How to Lose Your Will to Live at the DMV



You know all of those awful stereotypes about the Department of Motor Vehicles?  Unfortunately, I’m here today to report that the New Jersey DMV is, in fact, the Ninth Circle of Hell.

To appreciate the full story, I need to give you one quick bit of prelude.


1989:  I sat in the local New Jersey DMV with my mother, applying for my very first driver’s license.  Probably wearing shoulder pads. As I went to fill in my eye color as green, my mom stopped me and said, harmlessly, “I think your eyes are more hazel, aren’t they?”

“Uh, I guess.  Fine.”

And so, New Jersey recorded my eyes as hazel — something I never really agreed with and a point I continued to belabor with my mom for years to come.  Just to torture her.  It became an ongoing family joke whenever the subject of eye color arose.  And, I considered it a personal victory when, a few years later, the fine State of New York let me go on record as a green-eyed girl with my Empire State license.  It was long-deserved vindication.

Hold on to that little story for a few minutes.  You’ll need it.


Fast forward to 2010.  I’m back in the suburbs of New Jersey, after 17 years in New York.

I had to finally relinquish my last bastion of Manhattan residency and convert my New York license back to New Jersey.

I read all of the paper work.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #1:  Cross-Border Mystery.  Apparently, my circumstances were extraordinary and confusing to the fine employees of the DMV.

“I need to change my license from New York to New Jersey.”

“Have you ever had a New Jersey license?”

“Yes, a long time ago.”

“Under your current name?”

“No.  Under my maiden name.”

“Wait.  You mean you had a different name in New Jersey, moved out of state, got a new name in New  York and came back to New Jersey?”

“Uh, yes.  I grew up here.  Then I moved to New York.  I got married.  And now I’m back.”

“Oh.  I’m going to need to get a supervisor.”

“This has never happened before?  It doesn’t seem so unusual.  New York is 30 miles from here — you can kind of see it out the window with all those tall buildings over there.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.  I will need the address under which your last New Jersey license was issued.”

“I don’t remember.  I lived at four different New Jersey addresses and it was almost twenty years ago.”

“You don’t remember where you lived?”

“Not every address, no.  I gave you my maiden name — is it not coming up in your records?”

“It’s coming up.  But I need you to tell me the address to prove who you are.”

“I honestly don’t remember.”

“I need another supervisor.”

I left.  I couldn’t handle it another minute.  I decided to put off this whole process.

For two years.



Fast forward to today.  It was time to get this taken care of.

I re-read all of the paperwork.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #2:  Marriage Shock and Awe.  Wherein the Federal Government ID process means nothing to The Garden State.

Repeat all steps of Visit #1 (“Yes, I now remember the street address from 18 years ago where I lived for eight months.”)


“I need your marriage license.”

“Why?  All of my ID documents are issued under my married name.”

“We have no record of your name change in New Jersey.”

“Right, but see this passport here?  Issued by the Federal Government?  The one that allows me to fly outside of the country?  This has my legal name change processed.  See?”

“No.  I need your marriage license.”

“Your Be Prepared pamphlet — ironically named, I must say — makes zero mention of this in its extensive list of warnings about required documentation to change a state driver’s license.  Is this a new requirement?”

“I need it.”

“That makes no sense.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.”

I left.  I couldn’t handle another minute.



Fast forward 90 minutes.  I had to get this done.  This time, I brought my two year-old with me — just to make it more interesting. Also, it began to rain heavily, thereby ruining any slim chance I had of a decent license photo.  This is the real tragedy of the story.

I re-read all of the paperwork.  Again.  I prepared.  I went in.


Visit #3:  Falsifying Documentation.  Because your eyes are not only the window to your soul, but also remain on your permanent record.

Repeat all steps of visits #1 and #2 (“Yes, I remember the street address from 18 years ago where I lived for eight months,” and “Here is my original, raised seal, embossed marriage license.  The one that the Federal Government OK’d when they legally changed my name on this here passport.”)


“I’m back.  Again.”

“I see that.  But we have a problem.  Your original New Jersey license application from 1989 states that you have hazel eyes.  In today’s application, you listed your eyes as green.”


“Well, which is it, ma’am?  Hazel or green?”

