The Department of Motor Vehicles, no matter your country, seems to be universally regarded as an atrocious place within the 3rd Ring of Hell. In the Virgin Islands, take those sentiments, add an island bureaucracy and lifer government employees, and you’ll understand why the island’s DMV is located deep within most St. Thomian’s worst nightmares. I heard story after story about people who barely survived (and those who actually didn’t). My hesitation to visit the DMV only increased with time, and my Florida driver’s license became one of my most prized possessions. I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I waited 2 solid years to make the legal switch to a VI driver’s license, though I am sort of proud to have been able to hold out so long.
Upon realizing my Florida license was about to expire, I mustered up the courage to finally take on the island DMV. I brought everything I thought they might need and more: my social security card, my FL driving record, a carefully completed application, my passport, my FL driver’s license, my lease, and the rights to my firstborn child. Upon arrival, I was ordered to three different windows, each with its own line and surly woman behind it. Though surly doesn’t even begin to describe how unfriendly these women were. I realize everyone has their own problems, but really – it was 8 am, they had fresh cups of coffee, AND they were in air-conditioning. To me, it seemed like a heavenly respite from my preschool teaching job. But, just my perspective.
I handed over my copies accompanied by a bright smile and the obligatory “Good morning!” to each woman. 45 minutes of death stares, teeth sucking, and paper shuffling later, I was finally paid, stamped, and ready for the last step: to get my picture taken. I waited outside the photo room, hoping the rest of my visit would go as smoothly.
As I entered the room, my documents were handed over once again to another sneering DMV employee. She studied each document carefully, with an almost medical precision. Each and every document. As she read my former driving record, I tried to lighten the mood by regaling her with the story of the time I was able to turn “speeding and running a red light” into a mere “traffic violation”. Most people find that tale entertaining, but apparently, she didn’t share in the humor. The blank stares I received told me to just shut up and sit down.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Sarah, S-A-R-A-H. Last name, Dillie – D (as in dog)-I-L-L-I-E.” I replied.
She double, triple, and quadruple checked to ensure I was being accurate and clicked away on her computer.
This office was clearly her domain. Pictures of adorable children and family members were taped to her monitor. Scripture quotes popped out on brightly colored paper. Discarded coffee cups had made a small home on the corner of her desk. She obviously had been inputting details on Virgin Islands licenses for a long time and she seemed to take her craft seriously. When I asked (again, trying to make small talk) if the end of the month was a busy time for her, I was given a hand held in the air and told, “this ain’t gonna write itself.” Okay then.
She took my photo, printed it out, and handed me back my documents along with my shiny new license. I had survived. On my way I went.
It wasn’t until a couple of hours later – hours that I had spent gloating to anyone who would listen about getting out of the DMV unscathed – when I was taking a picture of my license to send to my family (to, of course, gloat some more), that I realized there was a mistake.
No longer was I Sarah. My new license had renamed me, Sahah.
My first reaction was one of delight. I had been christened with a new island name! It made me feel like I finally belonged. I was no longer an outsider and I had a license to prove it.
But my joy was short lived. I quickly remembered that I get my ID checked down here A LOT. Not for alcohol, mind you, but every single time I use my debit card, my credit card, even cash. Ok, so not really for cash, but you to get the picture. And knowing my luck, I would be constantly denied since my new island name on my driver’s license does not match my actual name on anything else, even if it was just off by one letter.
So back I went. With my Social Security card, FL driving records, application, passport, new VI driver’s license, and my lease. And, of course, my island name.
“Ha!” said the license-maker woman, finally cracking a smile. “That’s just how we type our ‘Rs’ here on the island. You’ll get to know that.”
Considering I’ve been here for two years and during that time have been educating local children, I’m pretty sure I would have heard by now about this apparent confusing correlation between Rs and Hs. I thought about telling her as much and calling her out on her mistake, but thought better of it. Instead, it was my turn to adopt the death stare of aggravation, collect my corrected license, and bid her a nice day.