Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I went in to get my license plates renewed in late August. I had the inspection sticker in hand (after a brake job) my property tax statement, insurance card, all like I was supposed to.
According to the six page long ‘rejection notice’ Missouri had no record of my vehicle. Even though one year prior, I had registered and received license plates after moving from Maryland.
“We sent you a notice in August of 2006” (shortly after I received the plates, and only a couple of weeks after moving in to the new house) I recalled that time period, my mail was being jump-forwarded between three different addresses… we would go days without any mail at all, followed by a box-choking bundle. I did not recall ever seeing any such notice.
Admittedly, I made another mistake that compounded the problem in 2007. I paid off the truck. The lien holder, an angry, sullen mob, said they sent the ‘release' to … Maryland. I had the title release in my hands… delivered to my address in Missouri. I asked them to resend the title to me. They said 'okay.' “How long will it take?” I inquired. “About one to three weeks.” was the bland bureaucratic reply. I knew there would be no hurry; there was nothing in it for them. I waited two weeks. “I’m checking on the status of my title.” (a shuffling of keyboard keys followed) “We don’t have your title, we sent a release to you, and sent the title to Maryland six months ago when you paid it off.” The gruff lady pronounced. “Why Maryland?” I stupidly asked. “Because that was the address we have on file” (duh!) “Could you read me the address” I asked. Of course the only address they had at this point was in Missouri.
“Can you send me another one?” Yes, they can, it would take a week or two though.
Time passed, I was now rolling on expired tags, and not too concerned about it. The cops that occasionally fell in behind me seemed mostly unconcerned. “I’m calling about my title” They replied repeating the same as before, and then adding. “We can’t duplicate your title, never could, whoever told you that was…mistaken. You’ll need to contact Maryland.” I slammed the phone down… No I didn’t I was using my cell phone, I haven’t found a satisfactory equivalent to slamming the phone down.. sure it takes pictures, plays music and has a color screen, you'd think they’d include a button for ‘hang up with extreme prejudice’, but no. I tapped the soft red button.
I contacted Maryland, they gave me the web site to download the proper form. I filled it out, stuck it into an actual envelope, and sent it to Annapolis.. They don’t accept electronic forms… The process would take two to three weeks. I received a fresh duplicate title in about three, as promised.
I marched in to the DMV again, handed them all my papers, including the fresh title. “We’ll just send this off to Jefferson City.” Said the big lady behind the counter. “Once they process it we can renew your plates”
I asked the obvious question, and received the expected answer: “About two to three weeks.”
That brings us up to mid-November.
I received an okee-dokee call from the big lady. I took my papers, now dog-eared, stained and worn, into the DMV office near where I work. Lunchtime, the line was twelve people long, four bureaucrats manning the counter. Then three, then two, as they left for their own lunch, at the busiest part of the day. The line went from twelve to eleven. Twenty minutes later it was down to nine, but only because a couple of people in line gave up and left. After forty five minutes I too left, the eighth in line.
The next day, November 14, I drove by the DMV again to assess the line. Not too bad,
Oddly enough I was eighth in line again. I had already decided that I would keep doing this until the deed was done, every day, assess, stand in line, roll my eyes along with my fellow livestock.
“I think I finally have it all now.” I told the young lady (who had just returned from her lunch break) pretending she might actually remember me, ‘the guy who sighs loudly when frustrated.’ Of course not, there’s no motivation for these demonic gatekeepers to remember anyone.
“Yes, you are cleared in the system, but we have another problem”
I didn’t need to ask, I KNEW what the problem was, I had figured it out the day before. One of the requirements for renewal is an inspection ‘within sixty days of renewal’ That arbitrary date had passed two weeks prior. I knew this, but just didn’t care. I wanted to make a case, for the heck of it. At this point rejection no longer hurt me, it no longer frustrated me, I was EXPECTING it. I did want to make my point though.
“It was perfectly fine when I brought it in the first time, the ink was still wet when the DMV admitted that they had lost my paperwork”. The young lady did not flinch, she did not seem surprised. I had a stack of dated rejection papers that indicated that I had indeed done my due diligence and was likely a mere victim of the DMV and their incestuous obsession with paper documents and the U.S. Postal Service.
I saw something in her eye, something unusual and unexpected.. was that a hint of sympathy? It was fleeting, almost not there at all. I looked around at her co-workers, burnt-up, jaded, ambivalent. They would not have it in them anymore. This young lady did. Perhaps she’d had something nice happen recently, maybe her fiancĂ© had finally proposed, perhaps she’d just interviewed at a place where she wasn’t automatically despised by the customers….. I don’t know what it was, but she got up, took my crumpled inspection form to the sweaty, used up and enormous blob of a woman that I had assumed was her supervisor, someone that would not only survive this terrible occupation, but would actually thrive in it.
After the obligatory shoulder shrug and bureaucratic tsking and sighing, the large lady relented. She took the forms and disappeared behind a wall. Of course, she was only a supervisor, which in bureaucratic terms means she had no actual authority to DO anything other than say ‘no.’ There are other supervisors, several layers probably that had to be waded through before one could be found that could actually decide something in a grey area.
She came back around, there was no tell on her face or in her waddle. She’d been in this job way too long to give anything away.
Then it happened.

“It’ll be fine, this time, go ahead and process it.”
Jaws dropped around the entire room. The impossible had actually occurred. A renewal of faith, hope, and dare I say ‘joy’ filled the room. I turned to the crowd and accepted the awe, the silent worship and whispered accolades.
The young lady who had assisted me in the rebellion ripped a couple of stickers off the sheet, stapled them proudly to a form, and with a tiny lilt in her voice asked “Would you like this to be a one year renewal or two?”
“Are you saying that I can write this check (no plastic allowed) and not have to do this again for two whole years?”
“That is correct sir.”
“Can I get a ten year renewal?” She didn’t smile, but she did think about it. “No, I’m afraid not.”
“Then two it is, let’s do this thing.”