The New York rule is clear: “You must exchange your out-of-state driver license within 30 days of becoming a New York resident” or be treated as if driving without a license, which would be a very bad thing. Further, the exchange must be done in-person at a DMV office.

That second requirement was a problem. DMV offices were closed on account of the pandemic. I sent a letter. No answer. I just let it go until when I learned that a driver’s license (or a REAL ID whatever that is) is required to register to vote.

Fortunately, the DMV is again open for in-person encounters, so I gathered proof of residence, age, and identity and made an appointment. Mask firmly fixed in place, I lined up in front of a building on East 125th Street in Harlem and waited a long time on a summer day made hotter in that special New York way by heat radiating off pavement and buildings, and, as required, didn’t show up more than fifteen minutes early and, when my turn came, presented the official admission-authorizing document, which the guard didn’t even glance at.

At the window, my application was summarily rejected. The name on my social security card doesn’t match exactly the name on my passport. My middle name is Joseph. It’s on my birth certificate. It’s the only middle name I’ve ever used – with one exception. When I applied for the card at age twelve, I wrote “Joe” in the blank for middle name. I thought it would be fun to be a “Joe.” And that is what is says on the worn, seventy-year-old card that I stuck through the slot in the glass partition between me and the DMV clerk. Shaking his head, he told me to go to the Social Security office and get a name change. I offered the birth certificate. Fugeddaboudit. He wagged his head some more, and in a tone I didn’t much care for, asserted that he didn’t know how I got a Texas license in the first place. I turned away in shame.

Social Security regulations also require an in-person consultation. and the office is closed (still) on account of the pandemic. I’m hoping it reopens in the next couple of months and I can get an appointment and I can persuade the bureaucrat in charge to let me change my silly little-boy name to my real name, and I can get a New York driver’s license and I can register to vote. I feel a certain lack of control in this process.

Ann also has a driver license/Social Security card problem; she does not have the actual card in her possession (and can’t remember the last time she did have one).  However, in her reading of the DMV website, it’s possible to get a New York driver’s license without presenting a Social Security card. I concurred, though I had seen posters all over the walls of the DMV office that indicated otherwise. In the belief that our careful reading would override words on government-issue posters, she got on the phone and argued our case for an hour or so to a faceless bureaucrat. (She has no problem with fool’s errands when it’s important.) He checked with a supervisor, then said, “the website is wrong.”

Because she needs merely a replacement Social Security card, not a name change like I do, she doesn’t have to submit to a face-to-face encounter. All she has to do is mail in her passport and a form. In the unlikely event that all goes well, the passport will be returned along with a Social Security card. I have advised her to rough the card up, sweat on it, and otherwise make it look suitably old, lest it appear counterfeit and she too is ignominiously turned away.

We have not yet faced the consequences of failing to obtain a New York license within the first thirty days of our residence. We can claim extenuating circumstances, but that may not be considered germane. A rule is a rule.

Somewhere in the state constitution there must be a section that prescribes new-resident hazing rituals.

4 thoughts on “COVID-19 MEETS DMV

  1. Nathaniel F. Queen, Jr., OSJ

    Ann got off correctly. I haven’t had a Social Security card in ‘donkeys’, as the English would say, but I’ve remembered the number over all these years. I went to the Social Security office without my card and was able to attain assistance. Since I haven’t had a physical card so long, I did not opt to request a new one (perhaps I should?).
    The problem is that many of the government employees are, unfortunately, not quite literate and/ or qualified for their positions. Tammany Hall still exists in a shadowdy way in these government appointments. All I can say to you is good luk for getting your documents in order in time to vote, especially if you are taking the ‘saf’ option of sending in an absentee ballots for not wanting to stand in line at your polling station. Then again, this is New York State and the voting patterns do not chage much. It is rare for an a incumbent to lose or for a desiginated canidate to lose with the party’s backing depending upon whether you’re upstate (Republican) or downstate (Democrat).

  2. Barry Lobdell

    Ah yes, your story struck a familiar chord in my own experiences with DMV. I must have visited their offices many times over the 50 or so years since I started driving and I’d guess my success rate for getting whatever was needed on the first visit is probably in the 20% range. As Gilda Radner used to say, “There’s always something”.

  3. Nancy Garniez

    In your situation I would contact my locL State Assemblyperson’s office: they often have staff to assist with problems such as this. At any rate, it’s worth a try.

  4. Mary Jane Wilkie

    I tremble in terror every time I must apply for something official because, to some authorities, I am Mary Jane Wilkie, while to others I am Mary J. Wilkie (assuming that “J” is my middle initial, which it is not). Nancy’s suggestion is a good one, I think, and perseverance is what has often saved me, along with smiling at the person I’m dealing with (which I’m sure you did).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *