Some years back, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided they could save a few bucks if they stopped reminding people to renew their drivers licenses. We are all supposed to remember what year our license expires. Since drivers licenses are good for five years, pretty much no one remembers. If you miss the date, you can’t renew online. That means ONLY in person.

Registry of Motor Vehicles – Worcester

It doesn’t matter if it’s one day or 3 years overdue. If the license has expired, you must come to the RMV in person — to get an eye test. According to the RMV, there is a direct, if somewhat obscure and mystical connection between an expired license and failing eyesight.

Note: After 4 years, you have to start over as if you never had a license at all, including written and road tests.

To save us even more money, the Commonwealth decided to close down all the kiosk RMV (Registry of Motor Vehicle) mini offices at malls where you could get simple tasks completed quickly and conveniently. Then they closed more than half the local RMV branches, keeping only the main offices open.

Between one thing and another, the result is a guaranteed daily pile-up of disgruntled Massachusetts motorists at the Registry of Motor Vehicles.

Wait here!

Garry discovered his license had expired and came home upset. I tried to renew it on-line, but though it had expired less than two weeks earlier, he had to renew in person because he needed an eye test. A punitive eye test. It is your punishment for not noticing that your license was expiring. He wondered if he could defer it. No one wants to go to the RMV, but there’s no reprieve. Driving around with an expired license is not an option. Should something happen –even a minor fender bender — you would end up getting hit with a fine that would make your head spin.

We headed up to Worcester, which according to the RMV office was our nearest branch. That turned out to be untrue, but we needed to get it done and had barely enough time. Away we went. It was a trip backwards in time.

And still we wait.

I remember saying many years ago that when the revolution came, it will begin at the motor vehicle bureau where frustrated, tired, aggravated citizens get bounced from place to place in pursuit of accomplishing a simple goal in a reasonable length of time. That we were at the RMV at all was because some moron thought sending a postcard to licensed drivers every 5 years was costing too much money. I’d like to see a cost analysis on this brilliant piece of legislation.

There used to be dozens of queues at the RMV. In the bad old days, you waited on whichever line you thought was the right one until you got to the front, discovered you had been waiting on the wrong line, and were directed to some other place to restart.

After several hours of bouncing from line to line, with the queues getting longer and angrier as the day wore on, at 5 o’clock sharp, they’d close and tell you to come back another day. The new method eliminates lines. Not a queue in sight. The Powers That Be have used chaos theory and a non-linear approach to eliminate lines and logic simultaneously. It’s a new world, a science fiction world, a completely incomprehensible world.

To get you oriented, everyone starts on a single information line where you get a little deli counter paper ticket. On it is printed a 3-digit number preceded by a letter. We were I-256.

There are letter codes A, B, C, D, F, G, I and Z. I do not know what any of them mean or if they mean anything. I don’t know why those letters were chosen as opposed to other letters. It’s all part of the non-linear thing. In the front lobby, there is a single, rather small illuminated sign that flashes the next number up. There is no order to what combinations of numbers and letter might be next.

Any combination can be called any time to any window. There were about 24 queues, though not all were open. If you got lucky, you could hear a sotto voce announcement I’m sure Garry couldn’t hear at all and I could only hear parts of and only sometimes. There were words to the effect that “We are now serving A-132 at window 14” and that number would flash on the screen. Sometimes they would flash the number for a couple of minutes, sometimes for just a few seconds.

They might be serving Z-542 at window 2, followed by D-234 at window 17. Everyone hovered near the screen because the noise level precluded being able to hear anything. When finally your number was up, you had to dash madly to whatever line you were called, which could be a long run (in my case, hobble) to the other side of the building. No way to know how soon you would be waiting. You didn’t dare leave, not even to go the bathroom.

Garry was baffled. I said that the RMV had eliminated bourgeois linearity and gone to a non-linear chaos-based formula.

“What?” he said.

“Completely random,” I assured him. We were both having flashbacks to the near riots of the 1960s as the lines in the motor vehicle bureau would stretch into the street and around the block.


There were just as many people waiting now as then, but there were no lines, just folks sitting on hard benches with dull, blank faces or milling around wondering what happened to order and logic, and why don’t they simply send a postcard reminding you to renew your license? It took three and a half hours.

I took some pictures. Security concluded I was a terrorist.  I took the pictures quickly. By the time they told me to put the camera away because “this is a State building!” (what that had to do with anything I don’t know), my camera was out of sight and I was standing around looking bored, annoyed, and out-of-sorts. Like everyone else.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Finally, they called us. Garry got a new picture which is nominally less horrible than the one he had for the past 10 years. He passed his eye test, signed an autograph for the lady who served us (who became much less rude and more helpful after recognizing Garry as the TV guy), and we finally got out of there.

Are they really saving money? I don’t think they actually pay for official mailings anyway, so it this simply one more way to annoy us? I don’t believe for a moment the savings are not more than offset by needing many more people at the RMV  rather than letting us renew our licenses on our computers. At home.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.


  1. Such an archaic system- I had to renew here in NJ- they wanted a new photo- no eye test, but the line was crazy even though we got there when the doors opened. The employees were rude and surly, and took coffee breaks – while we stood waiting, then sitting, then waiting some more. Today I went to get my car inspected, and thankfully they have changed the system. I was in and out in 7 minutes! No line of cars and they didn’t test the things they used to- made my day!!


