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Diversity

The DMV

The true melting pot of California might not be the metro centers of its cities. I believe it’s the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles.

I’m a new resident. Everyone coming into the state, transferring title on a vehicle, or required to renew a license in person has to come to a few offices. My city, San Diego, only has a few despite being the third largest city in the state and one of America’s top 20 metro areas.

You see everyone at the DMV. Everyone. It’s not like your neighborhood or the grocery store or the freeway where most people are behind tinted windows or even the voting precinct that is limited to a geography. Your fellow citizens are right there in line or in a chair inches away. Here are some observations about the most populous, and arguably legendary, state in the Union.

It’s really diverse here. Really diverse. As an old white guy I stood out as different, a distinct minority. Latino, Asian derivations, Eastern Europeans, blended races of all varieties are the heritage of my neighbors. I heard at least 8 different, distinct languages during my hour and a half in the maze.

Everyone is polite and personable. Although there are obviously language differences we all were able to make ourselves understood. The situations were great levelers of class distinctions. I think of myself as a middle class American. I was standing in one line between what I perceived to be a very well-off Latino mother and her teen-aged son and a woman I believe was a Bosnian-American who spoke broken English. We were all enchanted by the DMV employee who was thoughtfully giving people second, third, and fourth chances to get a better driver’s license photo. We chatted, smiled, and joked while we waited. Coming into the maze at the beginning of my visit several people pointed me in the right direction.

Everyone is patient. This is bureaucracy at it’s finest. Forms, fill-ins, obscure instructions, confusing lines and groups, piles of paper, opaque procedures. I didn’t hear a cross word. The patrons handled advice in many instances because the workforce is overwhelmed.

As I waited for my test results and temporary license I wandered the facility, observed the patience, politeness, and personal interactions. And I couldn’t help thinking that it would be preferable if our nation’s governance could work together as effectively as this melting pot of strangers in a strange place.