I was not aware of this, but you are not allowed to drink water at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles, or at other government offices). I do understand certain rules are in place for a reason, and that a “no food and drink rule” can help keep government buildings clean, litter free, and devoid of spills. However, there should be exceptions to this rule on occasion, especially when it comes to water. I think it should be against the law in the United States to refuse to allow a human being to drink water.

The reason I found this out was that I was at the DMV recently to renew my Driver’s License, which was about to expire. I currently have an ongoing medical/ health problem, which requires I stay hydrated and drink water as much as possible. I have a vocal polyp, and had been seen by 2 Ear, Nose & Throat Doctors, and 2 Speech Therapists, and had an appointment booked the following day with the best Throat and Swallowing Specialist in San Francisco, because my issue still has not improved after 6 ½ months. It has been painful to speak, and I felt very dehydrated, even though I am drinking 4-6 liters of water a day and sleeping with humidifiers. The Speech Therapists told me to drink lots of water and try to speak as little as possible, and not to raise my voice. I’ve been dealing with the condition for over 6 months, and I had to quit my job of 8 years as a bartender because of this vocal impairment. I had surgery for the same issue 22 years ago, so I consider this an on-going and serious health concern. Because of this health issue, sometimes don’t speak for days at a time, and I never leave the house without bottles of water.

I was in line at the DMV, and I was fully prepared to be patient and not let myself get too annoyed while there, as I know it can be an annoying and frustrating experience. I think everyone knows that. I was in a fine mood, and actually looking forward to getting my new license. My hair color has changed 3 times in the last decade, and my new license would finally match my current hair color. While in line, a female security guard barked at me that I could not drink water. (Prior to this, I had noticed her speaking loudly and rudely to other DMV customers, and being sarcastic. I noticed this because, having been a bartender dealing with the public for the last 8 years, I can’t help but notice when people in customer service jobs are projecting unnecessary negative attitude at customers.)

I say that she “barked” at me, because she raised her voice loud enough to tell me from about 10 feet away, projecting over a large group of other people in line. Because of my vocal problem, I could not project loud enough to respond back, and I was stuck in a line, so I motioned with my finger for her to come over to me, which she did not do. I spoke as best I could and said, “I have a medical problem, and am under doctor’s orders. I have to drink water.” At this point, the 50 or so people in line are all involved and watching, because it became a scene. She then bellowed at me to “get out of the line and come over here.” I felt I was being treated like the problem child in elementary school, being punished in front of class.

I walked to her, and explained calmly and quietly again, and the woman working the DMV counter nearest started also raising her voice, saying she could make me an appointment but I would not be allowed to have water and that if I needed to drink water, I would need to leave. I said, “I have a medical issue. I am in pain. It’s just water. Please, I need it, and my license is about to expire, so I have to do this today.” I had tried to make an appointment online, but they were booked up for two months. While this DMV employee continued to bark at me, it gave me an anxiety adrenaline rush. I felt my heart racing, as now two loud women were barking at me, and I was physically unable to even come close to matching their volume due to my vocal impairment. This went on for at least 5 minutes.

She talked to another customer and had me wait. I felt she was also barking at him, because she was going to now bark at everyone else for the rest of the day. Maybe she had already been doing that before I was called over. Maybe she was like that every day. I have no idea; I just know I noticed it when she did it to me. She finished with him and then went back to talking very loudly at me, saying, “I understand your health is important to you and it should be, and it should be important to us, but if you have to drink water, you have to leave.” I felt like she was back-pedaling and reciting a script, as if she sensed that people were listening or she might be on camera… “it should be important to us…”

It was very clear that she didn’t care about my health, and I didn’t expect her to. I just hoped these women might hear what I said and have empathy and make an exception. My throat was killing me, and I took another sip of water. This made her say that I had to leave and that I would not get an appointment. I noticed then, that I would have been in front of line after being there for 40 minutes. I said, “It’s my turn, I waited 40 minutes, can I please get back in line?” She said I could stay and get back in line if I didn’t drink water. I said okay, but I felt this scene was uncalled for. They were extremely loud, extremely rude, and completely uncaring. They were combative, and it was embarrassing. I should add that if I had my full voice, I could have actually responded better and gotten even louder than they were, but due to my pain and condition, I try not to waste my voice on anything if I don’t have to. It’s probably a good thing I was too impaired to really fight back. I was very calm and quiet throughout the entire incident, despite how upset I was.

I got a number in line, and then had to wait in the DMV for about 45 minutes, which I was prepared for, but since they made such a huge scene over the water, I had to walk outside to drink my water, probably about 20 times in the 45 minutes I was waiting. There is no way I could have been there for an hour and a half and not had water in my condition. A man who had seen the whole thing in line was seated behind me. He said, “Look at that, those people are drinking right there, you should take a picture! And you should file a complaint, that was really ridiculous.” Well, maybe I would have taken a picture, if I wasn’t so shell-shocked by feeling attacked, and there weren’t so many signs up that said no photography was allowed.

As I sat there, I was next to a woman and her baby on my right. She was feeding the baby snacks, and a bottle. I noticed another mother and baby sat next to them, and the second baby was also fed a bottle. Then a teenage girl, her 20-something sister, and their mother sat to my left, and all 3 had beverages from Starbucks that they were drinking. I also watched them take selfies with their camera phones next to me. It’s not my style to go tattle-tale on the people surrounding me that were breaking these rules, which I had been ridiculed loudly for. If I had my full voice and didn’t mind wasting it on everyday bullshit, I might have had a long conversation with a superior, or put up some sort of fight. I realize that things happen and are out of our control, and the only thing we can control is how we choose to react to them. Although I felt extremely disrespected, I chose to not react or provoke, to accept treatment that I felt was blatantly unfair, and not do anything that could prevent me from accomplishing what I was there for in the first place.

I waited my turn, paid, and made sure that everything was moving forward. Then, before I left, I asked the DMV employee I paid if she had seen the 2 women yell at me, and asked if there was some way I could file a complaint. I told her which women it was, but I didn’t know their names and didn’t want to ask them when they were raising their voices at me. She gave me a complaint form and said she would give it to the manager. I filled it out and left it with her. The form had an area to fill out your address and phone number (optional) if you wanted a response to your complaint. Well, I received my Driver’s License in the mail, but I never got any reply to my complaint.

Had I known that water would be an issue, I would have brought a doctor’s note. I still feel like this treatment was disgusting. Because my background was working customer service at loud bars and nightclubs, where people can be rude and challenging (and drunk and irrational and even violent), I am used to problematic and sometimes explosive situations; but in this case, I was a customer who explained quietly and respectfully that I had a medical issue. I pleaded and told them I was in pain and needed the water, and was treated very badly. The whole thing really embarrassed me as a proud Californian, and as a San Franciscan.

The way these two DMV employees treated me and other customers just truly embarrassed me as someone who is very proud of where I’m from. I understand that dealing with people all day at a public government job can be challenging and annoying, but for the people doing it who hate it so much that they take it out on the customers, they should quit and go find something they hate less. They should step aside and open up those jobs for people who will appreciate them, who will treat customers professionally with respect, and represent San Francisco and California to newcomers as a nice place to live. If DMV employees are allowed to drink water in the building, then the customers should be allowed too. I think drinking water is a basic human right that should not cause someone to be asked to leave the DMV and told they would not get an appointment.

I am still dealing with my medical issues, and I still have to pick and choose what I waste my voice on. When this is all behind me and I can use my voice normally, like the rest of the world, I have made a promise to myself to stand up for others when I see they are being treated unfairly, but I can do that without ever needing to raise my voice.


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