The Washington Times - November 28, 2008, 01:29PM

   No, this blog is not so much about religion as it’s about the closest experience one can have to the Regions Below while living here on Earth. 

   As of today, I have visited the Maryland DMV four times in an effort to get a new driver’s license, as I recently moved from Virginia back to my native state. The first time I showed up, I was told I did not have enough identification. My driver’s license and government-issued Hill press pass were not enough. I needed my Social Security card, I was told. I also didn’t have enough proof that I indeed lived at my new address, they said. I had visited the DMV web site beforehand, by the way, but had never seen these requirements. Stupid me.

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   The second time, armed with my SS card, home settlement documents and new voter’s registration card, I showed up on a Saturday morning to see a mammoth line. Since my babysitter only had a limited amount of time she could look after my little one, I had to leave as waits at the DMV can be up to three hours. 

   The third time, this morning, I came in. Note: the DMV tends to be open only during working hours, making it very tough for those of us with full-time jobs to get there. Usually you have to battle rush-hour traffic to get there at the 8:30 a.m. opening time (if your boss will let you be late). As for evening hours, forget it. The place closes at 4:30 p.m. weekdays. And Saturdays (where they are only open half days) are a total mess. But today, I thought, I could be late for work. I got there with all the above ID plus a Pepco bill showing that yes, I indeed lived in Maryland, and was quickly ushered through the introductory line. I was thanking God I had thought to show up on the day after Thanksgiving when I was called to one of the clerk’s desks. There, she told me, my Social Security card was not good enough. I’d gotten it as a child and - although it had served me well for more than 40 years - it was not legit enough for them. 

    So I had to dash back home (20-mile round trip, this), grab my passport and birth certificate (which I fortunately had. It takes a few weeks to get one in Maryland by mail, you might want to know) and arrived back at the DMV. I was able to cut back in line to meet with the same clerk who then showed me the screen for a vision test. Now I have the kind of contact lense arrangement where I see far-sighted with one eye and near-sighted with another. Lots of people over 40 have the same thing. She informed me I had flunked the vision test and had to see an optometrist who must sign a form granting me an exception. However, even the near-sighted eye must have at least 20/40 vision so if mine does not measure up, I’m out money for a new contact lense. 

    I had a melt-down at this point. Since my car is registered in Maryland, the Virginia DMV just sent me a stiff letter informing me that my Virginia driver’s license will be nullified in a few days. The clerk seemed to think I could just get an optometrist appointment on a busy holiday weekend and come on back for what will be Visit No. 5. “Good day,” she said, obviously wanting me to leave.

    Is this par for the course in Maryland? Can others of you please clue me in? I am beginning to understand why some of my acquaintances refuse to visit the DMV office at all, preferring to have out-of-date addresses on their driver’s license. In moves to several states (Texas, Oregon, Florida, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Virginia), I have never had to provide a birth certificate or passport. I simply presented a valid driver’s license from another state, smiled for my new photo and presto - a new driver’s license.

    “The problem with Maryland DMV,” one of my co-workers (also a Maryland resident) told me, “is that they think people don’t have full-time jobs which make it impossible for them to stand in line for the hours it takes to get anywhere with them.” The hours aren’t the worst, though. I’ve been sent back three times now because I don’t have enough forms or the right forms or the right eyesight or something similarly inane. 

    Sooo, I am rehearsing my speech to the state trooper who, if one pulls me over before I can get a Maryland license, will be presented with a sheaf of papers showing how I have visited this chamber of horrors unsuccessfully four times to try to be a legitimate driver in the Oyster state. I am close to giving up. I can see why lots of people do. 

 - Julia Duin, religion editor