12 Jul Things I Love About Bend, Oregon: Volume 1- The Bend DMV
When you live in a big city like Chicago or Washington, D.C., a trip to the DMV is an outing that one approaches with extreme dread, if not outright fear. You go only when absolutely necessary and even then, it’s a proctology exam and a root canal wrapped in one. The lines are interminable, no one smiles and if, God help you, your documents are out of order, you can expect the clerks to be about as friendly as the Gestapo on a bad day at Stalag 13.
I just found out that one of the joys of moving to a small city, in my case, Bend, Oregon, is going to the DMV. Seriously. I was on my way to the DMV around 12:30 p.m. one day last week when the thought occurred to me that it might be a bad idea to turn up at the lunch hour. But alas, there was a parking space right in front of the door, and as I took a number, I was delighted to note that there were not more than a few dozen people in the room.
As I sat and waited, I overheard the DMV clerks (is there a better word for this, please someone help me here) engaging in relaxed, frivolous banter with their customers. Friendly conversation at the DMV? You are now entering a Twilight Zone known as the Bend DMV. My number was called less than 15 minutes after I arrived. A kindhearted Hispanic man in his 40s looked at my paperwork and advised me that I had filled out the wrong form to transfer my title to Oregon.
“But don’t worry,” he said, after locating my personal information in his computer, “I’ll fill it out for you.”
In other big cities I’ve lived in- New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., I would have been sent to the back of the line, and the idea of a big city DMV clerk filling the form out for meis about as likely as them offering me free churros con chocolat and a café au lait with my license.
There was one minor inconvenience I feel compelled to mention regarding this otherwise blissful trip to the Bend DMV. I had to pass an exam to get an Oregon driver’s license, and the damn thing was more difficult than I bargained for. It’s a touch screen, 35 question multiple-choice affair, and one can guess incorrectly no more than seven times.
I’ve been driving without incident for more than 25 years but some of these questions were quite difficult. For starters, there were several questions involving obscure traffic signs that probably only exist in driver’s education textbooks or rural areas of Slovenia (that is to say, not Ljubljana.) And then there were trick questions where hapless test takers are seduced into guessing the safest, most conservative option, which happens to be wrong.
For example, do you know how far back one should drive from a fire truck with its siren blaring? I sure as hell didn’t. I believe the choices were 100 feet, 250 feet, 500 feet and 1,000 feet. I fell into the trap of thinking, “Must be way the hell back,” and guessed 1,000 feet. The correct answer is 500 feet. I got six of the first 30 questions wrong and had to really concentrate for the last few to ensure that I didn’t fail.
I think I neglected to mention that I obtained an Oregon driver’s license with no real proof that I have a domicile in the state. We were staying in a hotel, hunting for houses, and all I had with me was an offer we put on a house near Bend’s Old Mill. The documents looked official enough, so I thought I’d give it a shot. My man glanced at them and said, “What is this, a lease?”
“No, it’s for a house,” I said vaguely, conveniently neglecting to mention that at that point it was merely an offer that had not been accepted by the owner of the home.
(As luck would have it, the offer was accepted the following day, and I was doubly relieved because, by that point, I already had a driver’s license bearing the address of the home.)
I failed to bring a passport or original copy of my birth certificate, and even though I had to run back to the hotel to fetch my passport, my man didn’t make me wait in line again when I returned.
After flying through a read-one-line-here vision test, a grey bearded man prepared to take my photo for the license.
“Do you want to smile?” he asked.
For once in my life, indeed I did want to smile. At the DMV, no less.