“You look and tell me.  I think they are green.  But my mom thought, back in 1989 — never mind.”

“They do appear green, ma’am.  Why did you falsify them as hazel in 1989?”

“This is insanity.  I need my license.  I have provided everything you asked for and now I’m losing my patience.”

“Ma’am, fighting with me will get you nowhere.”

“So I see.  So now what?”

“Now that you have green eyes, we will have to create a whole separate identity number for you in our system, and this can cause problems.”

“Then just leave them as hazel.  I don’t care.”

“Ma’am, I can’t do that.  That would be misrepresenting your identity. Again.”

{Blinking audibly through my green/hazel/bloodshot with rage eyes}

“Please just figure it out!”

“I’m going to need a supervisor.  We’ve never dealt with a change in eye color before.”

{Supervisor arrives, concurs my eyes are, in fact, green, and agrees to miraculously issue my license.}

“Ma’am, you’re going to need to leave us your phone number.”


“In case we have any problems with putting two identity numbers in the system.  We’ll have to call you.”

“And then what?”

“We’ll let you know.”


Well, that was easy!  And painless, too!  Everyone was so pleasant!

Mostly, I’m so glad there was no inconsistency, bureaucracy or confusion involved in my application to continue driving a residential automobile.  

And I’d like to extend special thanks to my mom for almost getting my driving privileges revoked over a color hue detail {Just kidding, Mom.  Sort of.}.

But, look. You know and I know that this isn’t over.  The crazy Eye Change Mystery/Double Identity detail is going to haunt me somehow for the rest of my life.  Maybe they’ll call me to come in with a notarized Letter of Eye Color Change.  Or an essay explaining the mysterious circumstances around which I crossed state lines, got married and moved the 30 miles back across the Hudson River.  Maybe I’ll call it A Stranger in a Strange Land.

Or, more likely, I’ll end up on the No Fly List on my next trip.

“You there, with the hazel/green eyes!  Drop that passport and come with us!”

Can’t you see it?

But I can tell you this:  I would rather be incarcerated than ever, ever go back to the New Jersey DMV.  Maybe I’ll just move back to New York where my green eyes are appreciated.

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  1. Laughing out loud only because it wasn’t me. My friends have always told me that Manhattan and NJ were different worlds. Apparently so much so that NJ is an adjunct where US passports don’t matter.

    And as I was reading through your tale of woe with the two identity numbers, I was thinking, “She is going to end up on the No Fly list.” Wishing you much green-eyed good karma from this point forward.
    Ellen (Must check you out on Twitter to see if you have a pic so I can judge your eye color for myself. DMV’s and moms are too shifty to be trusted.)

    • fordeville says:

      NJ is like its own country in many respects and we have reality TV depictions to thank for that, unfortunately.
      So — what’s your vote? Are my eyes green?

  2. Reading this post brought up some long-buried (sort of) rage. At 17, I passed my road test in NYC and was issued a drivers license under the name Margaret A. Reyes. Fast forward eight years. Armed with a marriage license and new Social Security Card indicating my new name as Margaret Reyes Dempsey, I walk confidently into the DMV, convinced this is going to be a no-brainer. Huh. Right. The dimwit behind the counter indicates that I cannot change my name even though both the State and Country disagree. So, the name on my license to this day is…are you ready for this:


    Commas???? Commas???? WTF?

    A few years ago I renewed my passport and they even allowed me to change my name to Margaret Reyes Dempsey. So now I have two major IDs that do not match. It’s fun, fun, fun every freakin’ time I have to fill out the information for air travel. Every time I see that warning that the name you enter must match IDENTICALLY the one on your ID, I break into a sweat. The best part is some airlines won’t allow you to enter one letter (M) as a first name. So I have to enter M comma just to proceed to the next field. Can you imagine?

    Hi, what’s your name?
    M Comma.

    For fuck’s sake. 😐

    • fordeville says:

      M Comma. I am dying.
      You have every right to your (unburied) rage.

