Finally, Washington, we've found it. The place that will always treat you like Somebody even if you're Nobody. The place that settles the endless struggles of the Washington pecking order by declaring that everybody's a VIP. It's . . .
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicle Services.
That's right. The same folks who always stand there gabbing with each other while 40 people wait in line. Those brilliantly organized bureaucrats who take their own lunch breaks just when lunch-hour license-renewal demand is heaviest. The same crew that always seems to turn what ought to be a 20-minute chore into the waste of an entire day.
But wait. That sort of sloppiness has become history, according to the DMVS's assistant director, Robert O'D. Thompson.
Not only does Thompson claim to have shrunk license-renewal lines to no more than half an hour, but he has flung open the doors of privilege. Anyone who does not want to wait in line at all at the department's 301 C St. NW headquarters can receive "special, personal attention from a member of the staff."
Translation: If you think your time is valuable, you don't have to act like every other citizen. All you have to do is call Thompson or one of his supervisors, Irma Warrick.
They will walk your application through the mill themselves.
In a city of perks, this may be the perkiest: To renew your license in Washington, you can avoid lines simply by claiming that you matter.
"If you say you're a VIP, we'll take your word for it," said Thompson. "We are not in the business of deciding who's important enough to receive personal service. Better we should give it to someone who doesn't really need it than deny it to someone who does."
Personal walk-you-through renewal service is "really no big deal," Thompson insists, "because the lines have really been reduced. Most people won't need it. Having us do it will save you just a few minutes. Come on down and see for yourself."
I did -- at lunch hour on a Friday, usually the best time to see human beings acting like extras in a cattle drive.
Thompson's right on the money. To get to the front of the main information line -- always the longest -- never took longer than 15 minutes, and usually took five.
Still, demand for special service is as high as it was before the lines shrank.
"Oh, sure, we've always gotten them," said Warrick. "Mondale's wife went through. We've had astronauts, Nixon's daughters, news media. Who's that nutty movie guy from TV? Davey Marlin-Jones, right. We've had 'em all."
According to Thompson, most special treatment requests revolve around security considerations:
"For a lot of real VIPs -- I'm talking about Kissinger now, people like that -- it's not a good idea to have them standing in line."
Despite their easy availability, his office averages only "about 10 requests for specials a year," Thompson said. The most recent: renewals for the four American hostages in Iran who held D.C. licenses. "After what they went through, we wouldn't make them come down here," Thompson said.
Mayor Barry is certainly entitled to special treatment, but he showed he is a Man of the People:
"He wanted to know what the best times were for the lines. I told him, 'Don't come down on Monday morning and don't come down on Friday afternoon. Also, don't ever come on lunch hour.'
"I was getting all ready to tell him we'd do it for him as a special, too. But he insisted. He came down the other day and went through the whole line. Took him about 10 minutes."