Abandon schedules, all ye who enter the MVA

A taste of limbo awaits customers in line at the Mondawmin Mall branch

maryland journal

January 22, 2007|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

They enter with equal parts dread and loathing, clutching envelopes and folders, random bills and bits of proof.

This is Who I Am.

This is Where I Live.

If ever there were an exercise in patience, then surely this it where it unfolds, in a drab building known as the Motor Vehicle Administration, where time stretches like a wad of cotton candy - minutes into an hour, one hour into two, or three or more ...

Tucked away next to Mondawmin Mall, this is the city's only full-service MVA branch, a building where easy-listening music blends into the background and the bing! bing! of your number being called has the ring and feel of a lottery drawing.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in the Maryland section Monday about waiting at the Motor Vehicle Administration misspelled the name of Iman Brickus.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"YES!" says a man, pumping his fist as his number blinks.

No shortcuts here. Democracy is King.

And so the man just out of prison waits for his state ID card beside the man in a business suit dashing in on his lunch break for a license renewal.

And they wait. And wait. And wait.

Not much stimulation here besides staring at the mind-numbing blinking numbers that seem to crawl forward, and the ticker that advertises everything from Bail Bondsman to little-known trivial facts about Diana Ross and Erik Weihenmayer, the first blind man to climb Mount Everest (who knew?).

People-watching is the only potential activity (yes, that man's hair is real, and yes, he's wearing his pajamas).

So some customers doze off. Others read. Many chirp away on their cell phones.

A 30-year-old man pounds furiously on his Treo. A teenage boy plays solitaire on his cell phone.

Tim Ballard is a chipper bear of a man and manager of the branch, which he says is definitely among the busier ones.

He estimates that they provide service to 500 to 600 people a day. A lot of customers come in for state identification cards - especially nondrivers, who need them when they are stopped by police. "We want to do everything possible to make the customer's visit a pleasant one," he says. "When a customer leaves here, I want that customer to be happy, and I want them to want to come back."

Eric Grandy is back after just a day. And he certainly doesn't want to be here. Grandy is slumped on a bench, one of the few people actually awake on his side of the room. He's waiting to get a passenger endorsement for his commercial driver's license.

He was here for half a day yesterday to take the test to get the license. He had a number yesterday to get the license but couldn't wait the two-plus hours.

So he's back here today again. Waiting. It's been nearly an hour.

"I dread this," says the 42-year-old Northwood resident. "It's the same thing every time. It takes a large chunk of your day, and most of the time you're just sitting here. Waiting."

Not many things he can think of that are worse. "Sticking something sharp in my eye?" he says dryly.

"There are worse things," he concedes. "But it's just the monotony."

Grandy is not the only one here on Day Two. When Sarsfield Stanley Williams walks through the doors and sees a short line, he mutters to himself, "Lord have mercy."

The 62-year-old Liberty Heights resident couldn't be happier that at a little after 10 a.m., the initial customer service line is only a few people long.

It was bad enough that Williams lost his wallet. But then when he came in to get a new commercial driver's license yesterday, he didn't have his medical clearance. That was in his wallet, too.

Only the first desk didn't tell him he couldn't get the license without it, so he waited for several hours before being sent home sans license. After getting his doctor to fax him a copy of his clearance, he's back where he started today, only this time the wait that stretched into hours should be much less.

A57 is the lucky number, and they're already on A48. He's beaming.

"I'm very happy today," he says. "I'm a happy camper."

An hour later he leaves with the goods.

By this time the line is growing, the wait becoming longer with each tick of the clock.

There are some like Iman Rickus who don't seem to mind. The 19-year-old sophomore at Towson University just passed the test for her driver's permit and is waiting to pay.

"It's fine," she says.

An hour later she looks a little more bored. "I'm close," she said. "It is what it is."

Others are less forgiving. One couple from Switzerland are back for their third try at getting a license.

"This office was a real ordeal," grumbles the man, who said they went through the runaround last Saturday when trying to get a license for his wife.

Betty Overton is waiting for a state identification card so she can visit her son in prison. She lost her card decades ago. Before Christmas she went to visit as a gift to him, but her MTA ID wouldn't cut it.

"If I get it, I'm going to get to see my son," says the 55-year-old East Baltimore resident. "I miss my baby."

By 12:30 the initial line is several dozen people long. The numbers being handed out on paper receipts are now in the three digits.

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