      • I’m baaaaaack, Kim. Just got your Twelve post and was re-reading this post because I just had another DMV experience. My last license was issued in 1993, as I related above, and it was time to renew. Sigh. I brought everything with me: SS Card, Passport, marriage licenses, divorce papers, birth certificates, you name it. I got them to agree that my first name on this license should no longer be M Comma, but they would not allow me to use the name I have used for the last 28 years because my maiden name had to be kept as part of my last name. I told them I didn’t have a hyphenated last name, that I had made my maiden name my middle name. Nope. Can’t do it. After much arguing, I told the belligerent manager to just pick out a freaking name for me. And he did. I looked at the next expiration date, calculating whether I will have lived out my natural life on earth before having to return to that hellhole.

        • fordeville says:

          You’re back! I’m so glad — but not glad you had to endure the hell of the DMV. Please advise us of your legal driving pseudonym 🙂

    • Richard says:

      There are times comma most especially when I read stories like these comma when I apostrophe m so glad I don apostrophe t drive.

  3. Brett Minor says:

    I hate bureaucratic red tape. When we moved to Puerto Rico, my kids were 4 and 7. I called the airline to find out what type of ID’s I needed for them to fly.

    The flight plan was from St Louis to Chicago and then Chicago to San Juan. We made it to Chicago with no problems, but then they wouldn’t let us on the next flight because it was considered international which required birth certificates for the kids.

    Our flight was in 30 minutes and we were in Chicago almost 400 miles from our home. Plus, I had called ahead to prevent these problems. It was infuriating

  4. Alicia says:

    Hi this is Nico. I lived in Jersey for 10 years. They will never call you back. Good luck.

  5. Beth says:

    I almost had to physically restrain my husband when we moved from NY to NJ and had to chance our licenses. He goes by his middle name and every form of ID he had (until we moved) had his initial and then his middle name. Everything. But not so in NJ. Similar to M comma (my new favorite), he now has mismatched IDs. I have to check with him every time we book anything to see if he will be using his passport or his license so that we are allowed on the plane. Good times. As you can imagine, he also got the “Sir, fighting with me is not going to help you” lecture.

    • fordeville says:

      Clearly, NJ operates in its own legal system and does not believe in initials, name changes or moving in/out of the state. I can picture your husband on the edge of ballistic. I stood on that edge myself.

    • I bet you “Sir/Madam, fighting with me is not going to help you” is in their DMV Clerk Training for Dummies guides.

      Each additional comment I read makes me froth more at the mouth. Jeez.

  6. christine says:

    OMG Kim – I AM CRYING HERE! I HAD THE SAME EXACT thing happen in New York when I changed to my married name. And the green eyes is just awesome. Seriously these people are from freaking her to push our sanity. So funny. I heart you.

    • fordeville says:

      Thanks Christine. Today I’ve moved past rage to Revenge Mode. If I ever have free time again, I might go in and fuck with them by wearing blue contact lenses and asking to revert to my maiden name. *Cue DMV employee head explosion*

  7. Erin former RA says:

    I am laughing out loud!!!! Shared this with Fink too. So freaking funny (sorry, it is…because I’m not living it.)
    And M,comma almost wet my pants. M comma.

    My sole DMV story is from Nebraska when I got my license when I turned 16. The sex identified me as male. Wasn’t until I got home I realized it, and didn’t care enough to go back. I wonder what NJ would’ve done about that. Maybe they have a sex change supervisor…

    • fordeville says:

      I triple dog dare you to take your original Nebraska license to a NJ DMV (I’ll come with you — no, I’ll come to your home and pick you up and drive you to NJ myself — just for my own personal entertainment value) and say that you were once a man but no more. AND you moved halfway across the country. AND changed your name. Oh, please do it. Please.

  8. mom says:

    Ok one more time – sorry about the eye Color. Xxooo

  9. Anna says:

    omg, misery loves company! i also made my third trip to the dmv this week to also somehow transform my ny license to a nj one. i started sweating when i realized despite my meticulous preparations i had taken an unopened piece of mail, that upon opening was older than 90 days. luckily, in my worried state i had brought “back up” mail and i now am officially a jersey girl.

    i think the trouble we get over our married name “confusion” should totally fit into some sort of sexism suit, but i will let the comment serve as as far as i’m going to pursue my legal case.

    and last? i got a fourty (f*cking) four dollar ticket for not parking head first in my parking space.

    wtf, jersey municipal lot? wtf?

