its glory. When I first spotted a smile, my lingering, northeast suspicion popped up, “What’s really going on here? She’s smiling. Is he maybe asking her for a date? Nope. Smiling at the next three people in line, too. For no reason. And, look ! He is, too.” Scanning the room, “Oops, not the door bouncer. Definitely not her. But most. Weird.”
All but 3 of the 28 workers, smiling. Some were even kind. Willing to treat people like people. Joking with each other and customers, “Where’s the sausage? I need sausage to work here. Or steak.” “Lou, you already look like you’ve eaten too much steak.”
Even while explaining the same questions over and over. You’d think they’d read Proverbs 15:1, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The six people who helped me each welcomed me back into town, like extended family I hadn’t yet met. Doug offered to use the picture from my last IL driver’s license–10 years ago. “You look the same. Really. Though your hair is red now?!” Uh, I do have one big question,” he asked, “What’s the deal with Philly Cheesesteaks? Cheesewhiz? Really?”
When a young woman jitters up to Lou’s counter to apply for her learner’s permit, he plays it tough, “You know, we don’t give these to just anybody.” Blink, blink. “But you, well, since you have such nice handwriting, ok.” Big grin. She grins back.
Lou adds, “I’m really excited you’re here today because we need more good female drivers in Chicago.”
He reassures the next kid, “The test is easy. You’ll do great.”
Lou’s a guy with a mission. Not just pushing people through the process at record speed. Nope. Because frankly, it took 1 1/2 + hours to navigate through 6 lines along with a couple hundred others trying to get our titles, plates, application, vision & written tests and a half-decent photo. My lucky number was #643.
But you know what? I actually didn’t mind. From what I saw and overheard, Lou and the others’ mission was to help their neighbors, not just crank out small laminated cards with bad photos. Even the woman who failed the written test (Tricksy hobbitses! Expecting drivers to recognize stop signs!?) Even she got a comforting word.
At the DMV? Who knew? I felt good when I walked out, better than when I walked in. Now that’s unexpected.
Maybe I should stop by the DMV for a pep talk before my next job interview. If that Church gig doesn’t pan out, I could apply to work there. Or thinking more positively, take my new ministry staff on a field trip. If so, maybe I should bring Big Lou some sausage. Widout whiz.