Saturday, June 07, 2008

DMV Blues

When I lived in Utah, I thought that I couldn’t wait to leave. I wanted to quit the state like a bad job, and leave the entire place behind me. Sure, I had many friends and loved ones who I would leave behind, but I was unsatisfied and restless and found myself growing more irritated with the land where I finally discovered what it was like to call one place home. I think, in retrospect, that it was merely the desire to move on to the next phase of life, the next step in my progression through life, that drove me away, and Utah itself was actually rather blameless. In fact, since my self-imposed exile began, I’ve only grown more fiercely attached to the state I still think of as home.

After all, nothing increases your fondness for home like living someplace much, much worse. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been quite happy here in South Carolina, and have surrounded myself with good and inspiring people (many of whom actually were born and raised here). But it doesn’t compare. Seriously. Beautiful green scenery, warm climate, near the ocean, steeped in history and tradition - none of it comes close to comparing with my mountain-top home. I feel like I should provide concrete examples. I could talk about the humidity, which should classify as cruel and unusual punishment. I could talk about the terrible drivers, the willfully ignorant, the shocking gap between rich and poor, the obstinate racial divisions, and about how almost every place here looks old and dirty.

But I’ll talk about the DMV instead. South Carolina laws regarding motor vehicle registration are just baffling, and every year when I’m forced to go through the process people near me start getting sick of hearing the phrase, “it’s not like this in Utah!” In order to renew the registration on my car, I have navigate a bewildering labyrinth of various buildings, lines, and cynical state employees. You must present the title of your car, and trying to explain that your car is a lease and therefore the title is not in your possession is like trying to explain general relativity to a rowdy kindergarten class. Last year when I went through this process, I eventually got my car registered, but in order for that to happen a DMV big-wig lady had to offer some special arrangement that bypassed the usual procedure. My situation seemed highly irregular, so I guess nobody leases their car in this state. One of my friends came along for moral support and when we finally left hours and hours later, he was pissed. So was I, but as usually I merely fumed inward and blamed myself. He ranted and raved about the inefficiency of government and his rights as a taxpayer while I naively defended the system like the good idealistic citizen I am. This argument lead to a sketch I wrote and am including at the end of the post.

This year I put off going back to that horrible place until the last possible moment, even though I was fairly sure that last years compromise should allow this years visit to be relatively painless. When the last possible moment finally arrived, I went through all the necessary steps: I went to the county treasurer’s office and paid my vehicle taxes (always surprisingly high), filled out all the necessary paperwork, etc. etc., waited in line at the DMV only to face the exact same crap as last year. In fact, I found myself faced with the very same lady who had reached a solution last year but who, this year, was certain nothing could be done. .I was fully aware of how surreal the situation was as I tried repeatedly to explain to this woman that the irregular situation detailed in my records which she peered at with disapproval was a result of the solution she herself had proposed exactly a year before. I was asked to wait while she got some help, and ended up sitting there for well over two hours. I watched her bustle back and forth, laughing with other employees, helping other angry citizens, and generally ignoring me.

Eventually, somebody somewhere either came the same conclusion as last year after following the exact same process, or, more likely, just got tired of dealing with it, and suddenly I was allowed to process my registration renewal without explanation. I was grateful, and even more grateful that by this time next year I would no longer be residing in the Palmetto State.

I’m certainly not the only person who has had DMV woes, here or elsewhere. That inspired this little sketch I wrote last year:

A line at the DMV. B speaks a bit unnaturally loud.

A
Can you believe this line? I mean, we’ve been waiting for… what, an hour?

Crowd mumbles assent and complaints.

B
Not that long, surely.

A
Feels like an hour. This is absolutely ridiculous…. Our government at work, huh?

B
I for one feel rather optimistic.

A
You do?

B
Yes. My experience today has been fairly efficient, and this line is relatively short.

A
Relative to what?

B
Well, compared to the lines they have in communist China. We are lucky. I hear the Chinese wait in lines that last for days, and are expected to sleep standing up while they wait.

Crowd tsk and shake their head at the silly Chinese.

A
The Chinese have to go to the DMV?

B
Of course.

A
But I thought nobody in China had a car, they all rode bicycles.

B
Well now you know why. And I can’t imagine what waiting at the DMV was like in Iraq under Sadam.

Crowd nods and murmurs approvingly at B’s points.

A
Well, I don’t know....

