a fucked-up thing happened on the way to the DMV.

There is no social equalizer quite like the Department of Motor Vehicles. Everyone’s a different race, everyone’s a different age, everyone’s a different social class. But we are a people united on a common front: no one, not anyone, not anyone at all, ever, ever wants to be there.

When I was a kid in Catholic school, I could never totally visualize what purgatory looked like. I think I can now. It looks like the fluorescent-lit hellscape of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation at 8th and Arch Streets.

I get there at two in the afternoon yesterday. The line just to get the deli-number ticket was already out the door, and I really, really had to pee. I squeezed past the crowd into the bathroom. Someone had grafitti’ed the toilet roll dispenser “Abandon Hope.”

Somebody is fucking hilarious.

I finish peeing. I flush. I make my way to the sink. Someone has torn off a wristband like you get from a concert, one of those paper things with big block lettering, and left it in the sink. It’s blocking the drain, but there are no paper towels handy and I’m squeamish enough to not want to touch it, so I decide just to wash my hands anyways, watching the bracelet get gummy and soft. I’m trying to shake my hands dry and I hear, from the lobby, muffled and then louder, this:

Shut the fuck up.
No, motherfucker, I said shut the fuck up.
Fuck you. I ain’t a hoe. I ain’t a slut.
Fuck you, motherfucker, I ain’t nobody’s fucking slut. Get the fuck out.

I make eye contact with the woman at the sink next to me. She rolls her eyes, like, People. Amirite? There’s the sound of muffled commotion and lower dude voices, growling and angry, but by the time I make it out of the bathroom and back into the lobby, it’s quiet. Like nothing had even happened.

I’m standing at the back of the line for maybe two minutes, still waiting to get my deli number. I fiddle with my purse. I make sure I have my ID. I check my phone.

The door behind me opens. A young man walks in, slinks in almost, all smiles, all tight pants and hipster glasses.

“Excuse me,” he says, touching my shoulder, brushing past me. “Don’t want you getting caught up in the middle here.” He glides a few more steps into the door. He’s carrying a large coffee cup. “Pardon me. Excuse me.”

He’s a good ten feet away from the check-in stand when he whips the coffee cup at the security guard, and screams “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, motherfucker,” and runs out the door.

All hell breaks loose.

The security guard is stunned. Then he is angry.

He’s an older guy. Fifties. Big. Tough.

He stares at his coffee-stained uniform shirt, and then begins to unbutton it, and then charges out the door in his undershirt, almost slipping on the spilled liquid on the ground. I’m gonna kill that motherfucker I’m gonna kill that motherfucker. Half the crowd moves towards the door to see what’s happening. The other half of the crowd tries to move further up the waiting line.

The security guard comes back in a few minutes later, panting, breathless. People are clapping him on the back or trying to ask him if he’s okay.

I was about to, myself, before he says, “If I ever see that fucking faggot again I swear to God I’ll kill him. I’ll rip that fucking faggot’s fucking head off.”

The grandmother at the front of the line covers her grandson’s ears, while telling him to calm down, calm down, it’s not worth it, stop. The kid looks worried.

The security guard makes his way back to his station. Fucking faggot coming in here. I swear to God I’ll kill him, I’ll kill that motherfucking faggot ass. He puts his sweatshirt on over his stained undershirt. Someone from the back shows up with a mop.

Another DMV employee enters. A woman. Sensible shoes. ID badge. Thirties. Tough.

“What happened?” she asks me.

“I didn’t see how it started,” I said. “But a man came in here and threw his coffee at the security guard. I think maybe they had exchanged words earlier. The security guard chased him out of the door, and then when he came back, he just kept, uh, he kept dropping the f-bomb, and he kept saying the word “faggot,” and it’s really upsetting.”

“Oh,” the woman says. “It was a faggot, then, huh? A faggot who did it?”

I wish I could say that I had the right response here. Instead I just sort of looked at her in a stunned silence.

