Dante once wrote that Hell had nine circles within its depths. Dante’s Inferno is an amazing literary work that describes in great detail the horror of a place where no person wishes to go. Dante must have been inspired by a trip to the local DMV.

You see, I recently journeyed into an inferno of abandoned hope, discomfort, and pain when I was forced to visit the Queens DMV. Like Dante, I encountered the nine circles of Hell, though not necessarily in the same order. But first, some backstory . . .

We recently bought a new vehicle and we needed to get new plates. The month had been difficult and harried and we didn’t get the title from the dealership until our temporary tags were almost set to expire. Unfortunately, only a short time before, I lost my wallet and everything in it. I ordered a new license, but since it had not arrived and the tags were set to expire the next day, we had no choice but to try to register without it. The story gets more complicated; my wife had to leave town at the last minute for business and the title is in both of our names.

Now, none of that should have been a problem. Before my wife left, she signed all the necessary paperwork, including a form that gave me the right to make all decisions on her behalf. We even had contacted the DMV to make sure that we were walking in with all the correct paperwork and to verify that I could do the deal without a license. They assured us that all would be fine.

So, on Friday morning, I cleared my head with a large cup of coffee, made breakfast for my 3 kids (ages 8, 6, and 7 months), and got us all out the door—a herculean task in itself. Since this isn’t my first time around the block at the DMV, I brought along some video games, coloring books, and notepads for my kids. Between the diaper bag and my activity bag, it looked as though I was heading out on a long vacation. Little did I know that instead of a day at the beach, I was in for a trip to hell.

“Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  – Dante

♦◊♦

FIRST CIRCLE – LIMBO

When my three children and I arrived at the DMV at 9:30 a.m., the line was already snaking to the door. I plopped the kids at the main seating area, where I could see them from the giant line. Once I made sure that they all had their entertainment of choice, the baby and I walked to the back of the line. We waited and waited and waited. I ran through the gambit of baby games with my son, and after the final battle of Peek-a-boo, I looked up to find that I was still far away from the front.

When I finally made it to the counter, I pulled out all my paperwork and laid it before the DMV lady. Without making eye contact, she told me to come back a different day, because “I did not have all the paperwork.” Although I pleaded with her that I did have all the paperwork, she dismissed me with a headshake, slid my papers to the side, and said, “Next.”

Limbo is having your future (or at least your ability to avoid steep fines) in the hands of a DMV lady who refuses to acknowledge your existence. When I didn’t budge, two guards walked up behind me. Frustrated, I finally walked away.

After retreating to the back of the room, I called my wife who was in the middle of a business meeting in Chicago. My wife, who is an attorney and knows a thing or two about paperwork, assured me that I had everything I needed. So once again, I plodded through the eternally long line. My baby began to voice his displeasure with sitting in a stroller for so long and my 6 year old daughter walked back and forth from her seat to my place in line, in the hope that her journey eventually would shorten. Finally, I found myself before my old friend, the DMV lady.

She looked at me with contempt, but without surprise, and I informed her again that I had all the paperwork. She was unmoved. I remained calm (even as I held a squirming baby) and stood my ground. I told her, in no uncertain terms, that I was leaving that day without my new plates. Those in limbo behind me voiced their frustration, but now their frustration was directed towards me. The guards returned and readied themselves to escort me away.

That’s when I did it — I pulled out the supervisor card and demanded to speak to one.

SECOND CIRCLE – GLUTTONY

It should be no surprise that a DMV is full of people that need to speak to a supervisor. Since people aren’t given a number to speak with the all-powerful one, there is a horde of individuals pushing and leaning into one another to catch the crumbs that fall from the mouth of the supervisor, seeking to appease an insatiable hunger. At first I stood towards the back of the mass of people and watched them as they leaned their heads forwards and shouted the words, “give, give, give.”

The unpleasant supervisor turned one after another away, usually without ever noticing to whom he was speaking. It was now 11:30 a.m. and my kids were tired and getting that look that says, “we’re about to explode.” All parents know that look. So I joined the gluttonous mob and pushed my way to the front. The supervisor reluctantly took my question and I laid out all the paperwork just as I had before. He looked it over without touching it and gave me the same answer as the DMV lady. When I pressed him, he walked away. With a growing crowd behind me, all pushing and talking, I remained at the front until he returned. With a smile on my face, I asked for more information, but he told me the same thing.

He packed up my papers and shoved them into my face. So once again, I called my wife. She stepped out of the meeting and gave me a pep talk, encouraging me to speak with the supervisor again. And so I did. And he responded the same. I didn’t budge and another supervisor came over.  Soon I had four of them debating whether I could receive the plates that I so desired. The crowd grew hungrier for their own answers. My favorite security guards walked up behind me and asked me to step away. With my kids looking wide-eyed, I did… for the moment.

THIRD CIRCLE – FRAUD

In desperation, I returned to the supervisor station, only to be greeted by rolling eyes. I mentioned that we were told over the phone that we had all the paperwork we needed and that we could get our plates without a problem. The supervisor finally made eye contact with me and said, in a deep monotone voice, “Whoever you talked to for whatever reason did not give you the right information. You cannot get your plates today.” And he walked away.

Inside I was burning, and on the outside I felt as though I was being twisted and turned. My back was heavy. Biting my tongue I said, “Would someone please tell me why, when I have all the correct paperwork, I still can’t get what I need.” The supervisor came back with a pointed finger and said, “You do not know what these papers mean.” My response was, “You don’t know what your own papers mean.” (Yes, at that point I was resorting to third-grade retorts.)

With some divine luck, before the security guards returned, one of the other supervisors walked over and picked up my papers. After pausing while reading my wife’s authorization form, he said, “Oh, we can do this.” He handed me a number and I exhaled and went to take my seat.