    • fordeville says:

      Noooo! A ticket *while* visiting the DMV? That shouldn’t be allowed. In fact, after what we endured switching over our licenses, we should have had valet parking at our disposal.

  10. Toni says:

    Unfortunately, It isn’t only the New Jersey DMV that has these kinds of problems. My husband and I got married in Italy, and you can only imagine the drama that was caused by an Italian marriage license. It took me five trips and numerous notary stamps just to change my last name. Then my last name was spelled wrong on my social security card when I changed it for that too. Now any time I have to file any kind of government id, I bring an entire box of paperwork and let them sort out what they need! lol

    • fordeville says:

      I’m starting to think that the answer is just inviting a DMV employee to any and all weddings that occur out of state.

  11. Deb says:

    Oh my word – this is so frustrating AND funny. Why are all DMV’s so rude and hard to deal with? Ours is the same way.
    Popping over from Finding the Funny – love your blog. I will be back 🙂

  12. Kelley says:

    Wow! This does sound like a nightmare! No wonder the lines are so long at the DMV. There’s so much mystery for them to process all the time. The hazel/green thing has had to happen before. Weirdos.

    (Thanks for linking this up to #findingthefunny last week!)

  13. Kelley says:

    *had to have happened


  14. Mariah says:

    I am sorry for your experience, but this is a hilarious post! When I got married, I wanted to use my maiden name as my middle name, but the DMV wouldn’t let me do that. That’s not done around here, I was told (the around here being Arkansas). Also my husbands first name got mistyped a few years later and they wouldn’t change it even with a social security card and passport. It was their own stupid mistake!

  15. erica says:

    LOVE this!!!
    M comma nearly made me spit coke on my laptop (again).
    I live in a city that has an inordinately lacking number of DMV’s so when you go you pack a lunch ….and overnight bag. It’s not unheard of for them to look at your documentation and tell you the supervisor they need (and they ALWAYS need a supervisor) isn’t “in” and you need to return tomorrow….stand in the 5 mile line AGAIN…and pray they don’t sneak out the back.

    I had more problems with my electric company changing my account to my married name than ANYONE else. Even now…when I need something to show residency I get questioned because they insisted they had to use my maiden name AND my new name….it took forever to convince them they did not need to list it as “erica XXX erica ZZZZ” (which is as stuipid as all get out).
    I guess “erica XXX ZZZZ” isn’t terrible considering the M comma post. I still get questioned EVERY time about where XXX came from since it’s not my given middle name….I didn’t realize using your maiden name was such a big deal? wrong. Ask any government worker. Last time I had trouble I called my electric co. and BEGGED them to change it.
    Sure….if I wanted to start a new record with them. New account number…oh and pay a new deposit.

    • fordeville says:

      That’s insane. Just for the privilege of paying your electric bill. You’re three initials away from having to go all Little House on the Prairie and cut off the power. Let’s hope it never comes to that.

  16. Mark says:

    I am happy I found this site. Here is my story from today. Couple years ago when I renewed my plates I opted for the Vanity plates for an extra $80 – I chose the NY Jets plates. Needless to say the following year when I got my renewal I was surprised to see that $80 is tacked on EVERY year. I didn’t have time to go to DMV to get regular plates so I renewed at the plus $80 price. After seeing the Jets this year no way would I do that again so I call DMV ask what needs to be done and they tell me just come in with the plates, insurance and registration. I take the plates off in the lot, walk up to the counter and in a nasty tone the woman asks me a couple questions. She asks if this is all in my name. I say yes, she takes my plates, throws them into a bin and “surrenders” them in the system. She looks at the registration and tells me she can’t do this because it is registered in my wife’s name and she has to come in. I apologize saying I didn’t even realize that and ask for my plates back. “I can’t give you your plates back – you surrendered them.” Huh?? “I need my plates back – I have no plates on the car”…..”Well then why did you surrender them?” Now this is getting good. I told her I didn’t realize the car was registered under my wife’s name. “This is your fault – I can’t give you the plates back”. So I ask her ” So you weren’t really supposed to surrender them either?” No answer. She then walks away, comes back and tells me to write on this piece of paper that I want my plates back and why I want them back. I ask her exactly what she wants me to write. “Write whatever you want to”……ok so I write “I would like my plates back – I was not allowed to surrender them but they were surrendered in error”. I hand it to her – she hands it back saying “I did not make an error – I am not taking this.” I said number one I did not say it was you who made the error and number two I think we both made an error since you should have looked at my documentation before surrendering them in the system.” Well of course I get “I made no mistake!” So I said “Fine, you are not to blame for anything, you never make a mistake. Please tell me what you want me to write and I will write it!” Her response – “Write whatever you want to write”. UGH!! So I tell her I just did! She takes it and makes me go sit and wait for my plates back. I watch her berating every person who she speaks to. Half hour later I get my plates back. It is amazing that people like this keep their jobs.

