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Dear Matthew Alice:

While standing in the license renewal line for an hour and a half the other day at the Department of Motor Vehicles, I realized that this mundane chore is one of our society's great levelers. Everyone – Paul Bloom, Dr. Thomas Day, Don Coryell – must stand in line at the DMV in order to obtain a license. Am I right?

Sara Kassara, Mission Beach.

By its own regulations, the DMV allows nobody to dodge lines, but in practice some people can take cuts. Much to the DMV's credit, the department ignores the rules sometimes to allow the handicapped, the faint, or the elderly to advance to the head of a line whenever it becomes apparcntthat such a person can't wait as long as everybody else. At the Hillcrest office of the DMV there is a table in front of the supervisor's desk where' the excepted people are brought to conduct their business sitting down. "There's no written proc~dure or anything on when you bring people to the front of the line," said a spokeswoman -for the DMV in Sacramento. "The only hard and fast rule is that everybody has to come down to the office to do their business. I had somebody ask if the department had a mobile unit to make house calls for taking the picture on a license. I told him no way."

The manager of the office in La Mesa said, "I suppose there's some way to beat the system - by sending a look-alike to take your place in line - but if there is, I've never seen it. We treat everybody the same, and we don't like the lines ourselves because they're hard on everybody."

This manager tells people who telepIxme ahead of their visits that the best will have to wait three or four more months for the standing lines to be eliminated.

The consolation of waiting at the DMV is the chance of meeting some famous person who can't avoid waiting either. Not long ago I met someone in line who looked remarkably like Joan Didion. (She resembled the photograph on Didion's latest book, The White Album, which I'd gotten for my birthday.) I introduced myself and she said, "I had better tell you what I am doing here. What I am doing here is trying to pass a test that corresponds, in some totemic way, to everything in California that I have been taught to believe in. To say that this line is in some way better than the Eight-Items-Or-Less line at the Mayfair in Hillcrest is beside the point. The point is this: the Eight-Items-Or-Less line at Mayfair may appear to be going somewhere, but this line, the line at the new DMV office with its Bang & Olufsen exterior and its immature landscaping, is the line that leads to a driver's license, which by extension is the line that leads to wherever we are going."

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