By Hannah Reich Berman

Even under normal circumstances, I am not a fan of the Department of Motor Vehicles, or as it is commonly referred to, the DMV. And last week, when I had little choice but to drop in at that place, circumstances were about as far from normal as they could be. After three weeks of living like a gypsy, my tolerance level was at an all-time low and my emotional stability was in serious jeopardy. For those tuning in to this column for the first time, let me bring you up to speed . . .

I had been forced out of my palace when four-plus feet of water flooded my basement and blew the outside door and doorpost into the water. That made my home totally exposed and I worried about who and what might wander inside. It made no sense to have the opening boarded up, since workers were constantly coming and going, and I wasn’t there to let them through the front door. I stopped being concerned that some unsavory character might come in through the basement, because it occurred to me that no self-respecting looter would be caught dead in that place. It was damp, dark, and smelly. Surely there were more inviting places to loot!

I moved into my daughter’s home. There were 15 of us living there at the same time. Because the home of another daughter had also sustained damage during the storm, she and her family were also bunking there. There were other options that would have rendered our living quarters much less crowded, since a third daughter invited us to stay at her place. But, as she lives a mile further from our (damaged) homes, we declined. Our cars had been lost to Storm Sandy, leaving us temporarily dependent on rides from friends, and, since getting gasoline was so difficult, we didn’t want to ask people to drive that extra mile. For that reason, we stayed put and got daily lifts back and forth to our storm-damaged homes. We went to check our mail and to meet with workers (who sometimes didn’t even bother to show up). By the time the so-called gasoline shortage ended, not a single one of us had the energy to move our belongings and head to daughter number three. So she and her husband helped our cause another way; they turned their place into a family Laundromat. After working a full day, they would pick up our soiled laundry and then wash, dry, and fold it before returning it to us.

Back in the house where we were living, we made every attempt to give one another privacy. It wasn’t easy. I didn’t check on any of the other family members there, but I personally was living a somewhat less than elegant existence. All of my possessions were in bright yellow plastic bags, courtesy of the supermarket. My once lovely suitcases had been submerged and were by then part of a landfill somewhere.

My daughter and son-in-law who were hosting us all displayed incredible hospitality. They’re a family of seven and, amazingly, in three weeks’ time, with nine extra people living with them, they never once ran out of food or supplies. How my daughter managed this I have no idea, but I nominate her for balabusta of the year. She and her husband could qualify as innkeepers because, through it all, they remained cool, calm, and collected.

For me, it was difficult to be a guest. My nerves were not just frayed, they were shot! I longed to be back in my own home. And it was in this condition that I went to the DMV to secure a replacement title to my car. The original title, which I need in order to collect insurance, is probably gracing the aforementioned landfill.

Trying to beat the system, I arrived 50 minutes before opening time. Some 200 other souls had the same idea and, together, we waited outside until the place opened. As it was the day after Thanksgiving, “Black Friday,” I had thought everyone else would be out looking for bargains. So much for that thought! As Hubby used to tell me, my problem is that I think too much. When the doors opened at 8:30, it was every man for himself. It resembled a stampede and we bleated like sheep: I need this, where do I go? I need that, where should I go? Which line do I stand on to get this? Which line do I need to be on to get that? The DMV worker standing just inside the door didn’t have time to answer one person before another one assailed him.

After locating the correct line, I waited my turn and then stood in front of a bored-looking woman. She handed over a form, mumbling something about filling it out and then going to wait on yet another line. I say “mumbling” because workers at that establishment do not look directly at the hapless customers they serve. Instead, they make it a practice to look down, or off to the side–anywhere but directly at the customer. The lady I dealt with took it a step further. She gave me instructions while simultaneously making small talk with a coworker seated a few feet from her. I took the proffered form and searched for a free countertop on which to write.

After I finished giving my life history, I heaved a sigh of relief, grateful that it wasn’t necessary for me to reveal my weight, and then I searched for the next line. Once there, I waited for my turn at the window, where another disinterested clerk checked to be sure I had filled out everything on my form before handing me a small ticket and instructing me to take a seat and wait for my number to be called. The common thread here is the word wait.

I ambled over to a bench and sat down. And I sat. And I sat. And it occurred to me that never has one person been surrounded by so many and yet been so alone. The DMV is like that. It has all the warmth and ambience of an abandoned igloo. Unlike standing on line at a movie theater, where one sometimes makes a new acquaintance, people who visit the DMV do not chat. Each person sits quietly, alone. The difference is that people at the theater are in a good mood in anticipation of seeing a movie, but there is no good feeling about being at the DMV. We don’t want to be there! We’re victims of circumstance and the only thing on our minds is to conduct our business and leave as quickly as possible. The temperature outside might be below freezing, but breathing in fresh air upon exiting is pure joy. The sensation is akin to the feeling of being discharged from a hospital. That’s the way it is! v

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and is a licensed real-estate broker associated with Marjorie Hausman Realty. She can be reached at or 516-902-3733.

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