“People is just crazy,” she sighs.

It’s been about three minutes since the coffee was thrown, and it’s like it never happened. The woman relieves the security guard from his post. He produces a pack of cigarettes and a lighter and makes his way out of the door.

“You know how fast we movin’?”

I look down. There’s a cartoon caricature of South Philadelphia in line behind me. Fifties. Dyed-red hair. Penciled-in eyebrows. Eagles jersey. Blue eyeliner. Scrunchie. She’s missed the entire thing.

“You know how fast? You know if they take cash? ‘Cause what the fuck, I got places to be, you know?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I’m still waiting in line.”

“HA!” she cackles, elbowing me in the shoulder. “You’s just one of us, you don’t know nothin’ either! Fuckin’ assholes.”

I’m not sure who she’s referring to although it occurs to me that maybe we’re all fucking assholes.

The guy in front of me turns towards me and quietly says, “Hey. Did you see how that started?”

“No,” I say. “It’s …”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s a really confusing situation. Was it – was it like, a gay-bashing thing? Or was that guy just a dick?”

“I don’t know,” I say.

“I feel really weird about it,” he says.

“I do, too,” I say.

By the time I make it to the counter to renew my license, it’s been almost an hour. I chat with the man behind the desk.

“Hey,” I say. “That fight. That guy with the coffee. Did you see what happened?”

The man sighs, rolls his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “He came in here, acting a fool, provoking the other people around him, trying to start trouble. He was told to get out. I guess he didn’t like that.”

“Does this kind of thing happen a lot?” I said.

The man chuckled sarcastically, along with the other employee at the printer behind him. “You’d be surprised,” he said.


I live in Philadelphia, where last week, a group of a dozen men and women assaulted a gay couple near Rittenhouse Square, shouting homophobic slurs and beating them until they required hospitalization.

Does this have anything to do with this incident? No.

And yes.

I live in Pennsylvania, where the rights of LGBT people are not protected under the hate-crimes law. Does this have anything to do with this incident? No.

And yes.

I live in Pennsylvania, where my friends Adam and Justin were among the first to get married at City Hall a few months ago when gay marriage became legal in our state. Their wedding pictures are so beautiful that I cried when I first saw them. They’re one of the best couples I have ever met. They’re two of the best people I have ever met.

Does this have shit to do with the incident at the DMV? Hell no. Not even one tiny, tiny little bit.

And then again. In a way. It sort of does.


I wasn’t there to see how the incident started. I could have this part entirely wrong. If this blog is somehow read by someone at the DMV who wasn’t in the bathroom when all of this went down, please send me an email. I would love another account of how this actually took place.

But the narrative that seems to make sense is that a gay man started to provoke a woman by calling her a slut and a ho, and when he was asked to leave, he was called a faggot.

I can’t even begin to talk about how very wrong this is because it’s wrong in so many ways.

No one deserves to be called a slut.
No one deserves to be called a ho.
No one deserves to be called a faggot.

And no one deserves to have a cup of coffee thrown in their face.


I want to believe so badly in people’s basic goodness. I really do. And there are just days when it is hard.

Because I wanted to hurt Kathryn Knott when her twitter feed made the rounds. I wanted to hurt Ray Rice when that video was released. I want to lash out when I see wrongdoing and evil and pain in the world that I can’t control. There’s like this tiny vigilante Batgirl that shows up inside my brain, and there’s blood in my temples and red-hot anger in my eyes and I just want to throw a punch or kick or hit or scream.

But I don’t.

Because that would be throwing a cup of coffee. Feels great in the moment. Gets you nowhere in the end.

And so I’m writing, instead, a letter to the DMV general contact email address. I’m writing a letter to the Secretary of Transportation of the DMV. And I’m writing a letter to the Governor. And I’m writing a letter to the staff at that particular branch. I’m sharing this story. And I’m letting them know that maybe their employees could use a reminder that the word “faggot” is never, ever okay. (Maybe it’s okay for Dan Savage. It’s definitely not OK for the DMV).