B
It makes me proud to be an American, you know? The line stands as an example to all other nations as a representative of the free society we live in. (Hums the national anthem)

Crowd begins to join in the hum.

A
Are you serious? This is the most inefficient waste of time. We’re drowning in a sea of red tape! We pay for these services, we are the taxpayer, and we should demand a more efficient process! Where are my taxes going? That’s what I want to know!

B
I for one love to pay taxes.

Crowd continues national anthem.

B
It makes me proud to live in land where I am free to work and then pay a sizeable portion of my income to support public assets that benefit us all. Just think of all the wonderful things we get to enjoy each day as the result of taxes. Public roads, schools, city and state governments, and the best damn military in the world. Think of our troops! We must support them! And I don’t know about you, but considering our troops have fought and died to protect our freedoms, I think it is a small price to pay to stand here in this line with the proper paperwork in order to support and honor them. God Bless America!

Crowd applauds and a few wipe tears from their eyes.

A
What the hell are you talking about? How does standing in this line support our troops?

B
Are you saying you don’t support the troops?

Crowd grows suspicious and threatening.

A
No, I do. I do! Of course I do. I just think things could be handled in a different, more effective way.

B
Well I for one trust in the wisdom of our elected and appointed leaders, who are much better informed than us. And I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a small price to pay to endure this process in order to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. I’m Proud to Be An American!

Crowd sings “At least I know I’m free!”

A
Why are you listening to this guy? He’s not saying anything! He’s just mindlessly repeating empty catchphrases!

B
(Shakes head sadly) You are lost, my friend. You have no patriotism, no American spirit – the spirit which guided our noble forefathers to this promised land. I don’t think you’ll ever be happy living in your hateful little liberal world of revolution and rebellion. And I don’t think you support our troops at all.

Crowd hisses. “He doesn’t have a magnet on his car!”

B
Come my friends, let us pray to the God of America for this man’s soul.

Crowd and B form a prayer circle. A’s number is called and he hurries up to the counter.

A
Thank you, just in time. I need to renew my driver’s license.

C
I’m sorry, sir, I need a proof of citizenship. Good day.

A
I have my passport.

C
(Eyes the passport suspiciously) I see. Well, I need proof of social security as well.

A
Got my card, here.

C
Fine. But you need proof of residency in this state. Sorry.

A
Here’s a utility bill to my address in state, my student ID card to the state university, and a satellite image showing me moving into a house in this state.

Beat

C
You’re a troublemaker, aren’t you.

B
He doesn’t support the troops!

A
Shut up! Don’t listen to him. Please, can you just renew my driver’s license?

C
(Very irritated) Well, sir, I’m afraid you’d need to present your birth certificate. Next!

A
I have it here. As well as the birth certificate of all my next of kin, and my neighbors.

C
(Raises an eyebrow) Medical proof of a recent physical and eye examination?

A
Got it.

C
IRS receipt proving full payment of US taxes?

A
Here.

C
Have you filled out Form 11-B, sir?

A
Form 11-B, 11-A, 11-C, and 11-F. There.

C
You’re good. (Begins to type on computer) Mother’s maiden name?

A
Colson.

C
Her mother’s maiden name?

A
Um…. Smith.

C
And her mother’s maiden name?

Pause. A thinks furiously.

C
I’m sorry, sir. Better luck next time. Next!

A
Wait! It’s Wilson! Wilson!

C
Ok…. Sir. This is the Department of Motor Vehicles. Nobody is allowed to make it through the line the first time through, its departmental policy.

A
But I supplied every piece of information you have asked me for! I have brought with me every single relevant or irrelevant personal document I’ve ever received! You have failed to stump me, you failed to catch me lacking, and I demand that you renew my driver’s license right this instant!

C
Sir, there’s no need to be rude. Alright, then, we’ll process your paperwork.

A
Thank you.

C
I’ll just need the 25 dollars processing fee.

A
What?

C
25 dollars?

A
I know! I know! I… I forgot my checkbook.

C
(Huge smile of satisfaction) I’m sorry, sir, we can’t process your paperwork without the fee. See ya!

A
(Desparate) I can’t wait in that line again! Can anybody lend me 25 dollars??

Crowd boos him and calls him a terrorist liberal. A runs away.


B
GOD BLESS OUR SUPPORT OUR TROOPS GOD BLESS PROUD TO BE OUR TROOPS AMERICA TROOPS AMERICA TROOPS…… (hunches over, broken)

Two men in suits enter, and carry B off for repairs. Crowd and DMV lady salute.