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The (driver’s license) struggle is real

Having a purse stolen comes with more than a few headaches. One of the biggest has been replacing my license.

The stories about long lines at driver service bureaus throughout the state are legion, and I can now attest to their truth. There are people waiting when the doors open at 8 in the morning, and people waiting when the doors close at 5. There are mamas and babies slouched in seats. There are laborers in uniforms leaning against walls. There are 16-year-olds anxious for test drives and 40-somethings anxious to get their CDLs. Piles of them.

And at the center of it all, there are tired clerks behind tired computers trying to type, take photos, and tell upset customers to wait their turn, please.

I arrived at the Brookhaven station around 3 on a Friday afternoon. “Plenty of time,” I assured myself, despite a completely filled parking lot. Taking a number from an electronic device, I found a seat among the masses, a varied lot of dreadlocks and bifocals, coughs and screen scrollers. I watched a klepto-kid scavenge magazines from a stranger’s bag. I saw a couple near the front steal kisses. To my right, someone played music on his phone.

I was reminded of great levelers, like in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” when Atticus Finch pointed to the court system as such.Watching a pediatric heart surgeon wait alongside a grandma missing most of her teeth had me thinking a driver’s license station may be the greatest leveler of them all. (Unless you’re a first responder. They get moved to the front of the line, which is OK by me.)

“Now serving A57 at Window 4 . . .”

And so it would go every 15 minutes, if there weren’t any snags. But No. 59 was trouble. She had the clerk sighing and shaking her head. Meanwhile, Window 1 called for No. 414 — commercial driver’s license only. No response. She moved on to 415.

I guess I was busy watching the action when they posted the “no more tickets today” sign at the door. I missed it. But as new arrivals trickled to a standstill, the area slowly cleared out. It seemed we were home free, and I could almost here Barry Manilow singing “looks like we made it” in my ear. But he quit.

At 3:59, A64 did the walk of champions to the front. I was still 14 customers away. Quitting time was coming. Surely the workers wouldn’t keep us all this time only to dash our hopes, would they?

They would. A few minutes before 5 we stragglers were told to leave and try, try again another day.

So, I did. I came the next day, and cars were spilling from the parking lot into the street and grassy areas. I turned around.

On my third attempt I decided to try a new approach. I came earlier in the day. I’d been there an hour when they called out A18. That meant I was 30 spots away.

“When did you get here?” I asked the nice guy from Bude seated next to me. He showed me his ticket: 8:07 a.m. He’d been waiting nearly 4 hours.

“There were 30 people here when it opened,” he explained. Mr. Bude, like many others, was paying for the experience in more ways than one. He’d taken off work — lost income — to renew his license.   

The long waits may be related to the REAL ID Act, passed by Congress in 2005 to “set standards for the issuance of sources of identification, such as driver’s licenses.”

The act was aimed at eliminating airline terrorism, and it’s taken the federal government nearly 15 years to implement it fully. The little star on the front of my new license is proof that Mississippi is complying. 

Yes, I got a new license, but I’ll tell you a secret. After talking to Mr. Bude, I realized I was in for a long wait. I decided to take a chance and leave the premises, ticket in hand. I returned 3 hours later in time to hear the sweet sound of A48 ringing out across the air waves. Kind Betsy at the counter had me fixed up in 5 minutes flat.

“Summit’s closed because a worker called in sick,” she apologized. “We’re getting overflow from Jackson and Pearl, too.”

When I brought up funding for additional workers, she pointed out they’d need more computers, too. She spoke of stress and how it can lead to errors. Then she mentioned a news-making incident at a similar station in Missouri. Turns out the Show Me State has some long line problems of its own — an impatient woman recently fired a handgun outside one of their DMV offices.

I never sensed blood was at boiling stage in Brookhaven, but here’s something I did see a few mornings ago: I was cruising by the Driver Service Bureau, and at 6:20 a.m. people were already lining up.

Kim Henderson is a freelance writer. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com. Follow her on twitter at @kimhenderson319.