Don’t Smile. It’s Indiana

“Read the top line,” the person from the BMV requested.

I pressed my head against the eyesight measuring device and spouted off a string of seemingly random letters. I stood and stepped away from the machine proud of my alphabet acumen. She didn’t seem quite a impressed.

“Take a seat,” was her next request. Her tone was actually bright and seemed to match her pink sweater.

I glanced behind and found a plastic chair pushed up against a blue clothe screen suspended from the office tile ceiling. I didn’t quite catch what she said next. But what did it matter? I’d been through this dozens of times. I looked at the camera, gave it my dashing Carey Grant smile and . . . nothing. No click or flash or fainting ladies overcome by my magnificent yet mysterious smirk.

Interesting, I thought.

“Is that it” I asked?

I was a bit confused yet certain I’d passed this task as convincingly as I passed the touchscreen written exam. She didn’t move. She stood there behind the camera, waiting, as if I needed to say a magic word.

Was it ‘cheese’?

Perhaps ‘applesauce’?

She was a pleasant person with a sweet demeanor. Up until that moment she had managed to make a very painful process mildly unpleasant. But at that particular moment I was baffled. What did I do wrong?

“You can’t smile.” she said.

It took me a moment to register what she’d just said. It was complicated by the fact that she said it with a very kind smile on her face and a hint of chuckle in her voice.

“I can’t smile?” I was dumbfounded.

I’d lived in Michigan for 20 years and I’d always had a choice to smile or smirk or offer up a Zoolander “Blue Steel.” But no one had ever told me I couldn’t smile. I could however, muster up a toothless grin of some kind she offered.

NOT a mug shot. Actual Indiana BMV license photo

Bewildered and with no experience creating this kind of non-face I gave it my best shot and landed somewhere between shoplifter and serial killer.

After managing this constipated image I asked the kind BMV lady why no one can smile in Indiana. She responded that a number of years ago Indiana along with a number of other states adopted the no-smile policy, requiring all license pictures to have a “neutral facial expression.”

It has to do with facial recognition systems. Apparently a smile can really mess things up. The purpose is to stop ID fraud and since 2009 many more states have jumped on the “no fun at the BMV/DMV express.

It just seems and appears a bit sad that driver’s licenses need to look like mugshots. I’ve really enjoyed my move to Indiana, the people are great. There is a lot to do around here. But I fear that whenever I present my license to buy a pint of beer in an adjoining state the bartender will likely look at my license and think, ‘why don’t you have another, it looks like you could use a drink.’

Your license is your most personal of identifications and you want it to say, “hey I’m from [insert state here] and I’m darn tootin’ proud of it! Instead of “I’m from [insert state here] hide your children.”

But don’t fret, the smiling BMV/DMV photo could be making a comeback. Early this year Delaware dropped the ‘no smile policy’ saying it was just too painful to enforce. And with new recognition technology that can isn’t fazed by a toothy grin, it is now possible to be happy again in the Garden State.

Perhaps someday that will happen for Hoosiers and other sad license states. But it will come too late for me. For the foreseeable future, I’ll look like I could use a laxative.

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