How to Avoid the DMV

How much would you pay for the perfect vanity plate? What if that purchase meant you could avoid visiting the DMV?

Reviver Auto, a Silicon Valley company, has created a digital license plate that may soon offer both of those perks. Already in use in California and Arizona, and recently green-lit in Michigan, the Rplate has a screen that can be customized to feature that clever alphanumeric statement you’ve always had in mind, or the logo of a favorite sports team or social cause. In his article “Bonfire of the Vanity Plates,Alta contributor Josh McHugh examines this new technology and explains why you just might pay $799 for it.

Perhaps most exciting about digital license plates is the possibility of uploading one’s registration instantly. The Rplate’s virtual registration sticker might one day put an end to the annual Department of Motor Vehicles ordeal—one of those life necessities that most of us find agonizing. Even getting a registration sticker sent through the mail seems like an outdated system for such a common practice.

Californians might think we have the country’s worst DMV (except for those of us lucky enough to use the secret DMV office in Sacramento), but we’d be wrong. According to (an unaffiliated website), a 10-month national customer-satisfaction survey released last year ranked Oregon’s lowest. The Beaver State scored poorly in telephone customer service, price of services, wait times, and in-person customer service. Ouch! Ohio’s DMV scored highest in the nation. states, “The best and worst performing states are outlined in the map below,” but as of this writing—in seeming homage to the actual DMV—the map image is broken, so we can’t see where California ranks. However, this look at the best and worst DMV offices in the state, complete with wait times by hour of day and days of the week, is fascinating. Spoiler alert: steer clear of the Los Angeles DMV on a Friday afternoon.

While apparently not as bad as Oregon’s, California’s DMV offices are notoriously horrible, and they’re currently made worse by the fact that anyone wishing to board an airplane after September 2020 will need to have registered in-person for a “Real ID.” Last week, the Sacramento Bee obtained a 110-page report produced by the DMV and sent to state legislators. The report detailed such departmental problems as “obsolete tools” and “inadequate training” and suggested solutions including a $10 million marketing campaign and website redesign. A state audit released last March found similar issues. And then, of course, there was the DMV employee who napped at her desk every day for three hours.

Governor Gavin Newsom’s revised California state budget earmarked an extra $163 million for the DMV, but that money looks to be stuck in traffic. Politicians aren’t sure the DMV can spend it wisely, and Newsom, who appointed an emergency strike team to get to the bottom of the department’s drama, wants to wait and see what it finds.

Meanwhile, it remains so difficult to score an appointment and avoid the line at a California DMV that some people are selling their reservations online. The Golden State might be home to innovations like digital license plates, but when it comes to getting anything done with the Department of Motor Vehicles, Californians should be prepared to wait.                                                      
                                                                                               —Beth Spotswood

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Theatrical Groundbreakers
South Coast Repertory in Orange County has a knack for birthing influential new work—and new talent. Playwright Qui Nguyen has found a home there with his critically successful works Vietgone and Poor Yella Rednecks
Alta Readers Hit the Road
Last week, we asked for your California road trip destinations, and Alta readers responded! Mono Lake and the Alabama Hills as seen in movies like Gunga Din warrant a mention, as do reminders that Julia Child loved In-N-Out Burger even if Gustavo Arellano doesn’t. Please continue to keep us on our toes by emailing 
Alta Podcast: Julian Guthrie
In a bonus episode of our Alta Podcast, we visit author Julian Guthrie to discuss her new book, Alpha Girls: The Women Upstarts Who Took On Silicon Valley’s Male Culture and Made the Deals of a Lifetime. Guthrie explains how she researched this intimate look at some of venture capital’s leading partners—and reveals that her book will soon be developed for television. Listen for free on:
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Altatude: This Week’s Cartoon
“Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Like to laugh? Visit the Alta site for more Altatude cartoons. SEE MORE
Our recommendations for this week’s best writing about California and the West.
In San Francisco, Tech Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness — the New Yorker

California’s School Accountability Laws Have Quietly Become Defunct — Voice of San Diego

The Exposé That Self-Help Guru Tony Robbins Doesn’t Want You to Read — Buzzfeed News

• Who Said Indie Bookstores Are Dying? Not in the Bay Area, Thank You — San Francisco Chronicle

The 42 Best Cabin Getaways in the West — Sunset
Support Alta and our event partners at these upcoming events:
TONIGHT: Sita Kaylin, a California-based veteran of the sex industry, has lived the pitfalls of being naked in front of strangers and the absurdities that arise when you fake intimacy for a living. She left home when she was 16, worked hard at several jobs, and eventually started college after dropping out of high school. There, a roommate turned her on to stripping, revealing a way to relieve the crushing financial pressures she felt amid her struggles as a prelaw student with little time or energy to study. She had no idea how wild the ensuing journey would be. Kaylin’s stories take shape through an often altered, occasionally sarcastic, and frequently funny magnifying glass she holds up to not just the sex industry but also human needs and desires, modern relationships, mental health, and personal independence. Anything but a Wasted Life is the memoir of an unorthodox woman who has rarely said no to life. Details: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, 7 p.m., free.
Sunday, May 26: Join Vroman’s Bookstore and Alta for Local Author Day, featuring Kevin Foster and his book The Gospel According to Song of Solomon: A Fruitful Marriage, Maria A. Nodarse and her memoir Approaching Freedom: An Exile’s Quest for a New Self, and It’s of No Consequence author Beverley Clarkson. Details: Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 4 p.m., free.
Wednesday, May 29: Wife and mother. Teacher and musician. Marathoner and rock climber. At 66, Dierdre Wolownick became the oldest woman to climb El Capitan in Yosemite, and in The Sharp End of Life: A Mother’s Story she shares her journey, revealing how her climbing achievement reflects a broader story of courage and persistence. From confused young wife and busy but lonely mother to confident middle-aged athlete, Wolownick brings the reader along as she finds new strength, happiness, and community in the outdoors—and a life of learning, acceptance, and spirit. Details: Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, 7 p.m., free.
Wednesday, June 5: Join 826LA for a special evening to raise crucial funds for the organization’s free writing and tutoring programs, which support more than 9,000 students from under-resourced Los Angeles communities each year. Raise a Voice honors the powerful voices students develop with the help of 826’s dedicated volunteers and celebrates the power of one-on-one attention. Alta is proud to be one of the sponsors of this event, which will feature 826 students and volunteers, Dave Eggers, Jackson Browne, Kelly McCreary, and more. Details: Vibiana, 214 S. Main St., Los Angeles, cocktails 6:30 p.m., dinner 7:30 p.m., tickets start at $500.
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