It’s easy to say you love living in the Flathead Valley for all the obvious reasons: views of snow-capped peaks set against a deep blue sky, pristine lakes and rivers, friendly people, one of the most beautiful regions in North America, blah, blah, whatever.
But you can’t spend all your time hiking and fishing. You’ve got to do some chores. You’ve got to, on occasion, interact with the Flathead County bureaucracy.
Sometimes you have to spend a cold, rainy Monday morning at the Department of Motor Vehicles. And yet, in unexpected ways, a brief trip to the D.M.V. also reminds you how great it is to live here.
Disclaimer: I’m not from Montana. I grew up in New York’s Hudson Valley, and before moving to Montana I lived in Atlanta for five years.
As a kid in New York, a day at the D.M.V. with my mother was like taking a trip back in time to the Soviet Union. We entered a concrete block of a building that smelled of despair and soggy paper. We kept our eyes lowered, and spoke in timorous voices. We moved from a line with a one-hour wait to a line with a two-hour wait. My mother panicked over whether we had the right paperwork and tried to keep me occupied with books and snacks as we shuffled toward a smeared Plexiglas booth, where a sneering D.M.V. bureaucrat coughed and glanced at the clock. If we had signed the wrong form, or forgotten a vital piece of information, the consequences would be dire. We’d have to come back.
The Atlanta D.M.V. was different, but no better. My D.M.V. was located in a dangerous part of town, in the space vacated by a department store in a decaying shopping mall where scary-looking dudes would rise off their benches as you passed and slouch slowly behind you. A prominent sign reminded the good citizens of DeKalb County, Ga., that they were in a public place, thus spitting, urinating and vomiting were forbidden. I would have welcomed the smell of despair and soggy paper. And here, the first bureaucrat behind the Plexiglas, who tells you which line to join, advised me the wait would be seven hours.
And so, heading into the squat, blue Flathead D.M.V., I prepared for the worst.
I walked in and took a number: 77. And they were already on number 74! When my number was called 10 minutes later the woman who helped me was friendly and made eye contact! We had a pleasant conversation about the latest Stephen King novel while she typed up my info. And when I began crying for joy she handed me a tissue for my tears and running nose. Such displays of emotion would be forbidden in the prior D.M.V.’s I’ve patronized.
Twenty minutes after walking into the D.M.V., I walked out, with new tags, into the freezing May wind and rain.
“What a beautiful valley,” I thought.
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