When I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles this afternoon to register my fire engine, I knew better than to think I’d walk out with anything aside from more paperwork.
I know it’s cliche to pick on the happy-go-lucky staff of the DMV, but they just make it so dang easy. Grimacing behind the counter as I approach, their demeanor reminds me of the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Hand over the wrong form or have the audacity to pose a question they’ve already been asked six zillion times and it’s “NO PLATES FOR YOU!”
I’m not sure they grasp the fact that humans aren’t born with the natural instinct to know which of the 867 motor vehicle forms they need to complete a transaction. We’re creatures of logic and we just need time to process the State’s tree-obliterating philosophy of “Why use one form when three will do?”
Yet still, they look flabbergasted after we bring them Form MV-51 when we should have completed Form MV-51b. Apparently, in our haste to try and cut our DMV visit to two hours, we failed to see the fine print that read, “If completing Form MV-51, please note that you will be asked to complete Form MV-51b instead.”
Had we properly selected Form MV-51b then we would have also missed, “If completing Form MV-51b, please note that you will be asked to complete Form MV-51 instead.”
The even smaller fine print says, “For all those wisenheimers who completed Forms MV-51 and MV-51b before arriving at the DMV, please complete Form MV-51c as punishment. In triplicate. Twice.”
I don’t know why I thought my experience would be any different but I called our local DMV office to ask which forms I’d need to get my new fire engine on the road. I was overly peppy, very clear, and expressed that I needed to:
a) Title the fire engine in my name;
b) Register the fire engine as a Historical vehicle;
c) Obtain Historical license plates
In response, I was told I’d simply need to provide Form “MV-Something or Other”, Form “MV-Whatchahoozit”, the Bill of Sale, and proof of insurance.
I gathered everything she said I’d need and made the futile drive to the DMV knowing full well that she hung up telling her co-workers, “I think he bought it.”
It’d been raining all day long here, so as I passed through the cavernous Halls of Driver Purgatory, my shoes squeaked and echoed throughout the chamber. I feared unsettling the hens and proceeded to walk as slowly, as silently, and as flat-footed as I could to the shortest line. It wouldn’t be the right line, of course, but when is it? Placards displaying each window’s available services are rotated around like Musical Chairs so no one ever really knows if they’re in the right line until they’re told that they aren’t.
When it was finally my turn, I waited as the employee who was about to help me had a tussle with someone over the telephone.
“I already told you this,” she said with snarky disbelief, “I can’t look up your records over the phone.”
She listened for a second and then started shaking her head slowly while rolling her eyes as the caller annoyed her with a response that wasn’t “Thank you, your highness.”
“Sir. I don’t think I can say it ANY differently. I can’t…look up…your records…over…the…phone.”
She held the phone away from her ear, looked at the heavens with a “strike me down now, Lord” gaze, and said, “Do you have identification? You do? Okay. I need to see that. And it’s not something you can show me over the phone. Right? I need to know that you are you.”
She looked down at her freshly painted talon nails and quipped in a voice she’d use on a 4-year old, “Nooo…that’d be information. Information I can’t give because I can’t look up your records over the phone.”
This guy was ticking me off. Not because he had me waiting, but because he was irritating someone I had to soon deal with. Bear trainers don’t want to watch helplessly as some imbecile takes a sharp stick and repeatedly jabs the Grizzly he’s about to hand paperwork to, and neither do I. But that’s exactly what this caller was doing. He was poking my Grizzly.
He must have finally realized that no one has ever gotten anywhere with the DMV on their first try because she finished the call with an abrupt, “We close at 4:45.”
Wanting to get on her good side I squeaked my way up to her window and said, “Boy, some people, am I right?”
“We get all kinds here,” she said, “some people just don’t understand English.”
I was immediately at ease.
I explained why I was there and she perused my documents with pursed lips. She hemmed and hawed just looking for a reason to kick me out of queue and looked delighted when she found not one, not two, but three reasons to exclaim, “NO PLATES FOR YOU!”
I swear they get rewarded for this. She may be the sweetest little thing outside these walls, but here, she’s got her game face on. I imagine there’s a supervisor in the back room monitoring their interactions and doling out demerits if they crack a smile or were unable to force a different form upon the customer.
I’m sure bonuses are handed out in situations like mine. As their Frustrate-O-Meter whirled and dinged and flashed to signify yet another turn away, the magnetic turtle on her progress board was jostled forward by a proud superior.
I explained that the person who I spoke with on the phone said I’d need these documents.
“Well, she was wrong.”
She rifled through my paperwork again and said, “Oh, this is for the fire engine, right?”
“You called this morning. I talked to you.”
“Okay. So I’m confused. Were you wrong then or now?”
I turned incredulously to the people standing behind me and could immediately see in their saucer-like eyes that they wanted me dead. I wasn’t just poking and prodding their Grizzly any more. I had now metaphorically ventured between her and her young.
“Neither,” she replied, “I didn’t know what you had here so it’s hard to explain what you need over the phone unless you’re here.”
My human logic gene failed to process her response before she continued.
“You need an etching of the VIN. Or, you can get a statement from a police officer that the VIN is accurate.”
“Wow. That’s weird. Does it say that anywhere? I thought I had everything in order.”
“Yes. It’s listed right on Form MV-51b, which you don’t have. You gave me Form MV-51. Let me print one for you.”
I wondered in silence why I wasn’t told about Form MV-51b when I called earlier. She went on to say that in addition to some sketchpad rendering of the VIN plate I also needed another document signed by the seller who lives four counties away stating that the vehicle was never titled due to fire stations being exempt.
I also needed new insurance cards because mine lacked the required text, “HISTORICAL,” which I would have known about had I also been told about Form MV-440.
In short, I wasn’t even close to having what I needed. Not that I expected to. Before I left this afternoon I told my wife, “Well, I have everything I need. Which means I’ll get there only to find out that I don’t have everything I need.” Uncanny foreshadowing if you ask me.
I basically went there with the intention of just seeing how wrong I was. You can never really get a straight answer over the phone, and certainly not an accurate one, so I figured I’d just plop a bunch of paperwork on her desk and let her have some fun with it. Batting it around until it’s close to death and then telling me what I need to do to resuscitate it.
Only I felt confident that I had everything the DMV required because she seemed so knowledgeable when answering my questions over the phone. Once faced with the premise that she erred, she adhered to her training and turned it around so it was the fault of the witless ill-informed driver. Earning double bonus points in the process.
Tomorrow I have the pleasure of driving four hours round-trip to get the last of the paperwork she assured me I needed (eight hours if you count the other Form I’ll need the seller to sign, a form currently stored under her desk in a folder named, “Operation Last Straw.”)
This entire experience is going to make driving this fire engine all the more rewarding when and if it ever happens. Hopefully that day comes tomorrow.
Who knew after all this that acquiring the fire truck would be the easy part?
The DMV. That’s who.