What the DMV in Brooklyn is Like
Expect to wait in line. And then wait in line again.
If you arrive at Brooklyn's Department of Motor Vehicles at the Atlantic Center a half hour before it opens, say at 8 AM on a nice summer day, you might just find a hundred people already on the line.
Where is the DMV in Brooklyn?
Once the doors open, your line will snake inside, up the escalator, and ... onto another line.
People are triaged according to the reason they’ve come: to return license plates, obtain their drivers record, to get a manual, to get a learners permit, to replace a lost or stolen license or just to get a new photo. Once you have your ticket, the waiting begins.
Before one is done at the DMV, there are three lines to conquer: the first line to get in and find out what line you need to be in. Then, one waits through the second line to conduct one’s business. The third line involves, usually, payment.
The waiting room is huge, but clean.
You will likely find the melting pot that is Brooklyn at the DMV office. You might notice Chinese immigrant families with children, Russians, a Caribbean lady reading the Bible, a young bespectacled black man reading on his Kindle. On a recent day, a young couple from Minnesota—he wearing an earring and she a skirt — were registering their first New York car and discussing Internet start-ups. Every so often a baby may cry.
Everyone, it seems, has a mobile phone — and is using it.
There are 25 teller booths, and rows and rows of comfy wooden benches.
There’s one large screen, which shows a rotation of video spots: the Golden Globe awards. An ad for seat belts. A public service ad promoting the mental and physical benefits of exercise.
At first the process seems confusing, but there’s method to the DMV’s madness. Everyone is given a three-digit number that starts with a letter. Screens pop up numbers like a bingo game. If your letter starts, say, with an “H” or a “B,” you can watch as the screen lights up with numbers.
Just in case you aren’t looking, the announcement is also broadcast, but only in English.
If I Live in Brooklyn, Can I Go to a DMV in Another Borough?
Things to Do to Amuse Yourself While Waiting at the DMVIt can be a long wait, but when your number is up, it is called twice and you are expected to appear. Otherwise, you lose your place. So, even if exhausted, you don’t want to nap. You can read, but you may not want to concentrate too hard for fear of missing your number. It might not be smart to start a tough crossword puzzle or dig into that potboiler romance while waiting at the DMV.
But all is not lost. There are several very New York things to do at the Brooklyn DMV that one cannot do anywhere else but at a public institution or on the subway.
- People-Watch: The DMV is a kind of a hyper-local fashion show. For instance, take hairstyles. On a given visit recently, there are two ladies wearing wigs. One is African American and is sporting a fashionable blue dress with matching necklace and black heels. The other is an orthodox Jew reading a prayer book. Both have impeccably perfect, and somewhat similar wig-dos. Nearby is a burly man speaking Spanish wearing a red tee-shirt and red baseball cap, with a braid down his back neatly tied. Nearby are two lean middle-aged men, probably cyclists judging from the helmets in their hands, both with close shaven heads. In the same row is a man with Rasta braids, sitting across from a woman with a high ponytail.
- Check out the Decor: One amusing poster on wall promotes vanity license plates (they’re money makers for the state) with an ad that says "look great with great plates" next to stern warnings against texting and driving at the same time.
- Observe Human Behavior: People do funny things, even in public. For instance, only two windows are dedicated to taking the photos that will be stored electronically and used for years (decades, even) on a driver’s license. At one of these, window 126, a middle aged woman stands before the camera, chewing gum. She’s wearing gleaming white sneakers and white pedal pushers. She doesn’t like any of the photos, and the patient civil servant —it’s still early in the day — humors her and repeats the photos until, at the fifth take, she blames the unflattering picture on the camera.
So, yes, be prepared to wait at Brooklyn’s Department of Motor Vehicle office. But you can make the most of it as an urban experience. The day goes on.
Or, just save yourself the experience, and conduct your DMV business online.