A Visit to the DMV

Sparky is justifiably proud of the changes at the DMV
Sparky is justifiably proud of the changes at the DMV

If you’re going to drive a mutant vehicle in Black Rock City, you’re going to need a permit for that beast. And to get one, you’re going to need to visit the DMV – the Department of Mutant Vehicles.

Tell us your favorite story of a visit to the DMV in the real world– oh, that’s right, you don’t have one. It’s a miserable, soul-sucking experience.

Not too long ago, it wasn’t much different on the playa. Fantastic and fantastical vehicles would be lined up along the Esplanade, their owners looking for someone who could PLEASE check them in and get them on their way. It was pretty haphazard and frustrating for all concerned.

“Frankly, we sucked,” Sparky was saying as a line of cars began taking shape in the morning sun. But things have changed, and Sparky seemed justifiably proud of the way the department has turned around.

“It took us two years, but we completely redid everything,” Sparky said. “All new software, and a really robust database.” That database makes lots of things possible, including quicker and easier registration, and access to the clientele.

Tashi Pomo does the cooking for the big Osiris sound camp, and she was having trouble getting clearance for food deliveries. “So I called the DMV and asked if I could do a last-minute registration,” she said. There was no way that could happen, BUT, what the DMV could do was get out word to all of their already registered vehicles to see if someone might be able to step up and help. And of course someone did.

“They saved me,” Tashi said.

Tashi: The DMV saved her bacon
Tashi: The DMV saved her bacon

This morning volunteers were getting training before the day’s first appointments would begin. Around 25 volunteers were being shown the ropes, and they included some lessons in customer service, and how to negotiate the iPads that would handle all the data input.

“Remember to have fun,” the shift lead said. “If you’re not having fun, let’s change that.”

The vehicles were lined up in twelve-foot-wide lanes. This would separate the vehicles that were compact enough to negotiate city streets from those that would be confined to the open playa. The mood was light, and everything seemed quite orderly and upbeat. Five minutes later the first big rolling funhouses were on their way out to roam around Black Rock City.

Take that, Sacramento.


The DMV offices in Black Rock City


Mutant vehicles lined up to get their operating permits
A meeting for volunteers at the DMV offices

About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

3 Comments on “A Visit to the DMV

  • TT says:

    the gatekeepers on ‘what is art’ … no thanks, i’ll walk.

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  • Vulfie Munson says:

    You guys are Great!
    2011 was my first year with a Mutant Vehicle ‘Cephalo’ I barely squeaked through the Permit process, so many DMV’ers gave me tips on what needed to be done if I wanted to being him back, it was a super help!
    2012 after re-working him into ‘Frobot’ I cruzed right on through! I can’t thank you guys enough!
    I did hear tales of bad experiences in years past, but you guys have made the DMV a painless and quick process!
    Sadly I couldn’t make it Home this year…But, Hears looking foreword to 2014!!!

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  • 2014 will be our 3rd year at BM.
    we have heard that EVERY vehicle
    Is required to have a 40.00 permit
    Is this true and if so what is the process
    To obtain one. My thanks and see you
    On the Playa. GJ

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