The din of background voices here at the Motor Vehicles Administration competes with tinny, piped-in music. Elton John vies with impatient motorists waiting for licenses, exams or registrations, bored children, and a cacophony of mixed languages. Ironically, the crowd would likely relate more to hip hop or urban music, not the current Billy Joel selection from the 1970s.
I entered the building and confronted a snaking line to the gatekeepers. Having been at MVA before, I knew to bring a well-charged device or reading material. After 30 minutes in line, I reached the counter. The screener, assured I brought the right documents, handed me a slip of paper with a letter and number: G-109.
Half of the people stare at wall-mounted TV screens which displays which window will serve you when your number is called. The other half gaze at devices in their palms. No one reads. The murmurs swell, a wash of sound. People talk to each other while looking at screens.
G-93 appeared on the screen, followed by V-521 and J-48. I have no one to talk to. I feel the sound pooling around me, a palpable presence. An announcement at 4:28 warns people about closing time. If someone goes outside and his number is called, he will not be allowed back in the building. Only two minutes of warning, I think?
G-98. J-51. B-765. Is the place emptying any? It seems just as loud, just as full.
Background noise floods us constantly but we don’t notice. We plug in with ear buds to music, podcasts, and radio, but we tune out as much as we tune in. Noise is a force like the wind, unseen but having an effect.
G-104 has me seated on edge of my seat, jiggling my foot. It’s nearing 5 pm and there’s still an appreciable crowd. Maybe it is quieter; that child who was nattering left. The man behind me holds G-114 I confirmed. We mutter mutual assurances. J-53 approaches window 30.