Joe Marchese

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Miracle at the DMV

Do you believe in miracles?  YES!!!

                   --          Sportscaster Al Michaels, Winter Olympics, 1980

It absolutely took a miracle for the US Olympic hockey team to defeat the then-Soviet Union and then Finland to take the gold medal during those winter games.  David has to slay Goliath every once in a while.  We so desperately need that demonstration that even the very improbable is not impossible, and that sometimes, even the impossible defies the laws of Nature.

I had just such an experience.  You see, my driver's license was up for renewal.  With entirely justified expectations, I put off dealing with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles as long as I possibly could.  My license was set to expire in less than two weeks, and I was traveling most of that, so the day of reckoning had come.

I decided that it would be less time away from the office if I could do my renewal in Manhattan rather than on Long Island where I live.  I called directory assistance for the DMV number in Manhattan, and started the quest with a call at about 10:30 AM.  The phone was answered on the first ring.

Good morning, DMV, may I help you?

Wait a minute... who are you, and what have you done with the real DMV personnel?

Somewhat dumbfounded, I proceeded, "can you tell me what the hours are in the downtown office to do a license renewal?"

Oh, no, sir, don't go to the main office for license renewals.  We have a License Express office on 34th street.  Their hours are 8 AM to 5:30 PM.

"A what?"

A License Express office on 34th Street and 8th Avenue.  They do only license renewals.  You'll be out in less than 10 minutes.

At last, I found the real DMV personnel.  Delusional from prolonged dependency on heavy drugs or toxic levels of civil servants syndrome, no doubt.  Talking total gibberish.

Armed with my collection of historical DMV-horror show expectations, I left the office at 4:00 PM, took the train to a nearby station, and walked over to 34th and 8th.  There in a store-front was an office, with an attractive License Express sign in front (not at all obvious that it was even DMV), was a clean, bright, modern facility that to the unsuspecting actually looked good.  Maybe 4 customers inside.  At least 6 service people inside.  Trust me: this joint could never be mistaken for the DMV.

With an uncontrollable grin on my face, I checked my watch as I entered through the revolving doors.  4:29 PM.  Walked right up to a counter, presented my post card renewal form (which required only one tick mark and a signature), and asked, "Am I in the right place?"

The chap clearly replied, "take this to that position, have your photo ID and eye test, and come back to any cashier."

Thank God.  What a relief!  This was the DMV: I had been told I was on the wrong line.  So I proceeded as directed, to where one woman was having her picture taken, another was waiting, then I joined the queue.  The woman waiting ahead of me was checking her hair, putting on lipstick -- that got me to start combing my hair, adjusting my tie....  This actually had a calming effect: I could feel the impact that the DMV has on otherwise apparently rational people, getting them to spruce up for their license photo that is bound to come out making you look like a felon.  The two of us looked at each other and immediately starting laughing.

It was my new image-conscious friend who then stepped up to have her photo taken.  Before the photo, they scan your signature, which is applied to your license.  A private security guard (a rent-a-cop, as I call them, not usually known as customer service types) prompted her, snapped her photo, but awwww... she had her eyes closed.  No problem, he said, he'd just take another.  Next picture had her prettier than the Mona Lisa.  This was scary.  This guy was nice.  Holy shit!!  [As you can tell, this Fellini-like experience had gotten to me.]  My turn was completed in no time, including the eye test against which my ophthalmologist should benchmark for speed and courtesy.  Over to the cashier.  Same guy I started out with takes my forms, my check (not to worry, credit cards also accepted).  He cuts my temporary license, tells me the permanent license with photo, electronic signature and encoded mag stripe will show up in six weeks.  Now I swung over to the other extreme, expecting that any organization that could do what it just did should deliver the card in six seconds, not six weeks.  OK, it's a vestige that provides linkage to the time-honored tradition of the DMV.  But I'm still a happy guy.

I walked out at 4:35 -- 6 minutes.  I couldn't resist the impulse to tell them that I was ecstatic.  "Oh, yeah, 10 minutes or less", they repeated.  These guys were committed.

Thanks, DMV.  I needed that.  We all need the occasional booster shot of faith that whatever we commit ourselves to can and will be done.  Dramatic growth in a down economy.  Re-engineered processes led by customer-centered teams.  Market leadership.  The only real limitation is our historical mind-set that it cannot be done.  Sure, there are lots of other problems that come up, some of them even mountainous in difficulty.  But they can all be overcome if we want to.

Face it... if the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles can transform everyone's worst nightmare into an exemplary service experience, we can do anything.  Quick: point me to the Red Sea.  I want to try something -- I hear it's been done before.