Dressed to Kill Down at the DMV

As one of the editors of John Gray’s internationally syndicated column based on his phenomenal best seller, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, I have written about male/female differences for over ten years. But even with that experience there are still moments when I marvel at the contrasts between the sexes.

One such moment occurred yesterday while sitting in the parking lot of the Marin County office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles, better known as the DMV.

I was there waiting for my wife who had a 4 pm appointment to get a license renewal. I don’t know how this works in other states, but here in California, your license is renewed on your date of birth every five years. You get something in the mail, send in a check, and the photo that they have of you on an electronic file is simply picked up and used again and again.

That is of course unless you report the license as lost or you go down in person and request a new photo. Well for years my wife, and fellow Mars Venus editor, not to mention SMW’s editorial director, has not been pleased with the quality of photographers at the DMV. I realize that they think their job is merely to say to their victims, “stand on the line,” and then they point and click. But to Josie they should show a little pride in their art. After all they are expecting a woman to live for five, ten, fifteen years with the same photo, the least they can do is capture their subjects most flattering features.

Preparation for the big DMV photo moment begins two days prior with a visit to the beauty salon for cut and color. If a hint of gray hair showed up on her photo it would be Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ass. In fact I think the recall of Governor Gray Davis was started by a group of women irate over their DMV photos.

The final two hours prior to Josie’s photo-op at the DMV is filled with careful prep. From hair, to make-up, to contact lenses everything has to be just right.

So all this time I’m thinking this has to be some kind of crazy. But, as well-seasoned husbands know to do, I keep my mouth shut. Now to the credit of our DMV when they give you an appointment time you are usually in and out in ten minutes. Because we had some errands to run together after her appointment, I suggested that I would just go to the DMV and wait outside in the car. I’m glad I did. What an eye-opening experience that was.

First a Mercedes pulls up next to me, and the woman who had been driving pulls down her visor and flips up the make-up mirror. She looks like she’s ready for a night at the theater. She checks her eyes, lipstick, and then plays with her hair, moving it one way, then the other. Finally she gives a shrug, and a sigh, flips the mirror back-up and steps outside of the car. She takes a deep breath, and with as much dignity as she can muster she begins the long march to the front doors of the DMV.

I go back to my newspaper, and as God is my witness, within a minute another woman pulls up, this time to the other side of me, and does the same routine. The only variation was the she had a hairbrush and she’s poofing away for three or four minutes, before she gets that same stoic look and begins her own march, in what I must say was a stunning tweed jacket, into the house of photographic horrors.

As Josie steps back into the car, less than ten minutes after she left, a woman slides into the parking spot to the front of me. Down comes the mirror and she begins the same drill. I tell Josie what I’ve witnessed and she laughs and says, “Now you know, it’s not just me.”

“You know men get a license, the photo looks lousy, they say ‘Screw it’ and they just stick in their wallets and forget about it,” I tell her with a snarky smile slapped across my face. “After two or three renewals that photo is now ten or fifteen years old, and it’s stating to look pretty damn good.”

So here’s my advice to the millions of women who go every few years and get a new photo from the DMV: Get it done when you’re thirtysomething, give it your best shot, and just hold on. That photo, like a fine wine, will improve with age. The only thing that trumps the florescent lights, the drab surroundings, and the visually impaired photographers, is the passage of time. Tough it out for ten or fifteen years, and one day, you’ll be showing that photo to all your friends.

Martin Brown
SMW Money Editor