So four hours ago I left my house and headed out for parts unknown. I fueled up the hog, stopped at the bank for a fistful of twenties, and hit the freeway outta town.
At the first exit off that freeway outta town is the local office of the California Department of Motor Vehicles.
(flashback to my office, two months ago)
(flash forward to present day)
The Earth has spun completely around more than sixty times since I placed the order, that's sixty days available for a prisoner to push the button or pull the lever or do whatever it is a prisoner does when he presses out a license plate.
And since I've been riding around on my brand new big black Harley there's been really only one thing that has made it feel somewhat "unchristened." A real license plate. I've felt so Geppetto-esque, dreaming for my very own shiny metal one. The plastic dummy with the dealer's logo is okay, I mean, it's the Harley colors and all, but still it's kind of bush league, y'know. Like wearing brand new white tennies on the first day of seventh grade. Still too embryonic no matter how much you try to rationalize the appearance.
So, on the off chance the plate might be in, I pull off at that first exit, park my mighty beast all loaded with gear, and give it a shot. What the hell.
The first thing I notice is that a new system has been adopted here at this DMV. Okay, look, here's the thing. My town is dreadfully quiet. It's a bedroom community, but even as bedroom communities go, this one sleeps in. Every previous visit to this DMV has been a breeze; my all-time record was six minutes, and that was for the personal plates I got for the Vespa. Well, not anymore. My local DMV is apparently under new mismanagement. They've moved some tables around so that as you enter you are funneled diagonally to a counter behind which stands their information person, their first line of defense, who hears the problem, finds the right form, and issues you a number.
I explained to this person that I was on my way out of town, it's been at least two months, no I haven't yet received the postcard notifying me that my plate has come in, but since I'm leaving town I'd just like to check to see if the personalized plate is here and sitting in that pile of plates that come in. I'd really like to have it on the bike. She picks up her phone and calls the plate pile person and asks if she can issue an expedite order so that "this gentleman" can see if his plate is sitting in the pile of the plates that come in. The expedite order is okayed and I turn to see a man across the room walk over to the pile of plates. She asks what the configuration is, asks me to write it down, she spells it for the man on the phone across the room and he says oh yes he saw it yesterday. He is now at the pile and yep, there it is. The information lady issues me a number. B109. I look up at the video screens where the civilian mammals are instructed to look for their number indicating it's their turn. B088. Okay, so it's not like getting a burger at Wendy's, but to be 21 away from being served is tolerable in a room that contains such a large herd. But wait, they're also calling F030. A046. G155. I ask info lady how long a wait it will be. She says about forty-five minutes. Yeesh. I just wanna go on a trip with my real plates. Is that so wrong?
She lied, of course. Right through her whitened little teeth. It took way longer than forty-five minutes. Way.
I spend the next hour and a half lingering in the lobby and out in the breezeway, passing time, keeping an eye on the bike and my stuff, and watching the parade of test takers, car sellers, and new licensees. As my number approaches, I swim in ever tightening circles toward the registration windows.
The video screen says I go to window #7. I arrive and explain.
"I'm sorry sir, we cannot release the plate to you until you come in with the original plates that are issued from Sacramento," she says. It means nothing to her that I'm on my way out of town or that the paperwork has already been filed and is on record at the DMV, or that the plates are sitting right over there in that pile. I tell her I know it's here because the plate pile person said so.
"I'm sorry sir, we cannot release the plate to you until you come in with the original plates that are issued from Sacramento."
"But the lady at the information desk said I could. You mean I waited an hour and a half so you could tell me it can't be done?"
"Everyone is waiting an hour and a half, sir, and I'm sorry, but we cannot release the plate to you until you come in with the orig..."
"May I speak with your supervisor, please?" I ask. Nicely. Really.
"Yes." she says, faking a smile. She twitches around like Esmeralda, the mannequin in one of those fortune teller booths, and then says, "The manager is over there, helping at the information desk. Go talk to him."
"Now serving B110 at window 7" comes over the loudspeaker.
I cut sheepishly through to the front of the line to speak with The Man. I explain. He tells me I need to file an affidavit stating that I will destroy the randomly numbered plate when it arrives from Sacramento. Just have a registration specialist take care of that for you." Oh good. Action. The he hands me a new number. B129.
"Uh. You mean I have to wait another hour and a half to get this taken care of?" I say with just a hint of outraged urgency now flavoring my voice.
"Oh, were you hear earlier? Okay, just go right across to registration and tell them you're filing an affidavit."
I do so. With the same clerk as before. I explain what just happened, what was said, what I need to do. Then she cops a full-blown attitude, the attitude occasionally witnessed in other bureaucratic realms. I am beginning to understand why some of these personnel in such realms now conduct their business behind bullet-proof glass.
She pulls down a form with a header that includes the word "Miscellaneous," circles section J, shoves it in my face and says "Go ask him what he wants on it," indicating The Man again over at the info desk.
I do so, again cutting in line. The guy who was next is pissed. So is the woman behind him. They tell me I'm being rude and that there are people waiting in line here and, well, you know how mammals can get.
I tell The Man, Mr. Manager, that the registration lady would like to know what I should write on section J.
"What window were you at?" he asks.
"That's not surprising," he mutters.
He picks up his phone and calls The Man of Men, The Mega Manager.
"I've got a gentleman here who's trying to get his personalized license plate. He's already been sent back to me a couple of times, and for some reason Roberta is just giving this guy a hard time. Can you take care of him? Okay." He tells me to go to the space between windows 10 and 11 and I'll be taken care of there.
I do so. I fill out section J swearing that I will destroy Sacramento's plate as soon as the postal service drops it at my curb. I sign papers, buttons are pushed, and my plate is laid onto the counter before me. Oh happy day.
Two hours, thirteen minutes. I will never get them back.
And as for Roberta, dear, sweet, Roberta, well, on the way out the door I picked up another DMV form. It asks, "How Are We Doing?"
I've got something personalized just for her.
So now I'll shove off a day later, but fully christened. Stay off the roads, you brain-numbed mammals, and you bureaucrats too. I gots me a tank fulla gas, a fist fulla twennies, a spankin' new plate, and I'm a comin' hard.
"Oh, Good Grief" -- Vince Guaraldi Trio -- A BOY NAMED CHARLIE BROWN
"To beat the bureaucracy, make your problem their problem."
- Marshall L. Smith