  17. Amy says:

    We were in the Military and could just keep our residency and DL in FL for the duration. And don’t think I underestimated the value of that! Thank you, United States Army.
    Flash forward to a civilian move to a border state. After too many visits to count to the AZ DMV (not even called that here to make it difficult to locate them) I still hold my FLDL. 5 years later.
    That is a FIVE.
    It is expiring soon so I gathered the nerve, a sack lunch a good novel and a pillow, for my return to the AZMVD.
    I girded my loins.
    “We need multiple forms of ID, ma’am”
    Yeah, I got nothin.
    “Military ID?”
    Yeah, no. The Military wanted theirs back when we left so I could no longer avoid paying sales tax on chewing gum at the PX- what else would you like?
    “A Passport” Yeah, those get made at the USPS? No. I don’t go there, ever, I have a clinical phobia. Medication has to be involved. Not happening. Sorry.
    “Your original SS card” uhm…from 1984? I used that to get my Military ID- haven’t seen it since. May need to replace that.
    (Quick Google search- need two matching photo ID’s to get SS card – do not pass Go, Do Not Collect $200, drive to nearest SSA Office in person, a 40 mile drive) Fantastic.

    I am sorrounded by crying, cussing, threatening people and those are just the employees at the MVD. I decide I better leave before I join in.
    We were military so I am a seasoned veteran at redtape, nonsense, beaurocracy and BS.
    Plus I got my original license in the VADMV, where if you survive without a nervous breakdown you can probably handle DC beltway traffic in the 24 hr Rush Hour just fine.

    Compared to the people being threatened with arrest, I calmly walk out- I am only sobbing.
    Because, as you plainly see. I am in this circle jerk of insanity whereby I cannot GAIN the form of ID I need without the form of ID required, which is, in fact, the form of ID I seek.
    WTF, Arizona.
    I went to the SS Admin where I had a full body search, my purse inspected for guns and explosives then played 20 questions with the worker there. I correctly answered so I get a new card mailed to me in two weeks and begin again….

    I had the nerve to get married and move 15 times in my life so I see no end to this.
    Like, ever.

    Oh, and my new Employer is threatening to either fire me or maybe it is deport me if I don’t get an AZDL, and some other legal form of photo ID like yesterday. Apparently this state is E-Verify and if I don’t prove who I am quickly, I will be assumed to have come here illegally. I may get to go to Mexico without a passport afterall. All expense paid one way trip.
    Thanks US Gov’t and all of your evil minion agencies. At least I have my sack lunch, good novel and pillow at the standby. Because when they see my Maiden name is Garcia, I fully expect their heads to explode, then to find myself on a bus headed due South.
    Aye, Chihuahua.

  18. Karen says:

    When my twins were a year old, my hubby and I decided to fly to Vegas. We didn’t think we would find someone willing to take twins for five days so my hubby called the airlines and asked what we needed to do to show we were bringing them. They said to enter our last name and then put “with twins” after the last name. So our last name said Haymondwithtwins. In the end, we found a couple of saintly/naive people to take the girls and headed to the airport. We were questioned at the ticket counter, security, and flight line about the validity of our identity because we had no babies with us. Explanations, pictures and frustration abounded. When we reached our hotel, a supervisor was called because we had no babies with us and our ID did not match our reservation name, which had been booked with our flight. We learned to not mention whether or not we were bringing small children with us!