Because I live in a state (finally!) where gay people can be married. Are afforded equal protection under the law. Which should mean that even when they behave like total asshats, they still shouldn’t be called “faggot.”

Will writing a few letters do anything? Who am I kidding. Probably not. I am, after all, talking about trying to reform injustice at the DMV. Let’s face it: it’s extremely unlikely that this will impact change in any real, measurable way.

But it’s the best I can think of to do without becoming part of the problem.

22 thoughts on “a fucked-up thing happened on the way to the DMV.

  1. So many damaged people out there….thank you for telling this story and writing the letters. People like you’re mind us that good folks are still all around us

  2. The coffee thrower may not have been gay. For many people, “faggot” is the absolute worst insult that can be hurled at a straight man. The “F” word is just as bad as the “N” word for people of color or the “K” word for Jews. All are hateful words and it’s shameful they continue to be used as verbal weapons.

  3. There is tremendous power in your words and the fact that you shared this story. So many people would have just shrugged their shoulders and returned to watching whatever device they were holding in their hands. I applaud you for writing the letters you are going to write. Some higher up manager will read them and hopefully something will happen as a consequence. As a public employee, it sickens me when there is such disrespect, such shameful behavior (I don’t really care who started what), such lack of …professionalism….on the part of municipal, state or federal employees. It causes the public to lose trust and faith in their government. Bless you for sharing your story.

  4. I’ll try to be brief, but it’s not my strong suit. In 1971 my husband and I and our four kids lived outside Detroit at Selfridge Air National Guard base in military housing. Our neighbors were a family with almost the same configuration as ours – G.I. dad, Civilian stay-at-home mom, and four kids. I remember how we hated the time of year when daylight savings time ended because it got light an hour later and our kids had to walk to the bus-stop in the dark. Our older kids were commanded to watch out for the younger kids and we pushed them out the door and the day was ours until they came home again. One morning two of my neighbor’s daughters – Mikayla and Sandra, (we called her “Bubba,”) came back home, the 6 year old weeping and the 12 year old livid and too angry to talk, right after they’d left. As they’d reached the cross-walk where they left the housing area to cross over to the bus stop, the 6 year-old had started to step off the curb and an old white man in a big car had screeched to a stop even though the child had stepped back up onto the curb. He rolled his window down and screamed at her, “Get offa the road you little nigger!” I suppose we’ve all heard worse, but Michaela hadn’t. She was stricken with fear and confusion and she refused to go any further. Bubba had no choice but to bring her home. When my kids came home from school that night and went to find out why Mikayla and Bubba hadn’t gone to school with them, they got the story from Bubba and they came and told me. I remember sitting down on the couch and just crying for a while. Then I went over to visit with my friend. She was steaming when I got there and reluctant to talk about it, but finally we both sat down and she told me about the incident. When she had finished talking I asked her how I could make a difference – what I could do. I’ve never forgotten and I’ve never failed to follow her advice. She said, “Don’t ever let it go. Don’t ever let it pass. If you hear slurs and comments, speak up. Be as loud as you need to be to be heard. Don’t excuse it. Don’t accept it.” It’s the same no matter what group has been chosen to be the brunt of someone’s racism or sexism or any other ism. Let them know that not everyone accepts their crap and that there are consequences to their behavior. love, h

  5. Good for you. Imagine if each and every one of us spoke up every time an injustice occurred–it could get really loud!!!

  6. Sigh. I hear ya. I subscribe to a belief system where there is a higher power that has nothing to do with how WE create this world that is so full of ugliness and hate. WE create this world with our ego minds. I believe that bat girl hate you feel at times?…that is our ego mind. We all have that inside of us. She is ugly and swear very loudly but some of us have the good sense to keep the lid on her. However the more we can admit that we do have angry bat girl inside of us the less hidden influence she has on us. Speaking up with wise words, with condemnation of bigots and racists is very courageous and very smart by you. You are right. Throwing coffee accomplishes nothing. I hope the dude can get his drivers license elsewhere ay? I wonder how long the security guard will nurse his rage? I do believe we will all eventually transcend to our higher self, our higher loving self and leave the world of the ego mind behind all of us. meditation, prayer and sharing you wisdom helps all of us. Sigh!

