The line of procrastinators began yesterday at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles information desk. It continued out the door, into the Springfield Mall, across the entrance to Target, past the Z Hair Salon and Taco Fresh, under the holiday display of red ribbons and gold ornaments, out four glass doors and into the mall parking lot, where it continued snaking along a long, brick wall.
At the end of the 273-person line was Aina Santos, 48, of Vienna, whose driver's license was expiring last night.
"This," she said, eyeing the slowly shuffling line of humanity before her, "is insane."
Long lines and long faces at the DMV are hardly new, especially on Saturdays. But a dozen DMV offices in Virginia have been closed, and all other offices have been shuttered for the past three days, thanks to state budget cuts and the Thanksgiving holiday. Add the fact that it was the last day of the month, when licenses and registrations expire, and all the ingredients were present yesterday at Northern Virginia DMV offices for a perfect storm of waiting.
"They're lazy . . . for waiting until the last minute," said an unsympathetic Sally Sakelaris, 24, of Alexandria. She had no complaints, even though it took her two hours to get new papers for her Jeep Cherokee at the Arlington DMV office on Four Mile Run Drive.
At the Arlington office, some said they began waiting in line shortly after 7 a.m., an hour before the office opened, as if they were waiting for Springsteen tickets or something more exciting than registration stickers.
"Dick, next time the renewal comes, send it in!" said Judy Calgaro, 54, of Alexandria, into a cell phone. She said her husband opened their daughter's car registration renewal a while ago, stuck it on a neat, yellow Post-it and then forgot about it.
As if the day's ordeal weren't bad enough, some watched their illegally parked cars towed from a parking lot near the Arlington DMV. Even the sight of a tan Acura being dragged away, its car alarm screaming, was not enough to draw its owner from the DMV line.
For those who made it inside the Arlington office, their reward was warmth and a hard, plastic chair.
"I should've brought my pillow," said Victoria Tyler of Alexandria, who was there to renew her 30-day temporary tags. Yesterday was the 30th day.
From their chairs, DMV customers could watch those still outside in the cold, pressing their faces to the windows and fogging the glass, trying to figure out how long it would be until they got a plastic chair and a number.
Signs at the counters thanked customers for "remaining patient and courteous," which, for the most part, they were.
"What are you going to do, get mad?" asked Marc Goddard, 27, of Arlington.
"Tell [Gov. Mark R.] Warner he needs to do something," said Tamara Moore, 52, of Arlington. "These lines are unacceptable."
Chris Story, 31, of Fairfax, had to turn in plates for an abandoned car or risk a license suspension. The deadline was yesterday.
Before coming to Arlington, he had tried the DMV office at Tysons Corner, but it was "10 times worse."
"What's aggravating me is that they are trying to fit six days' worth of people in four days," Story said. Joe Stallings was ecstatic about the lines. He sells auto insurance out of a booth near the DMV office in the Springfield Mall.
"The governor did me a favor," said Stallings, who was doing enough business yesterday to call in his partner to help out.
Perhaps the unluckiest fellow was Mohamed Koroma, 45, of Fairfax. He had been waiting for an hour outside the Arlington office and made it to the front door by 11:59 a.m. That's when the door closed in his face. And then locked. Sorry, employees said, the office closes at noon. Koroma and the 31 others behind him were out of luck.
"This is no good," Koroma said, not quite believing his predicament. His registration was to expire at midnight.
Ten minutes later, after the rest of the crowd left, Koroma was still in front of the door, staring inside. "Maybe I'll be lucky and they'll let me in."