For an expat, going to the Visa Centre in many countries elicits the same feeling as going to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) for an American. They both bring any pretenses of who you may have thought you were in your day job, and remind you that you’re a human being. That we’re all just human beings working to survive.
I visited my local DMV today. If you’ve never been, the staples of the DMV experience are always the same: the dispassionate, bored, and disconnected dispositions, the ugly government building design, done at lowest possible cost, the water fountain area, the restrooms, and, of course, the large waiting room of bucket-seats — where the real action happens: waiting. These winter days, of course, due to the Wuhan virus, the waiting has to happen outside, in a queue.
Passed all of those standard fixtures of the experience, though, there are the humans who are just trying to survive and provide for their close ones. And due to the close quarters, it is inevitable that people’s own realities open up and seep (or sometimes, gush) out from around them. A man giving guidance over the phone to a family member in a bad situation. The long-haul trucker, who is just at the DMV for a permit — but is also just a trucker because it’s the only job he could get that would help him pay off his home mortgage payments. People working fast-food service to pay their rents or mortgages. The middle-class, working unglamorous jobs. Americans, just trying to get by.
It was the long-haul trucker who interested me most. He had been giving advice to a close friend or family member (I couldn’t tell) about getting away from toxic family members. It seemed the girl on the other end had a mother who was manipulating her, stealing money, and otherwise taking advantage of the girl. I’ve been in similar situations with people who I let attach themselves to me, wanting nothing more than to bring me down with them, and I could imagine how bad things could get for an adolescent girl in such a situation. Her father was advising her in no uncertain terms a silent move away from her mother, and to not tell her where she moved to. “Find a new job, start a new life, and move silently,” he repeated urgently.
I can only guess how many other people there are, single or otherwise, trying their best to survive while also being responsible for their dependents. This is the reality that a very large proportion of our country is living. It’s not facebook, Netflix, and being offended. It’s not the reality of $200,000 a year salaried IT workers for Google or Apple on the West coast. It’s not the reality of the Washington D.C. elite. But I believe this is the reality of what could perhaps be called the “silent majority of middle-class America” — people too busy working to survive to give themselves a voice on media.
Maybe we should all visit the DMV more often.