  7. There is so much hatred for the haters that it becomes a vicious cycle, or is simply stems from the same angry place.

    The mob mentality that, in my solely-news-informed opinion, led to the attack on the gay couple in Philadelphia is also what has been fueling the social media fervor of threats and insults against the alleged attackers. Is there a higher ground to hate haters? I tend to think there isn’t. Is hatred of anyone equivalent despite its target? I tend to think so…

    As a side note: There are SO MANY wonderful curse words to use when describing a person who is inconsiderate or unkind. I don’t feel the need to enumerate them here…. (You’ve done a good job of it yourself in past posts) But when people continue to rely on those “curse words” that instead derogatorily described a class or group, such language perpetuates an unfortunate normalcy.

  8. Really impressive on all levels – started out funny and then bam it catches your breath. It is important writing letters, especially when you have a specific incident to share with authorities. And especially when you have a strong writing voice. And I believe that all of us who care passionately about this on-going heave-ho of changing the world, and have the capacity and time to write blogs or be involved in any media, shouldn’t fucking hold back. I think we often feel it is better to be agreeable and quiet. For what? So the assholes will like us? Maybe we stop because we don’t think it will help, but MAYBE IT DOES. We don’t need to be super-heroes and try to change everything in one day. Who are we kidding? There is a Taoist saying which I can only paraphase The power of the steady stream will wear away boulders, We can’t all be sticks of dynamite. And for all of us, whether we are writers or activists or not, we often have opportunity to challenge the prejudices of our friends and family or acquaintances. This is where our REAL power lies – if we challenge the hateful/ignorant opinions of those who know us – we have more influence. The other day, a Latino friend of mine ( I wouldn’t point out his ethnic group, except it is actually key to the story) was saying some shit about black people. Asking me why a friend of his, he was looking at facebook, was dating a black guy. I said – He’s probably a good guy, what other reason would she have? He say’s – But he’s black! And I say – So, what? He says – Well blacks are (something offensive – seriously I didn’t even want to register the slur in my brain). I said – Well, you know, lots of people have the same feeling about Latino’s, do you feel that is fucking fair? He says – Well, many Latinos are (whatever the offensive word is) I said – Listen, there are LOT of assholes in the world, and I can name a bunch of WHITE one’s – Can you top Hitler, or Dick Cheney, or Anne Coulter? Seriously – give it a rest, no race, religion, gender, sexual preference group, no color of the rainbow (and here I am just fluffing the story up it really was just color) – has a franchise on F’d up. And he said – Yeah, I guess you are right. So that was my small success of the evening – but I am seriously wondering about his internalized racism against his own ethnic group : ( That’s another conversation or 20. And this is turning into a blog, rather than a comment … so I will continue on elsewhere. I am glad this post was my first introduction to your blog!

  9. Pingback: Fearless Journal – Part 1 – Free form Rant or Explorations into the Unknown via the Comfy Bed Express | Rip Roarin Rants

  10. I have to believe that people are basically good, else what is the point of going on. One thing that always makes me feel better is this quote from Mr Roberts:”When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

  11. It absolutely amazes me that people are still so behind, socially. To name call as above is childish, and in my view is the only option of someone who’s not got the brain power to have a proper conversation and instead resorts to terrible words.
    I grew up in New Zealand and now live in London, sadly I have not been to the States yet (it is my dream to visit!) but from what I’ve heard and read everywhere, is that there are parts of the US that are still struggling with gay marriage etc. Coming from such a small, open and forward-thinking country it baffles me.
    I did enjoy reading your tale though! And what a waste of coffee…

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