Last week, on Tuesday, I had two appointments to attend to. My first appointment involved the Illinois Department of Motor Vehicles so my wife was nice enough to secure a 9:50 am appointment, earlier that morning, in Lake Zurich Illinois. The second was receiving my second Pfizer shot at 1 pm at Condell Hospital in Libertyville. For the DMV, the appointment text said to show up 10 minutes early…because I’m German-American, I showed up 20 minutes early so I was told bluntly to walk past those dozens of other taxpayers who were required to stand on the outside part of the sidewalk. I was in this line until 10:35 am and at that point, was directed to the other line formed on the inside part of the sidewalk.
It was a blustery day in early April and frankly, I failed in the ‘bring along a warm jacket’ game. I deluded myself into thinking that it’s April and so it’s spring so a winter coat is unnecessary. A little more about the weather, it was a cloudy day (imagine that in Chicago) with a 20 mile per hour wind whipping from the north, temp around 40. The good news, my back was facing that direction which meant it was a little more bearable.
As I waited in line, I heard one of the DMV employees said they were backlogged. I accepted that fate knowing that things happen unexpectedly so I was being patient. Once I moved to the new line and being first in the queue, I briefly chatted with the DMV representative. Hesitantly, I asked him to talk about today’s backlog. He looked at me as if I asked him a brain teaser, not knowing exactly what I meant. I said, “Is this a common occurrence with so much of a backlog waiting outside long after their appointment time?” He took the bait, and said, “The backlog is not just today, we have a backlog every day.” (Just to add perspective, he admitted to being backlogged even though it was very early in the day, amazing.)
I couldn’t resist and proceeded to ask him “Do employees such as yourself working outside on a windy day while directing foot traffic have the opportunity to provide management with that feedback?” I continued, “If you’re backlogged every day, then perhaps you’re taking too many appointments at a given time?” I felt like I had to rephrase my initial question as I was not 100% certain that improving the appointment time process was something he didn’t pay much attention to. My comment appeared to not sit well but when you’re older and cold and see such ridiculous inefficiency, that small muscle in my body was absent a filter. I also wondered if he had a manager, would his manager be interested in behalf of the Illinois taxpayers to encourage a more pleasant experience. Just because people hate the DMV doesn’t mean that the DMV can’t improve its reputation.
Instead of saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” Or, “Unfortunately, you’ve had to stay outside for over an hour when the wind chill is around 35 degrees.” No, he said, “I don’t set the rules.” I wondered if he had used up all his year’s empathy by Valentine’s Day. Showing some dignity and patience towards people who have 100 other things they’d rather do than spend two hours at the DMV.
He then on a tangent about the doctor’s office, saying, “Do you have to wait to see your doctor? Do you ever have to wait an hour to see them?” At that point, I knew he wasn’t familiar with conflict resolution (sarcasm). First, examples of two institutions unable to adhere to particular scheduled appointment times did not warm my customer service heart. Second, when I wait to see my doctor, I’m in a warm and well-furnished waiting room with current magazines. Third, delayed medical appointments are much more likely to happen mid to late afternoon as emergencies could crop up. For the most part, a doctor is doing his/her best and if they are honest, they’ll give you a little more time and support. At the DMV, they have several employees in the check-in, photography area, cashier, etc. It’s not like 1 or 2 individuals are processing your driver’s license renewal – be committed to honoring those individuals who that appointment that same morning. I would assume that the number of time slots available is based on the status of available personnel. I’m assuming management knows before the start of the day if you’ll be short-staffed, if so, then add that calculus to the number of availability for each time slot. Each day will be slightly different from the last so the number of appointment availability will vary too. I’m thinking to myself, “Why have time slots when they are typically 30-45 or more minutes behind? Especially so early in the day.”
Once I made it inside, I was at least a little less annoyed and certainly less cold. It was another 15 minutes to check in to get my Special ID. I presented my social security card, passport, and automobile insurance with my current address, bank statement with current address, and address from the Social Security Administration (which I had detached from the card.). Quickly learned that insurance information could not be auto-related, it had to be one’s homeowner policy. I also swung and missed when I inadvertently detached my new SS card from the SS address. The woman, with a serious face, said that anyone would bring in separate items so she wouldn’t be sure if it was legit. So the purpose of my visit was to generate my new Special ID which was unsuccessful. At the bare minimum, I got my license renewed. I also wondered at this point whether my negative karma was coming back at me in a negative way.
To renew my license, I need my mug shot taken. So one of the first things this female photographer wondered was why I was angry. In my mind, that’s a little too personal but I don’t know if she has that same gauge. I began to explain my challenges here and then I thought about that karma thing and kept my mouth shut. I just felt like another brick in the wall. After one of her eyes captures she blustered out, “Your eyes are closed.” And I thought, so, that’s kind of a natural reaction to this shit show at the DMV that I’m experiencing. Maybe my eyes were closed because I’m imagining that this experience was just a bad dream.
After wrestling with the DMV on Tuesday morning, I had a 1 pm appointment to receive my second vaccination against Covid-19. The vaccines were administered in the Conference Room at Condell Hospital. The first thing I noticed was those workers and volunteers were much friendlier, smiling as they thanked you for coming in for the vaccination. I was 30 minutes early for my appointment but with how things were designed, they had the structure to handle the ebb and flow of those seeking to get this vaccine. After reaching my vaccine, I had to wait 15 minutes to ensure there would be no quick adverse reactions to the vaccine, think -- an allergic reaction like anaphylactic shock. I was offered water which I accepted as I waited and watched the operation instead of burying my head into my phone. An elderly male was a volunteer who scrubbed down chairs once they became vacant. I gave him a “thumbs up” for doing this nice service and he just smiled and moved on to the next chair.
I just want to be clear that there are so many structural differences between the DMV and the vaccine administration process. From a financial perspective, there’s a lot more money and federal and state focus on getting as many people vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible. This state agency unfortunately is not on the same economic grounds. It would be disingenuous for me to criticize this state agency for not being as customer-focused as this vaccination site. One could argue that these vaccine workers are so happy to be doing such gratifying work to help eradicate Covid-19. Imagine being exhausted working in the ER and then being offered a chance to help achieve herd immunity. Who wouldn’t want that opportunity and change of pace? Again, we are in a way mixing apples with oranges so it’s important to remember the context between these two experiences. However, that doesn’t mean the DMV can’t consider improving some of its processes. And for that matter, consider adding a little more humanity and politeness in dealing with clients (taxpayers).