  19. Rachel says:

    Hilarious and SO TRUE! I’ve always said the DMV is where happiness goes to die. Last time I was there (after avoiding it for roughly 8 months), I had to get a new license because I had moved to a new state. After the irate man next to me threatened to return with a gun (and I tried to figure out how long it would take me to climb over the counter for cover), the DMV lady slid my paperwork over and asked that I verify the information.

    She seemed to think I was being nit-picky when I said, “It says here that my eyes are black. They’re not…they’re blue.”

    “Oh. Huh. I wonder how that happened. Do you want me to change that?”

    That would be a good thing to do, yes.

  20. Carol says:

    OMG. Greaaaaaaaaat. I have to go there to get a new license to replace my WI one…*sigh*

  21. Allison Hart says:

    Sort of terrifying as I sit here at the DMV, my third visit for the same apparently confounding situation of moving from the adjacent state and needing new plates. At least I never falsified my identity!

  22. Laura Porter says:

    Thanks for the warning. We live in NJ, and I am going to renew my son’s passport. His passport, issued when he was 11, says blue eyes. I seem to recall them being unequivocally blue. He is now 16.. His learners permit says hazel ( no clue who put that) but his eyes seem decidedly green. Hmm…..

  23. OH DEAR MOTHER OF ALL THAT IS HOLY AND RIGHT please don’t let this happen to me! I’m taking my 15 year old today to apply for his learner’s permit and I have no idea what to list as his eye color and I actually did a GOOGLE SEARCH for “acceptable eye colors” because his are GREY! Sometimes they’re greenish… sometimes they’re blueish… sometimes and usually they’re like…. grey… ???? I was thinking I have NO CLUE what to put for his eye color. and then I read this… and am fairly certain he will never drive because I have zero patience. People are stupid. DMV employees are STOOPIDER.

  24. DMVhate says:

    For some reason I have little problems changing my license out of state a hundred times. But when I move back to the state (and town mind you) I grew up in I have the hardest time renewing my license. DMV, you are nothing but BS bureaucracy and pure irony to me.

  25. Susan from GA says:

    ok…this is totally different, but I am about to explode to tell you…

    Back when God was a boy, civil servants actually typed your SSN number on your card. Al Gore had not invented the computer. Yes, I am old….so shut up.

    It was the first year that parents had to list their children’s SSN number on their tax return. My parents had 3 daughters….2, 4, and 8. So, my law-abiding mother marched all 3 of us with our birth certificates in hand to the local ssn office. Don’t get ahead of me here….

    So YEARS later when I filed my first IRS return I get a letter stating that I am using an erroneous number. Huh?

    Yep…the typist had mistakenly typed MY name on my SISTER’s ssn card.

    I think our grandchildren might get this straightened out. I am hopeful.

  26. Jessica says:

    My drivers license is very falsified then too by accident. I’ve been coloring my hair since I was 15, which is also a common practice, right? So when I got my first license, the lady put my hair as brown, which I corrected her by saying it is naturally blonde, and I dye it a lot. My dad jumped in and said, “it is brown though, right?”. So that didn’t help. There is this idea that I’ve run into a lot that there is no such thing as a natural blonde. If I was a blonde, why would I dye it? So many people fry their hair trying to get it blonde, so if I was fortunate to get blonde hair why would I change it. Maybe I just don’t like my blonde hair (and the jokes that go along with it). Anyway, the DMV lady did not believe me and put my haircolor down as brown. When I continued to argue, I was told, “Ma’am, we have other ways of finding out your natural hair color”. Since that sounded like it would involve stripping down in someone’s office to check what color the hair is downstairs; I let them leave it as brown.

    I also have the elusive color changing hazel eyes. They were more brown when I was a kid, but they get greener as I get older. Now I would say they are more green than brown. But they are also listed as brown on my drivers license. And it also depends on the lighting and my mood. I was thinking of getting it changed to hazel, and updating the hair color issue…

    After reading this article, maybe it’s not worth the trouble. I am in Texas, and these people have guns, add the frustration of being at the DMV, anything could happen. You don’t want to make these people mad. At least I was finally able to get that I am an organ donor on there, if they don’t throw them out because these discrepancies will keep them from being able to properly identify my body.

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