The Motor Vehicle Torture


The New York Times

May 1, 1977

The Motor Vehicle Torture

By William Marcus

As many high-school students throughout New York already know, by your 16th birthday you are eligible to obtain a class-six learner’s permit, and consequently a class-six license. This means that you are permitted (by law) to be psychologically tortured by the White Plains Motor Vehicle Bureau.

I recently underwent their grueling abuse. One Friday afternoon I entered the well-structured brown-brick building on Central Park Avenue North with only one intention: to replace a class-six learner’s permit no matter what might possibly happen. Before I was able to decide which door to enter, I figured there must be a special department for people who have destroyed their class-six learner’s permits in washing machines, a woman came up to me and placed in my hands an MV-500 and an MV-44T form, both of which had to be filled out in black or blue ink, with a ballpoint pen. I didn’t have a black or blue ballpoint pen, only a broken No. 2 lead pencil, but before I could turn around or look any further in my pockets she had disappeared behind one of three doors that I now faced, and a line of people had formed behind me for no apparent reason.

Puzzled, I immediately began completing the two forms with my broken No. 2 lead pencil. After accomplishing the feat of stating my eye, hair, and toenail color, blood type and time of birth (within five minutes), I walked through the first door in my path and approached the Information Desk (a nice joke in and of itself) hoping to find out what to do with my MV-500 and MV-44T forms.

Bearing in mind that I was still in need of a class-six learner’s permit, I cautiously took another step toward the Information Desk. Without warning, I was again handed two MV-500 and MV-44T forms, but I was ready.

With an overwhelmingly stout and self-assuring tone I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve already filled out those forms.”

Knowing a little about the short attention span of motor vehicles people, I spoke quickly to the woman behind the beige metal barrier.

“I’m trying to obtain a copy of my class-six learner’s permit,” I said cautiously.

“What the matter?” She snapped.

Frustrated I repeated myself. “I said ‘I’m trying to obtain a copy of my class-six learner’s permit; maybe you can help me?’”

“Ya gotta know what date ya took the test on.”

“December 29, 1976,” I responded.

“O.K., then how’d ya lose it?”

If felt as if I was on trial but nevertheless I broke down and confessed my guilt. “I put it through the wash.”

This really annoyed her, for there is no surer way to anger a motor vehicles person than to say that your “operator identification” has been destroyed, mutilated, or, heaven forbid, lost. With little show of intelligence, she said. “You’ll have to get a new one if you want to drive.”

I could see it coming-more forms. She handed me a B-43 and a MV-20 form, and told me to place my name and address on one and the date of my last written test on the other (as if I come by every Friday to take a written test.) “Go over to cashier window three, pay two dollars, then go over to window eight and they’ll take care of you.”

As directed I filled out my B-43 and MV-20 forms, then signed my name to each twice, as directed. I strolled over to cashier window three, paid my $2 and proceeded to window eight to reap my reward. No such luck. By the time I got there, there was a line of four people all waiting for one woman, one sole human being, to finish her coffee and prune Danish, which she leisurely devoured at her desk while she paged through the latest issue of Popular Mechanics.

By now it was getting late and I was getting itchy to get out of there. I wasn’t quite sure if the Motor Vehicle Bureau closed in five minutes or in 35. The only thing that I did know is that I would have my permit in my hand by the time I left that building.

Suddenly, in front of my own eyes a miraculous event took place. The woman who controls all the inner workings of window eight stood up and began moving toward the desk. She asked the man at the front of the line what he needed, and with little hesitation proceeded to fulfill his request. I knew it couldn’t be true but soon I was standing there all alone, all by myself, with no one in front of me. I felt like I had an audience with the Wizard of Oz. I could now hand MV-500, MV-44T, MV-20, and B-43 forms to this woman, and she would find for me, a peasant driver, a duplicate of a $2 class-six learner’s permit.

But, wait, it couldn’t be, no, not after all I’ve been through, not after an entire afternoon of backbreaking insanity, she wouldn’t, she couldn’t, she did.

This magnificently gifted woman who could swallow both prune Danish and coffee in one gulp, departed. Just walked out of the room, finished, kaput, no more. But what really killed me is that I would have to return to that asylum financed by the City of White Plains. Two dollars, poorer, with nothing to show for it, I would have to come back. I collapsed in my tracks from stress when she suddenly turned and uttered six seemingly harmless little words of my own native tongue: “I’m sorry, we’re closed until Monday.”

William Marcus first wrote of this experience for The Falcon, the newspaper of Woodlands High School in Hartsdale.

Link to original New York Times article: The Motor Vehicle Torture