It was impossible not to wonder if the man hated his job, people, or both, just as it was inconceivable that Herr Mister went home at night and bid his dog, his children, his wife, or, far more probably, all three, goodnight without first soundly beating them.
The passion, fury and decibel level with which Herr Mister chastised errant North Carolina Motor Vehicle Department supplicants had the intentional abrasiveness usually reserved for carnival barkers whose livelihoods rely on taunting hapless passersby to mindless, unreasoned anger.
Herr Mister began every inquisition with squinted eyes and a tight-lipped smile, his guttural, inquisitorial Prussian voice demanding, “Und vat is your mission?”
Granted, the Nazi accent and preposterous monocle existed solely in my imagination, but surely delivering his more in anger than in sorrow verbal lashings were the part of Herr Mister’s job that he looked forward to more than telling a weeping teen that he had failed his driving test and that perhaps he should undergo further instruction before again entering the hallowed halls of the Cary, North Carolina DMV.
Herr Mister hardly looked the part of a Third Reich player. His shaved, smooth as a baby’s bottom head was not incongruous with our TV and movie stereotyped Nazi henchman, but Herr Mister’s coffee with the slightest touch of cream colored skin would certainly have stirred up trouble in the Berlin of the nineteen-thirties and early forties.
Herr Mister’s walk was a bit of a roll as he propelled himself with equal parts Goose Step and hip rotation, advancing from locale to locale within the Maynard Street DMV office. Not a young man, his ample midsection complemented his middle-years, and arrived a split second before the rest of him, as he journeyed from location to location within his fiefdom.
Rabid, rotund and recalcitrant, Herr Mister embodied all the stereotypical sins of State Motor Vehicle departments from sea to shining sea. Having risen through the ranks, he was more than willing to use his position of authority and penny-ante power to lord over those whom he “served.”
My wife and I had encountered Herr Mister one afternoon during the final week of 2017, when we’d visited the Maynard Road DMV office in search of North Carolina driver’s licenses. Herr Mister had been holding court from a lectern at the head of a dozens deep, snaking line, standing with feet widespread, hands resting on his hips balled into fists declaring, “We are no longer issuing numbers for DMV services for today. I repeat, we are no longer issuing numbers for DMV services for today. As you can see, the DMV is full to capacity and we will not be issuing any additional numbers and we will be unable to conduct any further business today.”
Herr Mister had gone on to explain that volume at the DMV was higher than usual, that appointments could be made, that on-line license renewal was available and, playing what he knew to be his trump card, holding a piece of paper that listed DMV offices in the greater Raleigh metropolitan area that, “may be able to accommodate you in a timelier fashion.”
My wife took one of Herr Mister’s eight by elevens, looked at me plaintively, and marched us to her car where we used GPS tracking to find the second closest DMV to our home; a DMV where we just might be able to be helped in a timelier fashion. Falling for Herr Mister’s bait, we drove to said DMV only to find it equally overwhelmed.
The second DMV office held a friendly and public spirited, though equally beleaguered, DMV employee, and, after confirming that there was indeed no room at the inn, she told us that arriving at the DMV an hour or more before the official eight o’clock opening would be the best bet to avoid long wait times.
I looked at my darling, she at me, and we gallantly exited the building before simultaneously turning to one another and declaring, “Arrive an hour or more before the official opening is our best bet to avoid long wait times!?”
My wife, as far from an early-riser as conditions permit, was crestfallen. She went home and tried to make an appointment via computer only to find that, while appointments were available, they were scheduled out for a month. “A month! What if we get pulled over before we get our tags and licenses? We can get in real trouble,” she fixated.
Me, the voice of reason (HA!) pointed out that neither of us had received even a parking ticket in two decades and that perhaps her perception of risk far outweighed the actual. She agreed, declared that it didn’t matter, and set her alarm to go off at six the following morning.
The goddess was a bit slow in responding to the gentle chimes of her alarm and did not arrive at the DMV office until 7:30 where she discovered that 19, that’s nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nineteen, people were already shivering in the frosty, before-the-sun-rises morn. Two hours later, she returned home with Real ID, North Carolina Driver’s License in hand and demanded (suggested?) that I do likewise pronto, tonto.
Fool that I am, I agreed to follow in her footsteps, “On the next weekday that I have off from work,” i.e. today, which leads to me relaying the exploits of Herr Mister and his DMV counterparts.
I did not do as my wife suggested. Rather, I left our home just after eight, which led to my 8:30, gosh there’s barely a seat available, arrival time. After standing in line and dealing with Herr Mister’s inauthentic question of, “And how may I help you?” his demand somehow producing in my somewhat overactive imagination an implied monocle and heal click, I explained the reason for my visit.
“I’m from out of state and I’m here to get a North Carolina Real ID and driver’s license.”
“Papers?!” was the honest to dog reply that he uttered before chastising me publicly for not having Passport, Social Security card, Florida driver’s license, car insurance and TWO pieces of paper identifying my current North Carolina address at the ready.
I replied, “Ya vol, mein capitan! I have mein papers here in my briefcase!” My left hand reached for my brief case just as my right arm had a small spasm that made it rise straight out at a 45-degree angle. Herr Mister looked at me in disgust.
“Your bag? Dumkopf!” he bellowed. Raising his already loud voice he addressed the entire room, nay, the entire building, declaring, “Achtung, everyone! Have your papers out and ready for inspection!”
He glared at me, took my papers, gave them the proper stamps of the Third Reich and, after raking me over red-hot coals for my dereliction of duty, returned my processed papers to me. (The only reason my papers were in order was because my dear one had prepared them. Danke, Liebling!)
Supplied with the scared slip bearing the magic alphanumeric C409, my veritable ticket on the last flight out of Berlin, I fled from Herr Mister and, slumping into my seat, shook with shell shock.
I cooled my heals for ninety minutes. For ninety long, frightening minutes I waited. I waited for an electronic voice to summon me by declaring, “C, four-oh-nine, window three please. C, four-oh-nine, window three please,” which, when it finally happened, turned out to be populated by a lovely and helpful Latina whose nom de gurre is Riviera.
Riviera navigated the mine field that is applying for a North Carolina Real ID and driver’s license. She soothed me, comforted and aided me and, finally, I left the building with proper papers in hand and the hope that I shall never again cross paths with Herr Mister, the sadistic majordomo of DMV.