    1. My son is a state inspector, so while we still have to repair anything broken, we don’t have to wait, either. They now are letting you renew online as long as you are less than a month overdue, but after that. And they have simplified the tests. I’m not sure if that’s really good for driving, but it makes life easier.

      It’s total chaos there and every once in a while, like when you have passed 70, they make you come in to be sure you are still mentally competent. Good to know someone cares, but the waiting is lethal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting. And I thought it was only in Africa! Mind you 3.5 hours is not too bad – I arrived @ Home Affairs in Cape Town @ 5:50 am. Waited 2 hours for them to open. Then spent 5 hours before I was processed for a new passport! 🙄 Some people actually pay others to queue for them. The place holder text messages the applicant when they get close to front of the line so they only spend a short time in the queue themselves. ( At least here there is a numerical order) It’s called job creation 😂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s similar in California, although they do send a reminder notice (letter). If you qualify, you can renew your license by mail (no tickets, under 70, etc., but not on line. The application also asks if you wish to register to vote at the same time, thus avoiding barriers to voter registration! Car registration can be done at AAA, with about a ten minute wait!


  4. We still get reminders in the mail and usually there’s a discount if you go in early. (Because the price is going up by the end of the month). I get the feeling it’s a plot to reduce the number of cars on the road.


  5. Now I understand why they always joke about those places on sitcoms. I get why they might want people to come in person if their licence is out of date but do they have to make it so difficult and they certainly don’t have to be so rude and make it so much like a punishment.


    1. It has ALWAYS been really bad. As long as I can remember, even to when I was in my early 20s, it was awful. Actually, I take that back. It was — if you can imagine it — worse. A lot worse. Because without computers, they couldn’t find half the files they needed.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. My favourite pic here is the one with people waiting. You really captured the moment there and made it seem organic and artistic at the same time. It’s like the picture is alive. Good job!


  7. I loved the pic too, it told a completely story in and of itself. We have the same here, A B C D and when your letter comes up, it’s your turn. I’ve had my run in with DMV it wasn’t pretty!


  8. My license expires next month and the notice I received (my state still does mail renewal notices) says that I must show up in person at the DMV, pay the renewal fee, take an eye test, and take the written exam! Sheesh! The written exam? That means I’ve got to download and print the handbook and study!


      1. I know. How many feet must you park from a fire hydrant? How long does it take to come to a complete stop when traveling 50 MPH? How fast are you going when you’re driving 30 MPH. Sheesh!


              1. When I spent some time in Europe I never knew what the temperature was…other than cold or hot. Still can’t easily convert Fahrenheit to Celsius.


  9. Nice shots!… but i can’t imagine why you were not hauled off to Homeland Security as terrorist sympathisers for taking them?? Detailing the inner workings of a Government Office and all you got was a “Put that away…”?? Someone was slacking off! 😉

    I can’t look at the ‘Wait Here’ photo without imagining Selma from the Simpsons standing behind the counter! but i suppose whoever you saw was worse… before she recognised Garry, of course! 🙂

    My diabetes means i have to see my GP and get a signed form that i am well enough to drive every year before they will give me my licence – and they still send me the reminder through the mail here. (Used to be able to get the 5 year one, but no more) 😦

    Once you hit 80 the physical checkups are mandatory before you can renew.

    Won’t be long now before a drivers licence will be a thing of the past anyway as cars will be their own drivers – although i grant you it might not happen in your and Garry’s lifetime.


    1. Screw the self-driving car. I want a full transporter. The roads are so bad, there’s not going to be anywhere to go that isn’t already a parking lot not matter what or WHO is driving. There’s no more room for roads, either. Eventually, they can just pave everything and we’ll all live underground. City hobbits.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I suspect the way things are going many people will soon never have to leave their hobbit-hole. Automation and the internet will allow them to do anything from the comfort of their armchairs and virtual reality will provide ‘better-than-life’ experiences for our artistic and cultural requirements. Cars for personal transport may well become redundant!?? (or at least drastically less common or used).

        I use mine very little these days anyway. 😉


        1. We don’t drive much, but that’s partly because I don’t like driving and Garry does it because I don’t and public transportation is not an option here. I don’t know that automation is going to be better than the real thing. I think we will all turn into giant, soft marshmallows. Great if you are already old, but horrible for kids.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I don’t believe or want to think that a virtual reality will be ‘better’ – it’s just that i can see marketing execs trying to sell us that it is and many of our fellow humans are dumb enough to fall for their snake-oil !

            Did you ever see the movie Wall-e? I could see that spaceship as a represntation of a possible human future. 😦


  10. I always avoid going to the registry near the end or beginning of the month.
    Mid week, I’ve been in and out of the Rmv in less than an hour.
    I think the new process is much better than the old days.
    It does seem stupid not to remind people that their license is expiring. You’d think they would send an email.


    1. You’d think that, wouldn’t you? It was better when they had all those “mini RMV” offices open but in the same stupid cost cutting measure, they closed all those outlets, so now, you wait.


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