Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Life in the slow lane…


The Eagles have a song called “Life in the Fast Lane” (Did I mention they are my all-time favorite band?) Don Henley (my all-time favorite lead singer) sings this line:

"Life in the fast lane
surely make you lose your mind, mm...Are you with me so far?"

I had an experience that totally brought that home. Except that it was life in the slow lane…and a few of us kept our minds intact, thanks.

I was at the local DMV last week, which in our small neck of the woods is only open two days a month. I needed a driver’s license renewal. I arrived mid-morning, unaware of the fact that this was the division’s first day in its new office space. I took a number, as indicated. At 10 a.m., my number was already 27. There were a dozen people sitting in the chairs for those waiting, and I took one of the two remaining. There were several people up at the counter and one trying to take a written exam with an uncooperative computer system.

I filled out my form and opened my kindle for a long wait. It was okay, I had time.

As we waited, I overheard people talking about how long they’d been waiting. Mostly, they were pleasant conversations, with a few huffs of impatience here and there. It soon became apparent that new office computer glitches were frustrating both the staff and the patrons. Still, it was calm for the most part. Several more people came in and soon there were not enough chairs for everyone.
About 45 minutes later my number was called and I turned in my paperwork (and almost my firstborn child) for the driver’s license renewal I sought. They snapped my photos, handed me my papers back and told me to stand in a different line for the next available representative. Kind of a physical “on-hold”.

Only one of the two available computers was working and a supervisor was trying to resolve that. The testing computers were also on the fritz. As I stood in line to be served next, a trio of English-accented (and very funny!) people arrived for the third time that morning, having once forgotten necessary paperwork, and then the checkbook (30 miles round trip to retrieve each). And they were still happy. And funny. Just the kind of natural stand-up comedy the place was needing about then! They jumped to the front of the line, while the staff explained that since they’d already been handled according to their number, they’d been given an “appointment” to return and not have to wait again.

As I waited, I realized I was not going to finish before I had to be at an 11:00 a.m. appointment, so I asked for, and received an appointment to return at 11:30. I left.

When I returned the place was still packed, and the EXACT SAME PEOPLE were still at the counter being served. I gave my appointment slip to the lady at the first desk, and she directed me to a position at the front of the line of people standing (to be attended to BEFORE the row of people sitting). New people had come in during my absence, and the heightened stress level was palpable. The next person’s number was called, only for him to find out he had to fill out an application first. He sat back down, none the happier. (That instruction wasn’t posted. I had just followed the example of the person before me.)

I’d only been standing in line a few minutes when a gentleman approached the counter, slammed his number 31 on the counter and demanded service, saying that others were being served before him. The lady explained the “appointment” process, but he was undeterred. He loudly demanded service saying “here’s my number 31” in a heavy, and heated, Hispanic accent. She told him, gently (and a little frightened, I’m sure) that they hadn’t yet gotten to number 31. He nearly threw the number at her, turned and crashed out the door, very angry.

At that point, the DMV supervisor stood and explained to the overflowing room that this was their first day in this office, they were trying to resolve computer issues and everyone’s patience would be required. He also stated that since it was approaching the noon hour, the staff would be leaving for lunch and some of the people would have to return at one, but they would get them all taken care of as quickly as possible. It seemed that his plea served only to incense several people. One woman stood up and tersely complained that “some of us” took their lunch hour to come and get their newly qualified drivers licensed. Another stood and said, more loudly, that it was costing her wages to wait. A third, even angrier, stated that she lived a good distance away and coming back was a huge inconvenience.

I sensed a riot brewing. Then: beauty...Another man came to the first desk and quietly told the staff that he was not in a hurry and could come back later. I followed suit, hoping to free up some time and set a good example. I sat in my car for a little while. No one else came out.

I returned at 4:00 p.m., quickly received my temporary permit and thanked them all. I expressed empathy for their tense morning and told them I appreciated all their efforts at making everything work. By then all systems were up and running. They seemed greatly relieved, anxious for the harried day to be over, poor souls.

So even though the lane was slow, and a few return trips were necessary on my part, I was grateful that due to recent life lessons, I knew that the anger and the fight and the disrespect (while I honored those women's rights to have their opinions) only served to slow things down and make them more difficult. I felt for the women and the pressure they felt. I truly did. But it did not further their cause. It was totally counter-productive. It’s not the example that their totally embarrassed children appreciated. And even the guy who slammed out would have to come back and eat some humble pie as it’s the only place in town where a person can get a license, unless he thinks travelling to the packed big city DMVs are going to be faster. That’s a tough life…in whatever speed of lane you find yourself.

So thanks, DMV, for the life lessons. Thanks to the English family who kept us in stitches and gave comic relief to the waiting crowd despite their personal trifecta of inconvenience. Thanks to the staff who did their best, and took complaints in stride with grace and kindness (for the most part). Thanks to the man who set the example of humility and service for me. And thanks, especially, to Heavenly Father, for teaching me to live a patient life in the slow lane, as Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has recommended.

This quote by him is my goal for this year about slowing down and staying connected to what’s important:

“We need to turn some things down, and turn some things off. We need to be quiet.”

Don Henley sang it, too in “Learn to be still.”

Of course he also sang “Get over it.” Also good advice.