February is my birthday month, the shortest month of the year (No jokes about it being appropriate for my stature, please!), and this year I needed to renew my driver’s license by presenting myself to the offices of the DMV along with the requisite number of documents totaling six points proving that I actually am who I am and not someone else pretending to be me.
And so, on a rainy February afternoon, I packed up the necessary provisions to survive an afternoon in bureaucracy -- sandwich, water, magazine, book – and drove to the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, Department of Motor Vehicle Services.
This was what I was expecting to find when I arrived. Instead….
I pulled up in front of a nicely landscaped commercial building. That was a surprise! I walked in and was directed to a counter manned by a young woman and a young man and a uniformed officer bent over some paperwork. There was only one person ahead of me in line. The woman took him and the man took me. He barely looked up at me as he asked for all my documentation, which I presented, gave me a number and a form and said, “Go to the room to your left, fill out the form and wait ‘til you’re called.” O.K., so maybe he wasn’t the friendliest guy in the world but at least he was efficient and not surly. I’ll take it.
As I rounded the partition and entered the room where I was to wait, I saw another counter with two young women behind it, one of whom had a shock of bright pink hair. They were both taking care of a woman and her teen-aged daughter and everyone was smiling and laughing. That was a surprise! I had barely finished filling out the form when the girl with the pink hair called me up to the counter. Normally, I’m not a fan of pastel-colored hair – on anyone, but it was the perfect color to match this beautiful young woman’s bright pink personality, and suddenly the gray bureaucratic surroundings seemed that much lighter and brighter because of her.
She looked at my documents, smiled and said, “Oh, tomorrow is your birthday. Happy birthday! Are you doing something special?” I told her I was having lunch with a friend. She wanted to know where we were going and all about the restaurant. I told her, and that my husband was taking me out for dinner that evening. She wanted to know where he was taking me and I told her that I didn’t know; it was a surprise. She giggled like a school girl and said, “Oh, that’s so romantic. I love surprises.”
As for the woman and teen-aged daughter who were still at the counter with me, it turned out to be a very special occasion for both of them. The 17-year-old daughter was getting her very first driver’s license and was bubbling over with excitement, while mom was feeling a little emotional and very nostalgic since this was the last child in the family to get her license. And so mom was taking pictures of every step in the process to remember this special day, and the ladies at the counter were only too happy to make a big fuss over the young lady in question and to be included in the family photos.
There was something so sweet and special about all this. Suddenly, I remembered the thrill of passing my driver’s test and then being handed my first driver’s license at about that same age. I recalled that heady shot of independence and the feeling of being oh-so-grown up.
Then it was time to have our pictures taken. This is the part I always hate. I hate having my picture taken when I’m all dolled up, much less for my license.
It always looks like it should be hanging on the wall of an FBI office in their “Most Wanted” section. But this time, the gentleman who took my picture took four shots before he was happy with the results. I just wanted to get it over with, so I was ready to go with the first one, but he kept saying, “You have to live with this picture for the next four years. We can do better.” Finally, the fourth time was the charm, and I had to admit that he was right. A little smile, a brighter lipstick, at his suggestion, and Voilà! That was a surprise! It may not be suitable for hanging among my family portraits, but it definitely won’t be hanging in the FBI’s Rogues Gallery any time soon.
I was in and out in about 15 minutes, and I didn’t even have to dip into my bureaucracy provision emergency pack for so much as a sip of water. All in all, the whole experience was a very pleasant surprise that all began with the girl with pink hair.