FOURTH CIRCLE – LUST

My children and I found seats and I looked at my number, which read C-316. The monitor read C-233. My heart dropped. The video games that we brought had run their course and were no longer entertaining. The coloring books had lost their appeal. So we all stared at the monitor. With every new number, our desire increased.

As I watched the monitor, my daughter looked at me with large sad eyes and said, “Daddy, I’m hungry.” It was long past lunch time and I had no food. When we had left the house that morning, I didn’t think we would be there as long as we had already been. Our breakfast had worn off and we were all hungry. Parents know that you should never leave the house without a snack, and I never do. Except on this day. I walked around the room looking for a vending machine, but there were none.

All I could do was provide some hope that the numbers would quickly move. And they did. A storm of numbers blew off the board, but the C line continued to slowly tick away. We waited and watched as one by one, people stood with their numbers. The thought of paying someone for their number occurred more than once. I stared longingly (too longingly) at those who were able to get up and conduct their business. Finally, C-316 popped up and my kids and I jumped with delight and ran to the window.

FIFTH CIRCLE – HERESY

With our feet light and smiles on our faces, we arrived at the window. My daughter asked, “Are we almost done?” And I assured her that we were—after all, I had complied with the orthodoxy of the DMV and had my forms in triplicate with all required signatures.  We were all so happy to have the end in sight. But DMV lady number 2 looked over the paperwork and then shook her head no. She obviously had no regard for DMV orthodoxy.

I pleaded, but she continued to shake her head no. I told her what the supervisor said, but still she shook her head no. My kids’ happy expressions had evaporated. My heart sank. After explaining the situation (more than once) and what I had been promised thus far, she continued to shake her head no. I asked for the helpful supervisor, but he was nowhere to be found. The eye-rolling supervisor was no help. A range of emotions coursed through my body. My daughter repeated that she was hungry. My oldest son said he was bored and the baby just pooped. Not many men do it, but I was on the verge of crying. A new number popped up and I was forced to move.

SIXTH CIRCLE – GREED

My desire for new plates knew no limits, and before the next person stepped up, I steeled my resolve and sprung back before DMV lady number 2. This time, I readied myself to play “the game.” Once upon a time, I was good at “the game” and that day, at the DMV, I played it like I had never played it before. Puffing myself up as best as I could, I placed my elbow on the counter and sweetly asked if there was anything she could do to help me. I stared into her eyes, as I cocked my head. She looked at me and told the person behind me to wait for the next window (yes, I’m that good).  She looked at my paperwork again and said that if my wife could just sign one form, all would be fine. “Since she isn’t around, what can we do about it?” was my response. “Well, she could fax it I guess,” said the mesmerized DMV lady.

Nothing was going to stop me now. I got the fax, and with that in hand, I stepped back up and DMV lady number 2 went to work. She noticed that my temporary insurance form was expiring on that day and I needed to show proof that I had renewed my policy. I called my friendly Geicko and had that faxed as well. I had been there for six hours and I wasn’t about to let DMV lady number 2 out of my sight, so I hovered over the booth like a vulture over road kill. Time after time someone looked on in disgust as I stood there guarding my territory, talking with the woman while others held on to their stagnant numbers. With all the faxes in hand, she went to work.

SEVENTH CIRCLE – TREACHERY

We finally had the paperwork in order. The DMV was now closed and the workers badly wanted their day to end. I shared their feelings. The plates were taken out of a drawer, and I was asked to pay for them, as well as the vehicle sales tax (a significant sum). After handing over my debit card, I smiled at the kids and told them how great they were behaving. My son asked if we were really going home soon, and I said, “Yes.” Then the lady said, “Oh no, you’ve been declined.”

Ice ran through my blood. My feet were frozen stiff. It couldn’t be. We had plenty of money in our account and I didn’t have any other means of paying (remember, I had lost my wallet). I was so close and now I was to be undone by the treachery of my own bank.  When I called the bank, the customer service representative told me that I could not make such a large purchase, even though there were funds. My phone beeped at me informing me that my battery was dying. I gripped the phone with one hand, while my other hand gripped the counter. I asked why I wasn’t able to get my money out when I needed it. I explained my situation. But the rep wouldn’t budge. She transferred me to others, who gave me the same response. I had never been more sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

EIGHTH CIRCLE – VIOLENCE

As the DMV was shutting down, I looked around and saw I wasn’t alone. Many were kicking the walls and yelling at the DMV workers. Some were swearing at the top of their lungs, while others ground and gnashed their teeth. People that arrived late were banging on the windows, hoping to be let in. I empathized and the temptation to explode had never been greater. I always tell my kids that nothing good can come from losing your temper. But I was at that point and I was losing it.

NINTH CIRCLE – ANGER

Exploding, I yelled at the bank to give me my money and added that they had no right to hold onto it. But I was getting nowhere. I looked down and noticed three sets of eyes staring at me. My son said, “Daddy, you said freaking.” I hung up, after threatening to have no more dealings with Chase Bank.

♦◊♦

My journey was over.  But unlike Dante’s travelers, who emerged from the nine circles into a happier place, I had nothing to show for my journey. When all hope was lost, the eye rolling supervisor returned, but now he seemed sympathetic. After putting our heads together, we worked something out and I paid my taxes and fees. As we walked out the door, people complimented me on how well-behaved my kids were. The sun hit our faces as we reached the parking lot. It was almost 6:00 pm. Overcome by joy, relief and pride in my children, I told them that we would go wherever they wanted for supper. And together they yelled, “Chuck E Cheese!”

And so began my second journey into hell.

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