Friday, July 3, 2009

Fear and Loathing at the DMV

Upon my recent return to the land of my birth, I found myself venturing into that 7th circle of hell that all suburbanites must deal with...the DMV.

Having lived in the City for a decade, and therefore having no need of the use of an automobile, I had let my license lapse several years earlier. Now living in suburbia, I girded up my loins and trudged into the new and improved Division of Driver Services (known as the DDS). Evidently, they were seeking to avoid the negative connotations of the previous name - the dreaded DMV, and changed it.

Upon arrival, I was surprised to find an open, well lit expanse with 21 windows for service, most of which were manned. This was a far cry from the tiny, dimly lit DMV I had previously dealt with in my previous suburban life. Might they have actually improved things?

I entered shortly after 4 p.m. and presented myself to the Gatekeeper (the old gal at the reception desk) and explained what I was there for. She promptly issued me a numbered ticket and paperwork to fill out. I took a seat and began filling out said paperwork. Before I could complete the line marked "address" my number had been called. I was a tad dumbfounded.

Approaching the assigned window with great trepidation, I spoke with a friendly older gent. After explaining my situation, he directed me to finish filling out the form and wait for my number to be called for the written test (since my license had expired, I would need to take both the written and road tests). As I was walking back to my previous seat, my number was called at a different window. Wha?????

I scurried to the next window, scribbling furiously. Another kindly old gent spoke with me while I completed my paperwork. After punching information into his terminal, he assigned me to a terminal where I took the written test for the next 20 minutes or so. Once the test was completed, I returned to the window. He told me it was too late to get a road test in, but if I came early the next day, they could have me taken care of in short order.

Total time in DDS approximately 40 minutes. Total time waiting approximately 20 seconds. Could this be?

The next morning, I was third in line at the door when they opened the office. I waited about 15 minutes and was called to take the road test. After completing the test, I waited a little less than 10 minutes to be called to another window, ostensibly to pay my fee and have my picture taken. Once my number was called, however, things took a decidedly DMVish turn.

The lady at this window told me my license had a "hold" on it for unpaid tickets in Atlanta. I was stunned that it was even possible for tickets to stay in the system for over a decade. I'd have to contact the City of Atlanta and straighten things out with them and get a letter of clearance before receiving my license. After that, they would hook me right up, I was assured. Fine.

As it was Saturday, I had to wait til Monday to begin the next leg of my Odyssey. After spending the better part of an hour on hold, the gent helping me told me I didn't exist. After further explaining when these tickets were issued (11 and 12 years earlier), he transferred me to another office. I then spoke with a nice lady that said I did, indeed, have tickets on my license. She told me the tickets had been dismissed years earlier, though. *sigh*

Me: "So, what do I need to do?"
Nice Lady: "Just come down and I'll give you a clearance letter."
Me: "Oh, so no fines?"
NL: "No, just come get the letter."
Me: "Oh, well can you fax it to the DDS, by any chance?"
NL: "No, we don't do that, sorry."
Me: "No problem"

The next day, I went down to the Atlanta Municipal Building w/ a spring in my step. Sure, it was inconvenient to go all the way downtown, but it could be worse...right??? Oh, yes. It could surely be worse...and it would be.

I approached the window, explained the situation to the man working. After being met with a blank stare for several moments, he pushed a form through the slot in the window.
Lazy City Employee: "Fill this out and bring it back to me. You can pick up the letter in four days or so."
Me:"Ummmm, four days?"
LCE: "Yep. We'll call if it's earlier."
Me: "Are you fucking insane? How can it possibly take that long? The lady I spoke with yesterday said it was basically walk in and walk out."
LCE: He shrugged "Don't know what to tell you."
Me: "You can tell me it's not gonna take a week to get this done. That's absurd. I'm gonna need to talk to a supervisor, this is totally unacceptable."
Sighing deeply, he removed his ass from the vinyl of his chair and trudged out of sight for several minutes. Upon returning, I was told I could pick it up after lunch. Recognizing it would do me no good to attempt a neck punch through the security window, I retreated.

After killing several hours with the friend that had driven me downtown, I returned and retrieved the letter. Armed with the document, I hauled my butt back to the DDS to spend some more time with my new cadre of friends.

Upon arrival, I explained everything that was going on to the lady at the reception desk, who assigned me another number. Things didn't move as quickly as the previous two trips. An hour later, my number was called. The guy at this window told me I would now have to pay reinstatement fees for each individual ticket.
Me: "But I didn't even owe fines."
Surprise Guy: "Still have to be paid."
Me: "You guys can't even tell me what the tickets are for. How could they all have resulted in suspensions, simultaneously?"
SG: "Can't say."
Me: "Ummm, if you can't say, how can you charge?"
SG: "It's how it works."

THIS is the DMV I remember. All rules, no logic or interpretation.

I stopped trying to rationalize and handed over my credit card. After running it, the guy looked at me and asked "What about South Carolina?"

"What about South Carolina?" I returned.

"You've got a hold in South Carolina."

"One - I haven't been in South Carolina in 20 years. Two - It's after 5, couldn't someone have told me I had a problem earlier today, or the last time I was here? I could have it squared away, by now."

"Don't know what to tell you."


The next morning, I called the SC DMV and got things squared away. They were looking for a shakedown from literally 20 years earlier that I had no idea was even on my record. Ugh.

The following morning, I was back at the DDS (the artists formerly known as the DMV).

"Please. Please don't hit me with any more surprises" I said to the guy at the window.

"Well Mr. Martin, I have good news and bad news."

I began scanning the immediate vicinity for blunt objects.

"The bad news is you won't have to come back anymore."

Were they banning me from the office, now that they had extracted all the money they had asked for?

"The good news is, you can go to the window and get your picture taken and get your license."

Oh, Happy Fricken' Day!!!!

Total time spent - 6 days
Total time spent on the phone with various agencies - 3 hours
Money spent - Don't ask

Old DMV slogan - "Don't know what to tell you."
New DDS slogan - "Don't know what to tell you...but open your wallet and bend over."

1 comment:

  1. Ha ha, I just went through the fun that is the DMV here in California last week!
    Short story, my car fails smog. Apparently CA has the power to tell me my perfectly driveable car either has to have a bunch of EXPENSIVE repairs or else I have to drive it to the junkyard. Well, its going to the junkyard. However, CA has a program [cross fingers its still in effect] where they will pay you $1000 to junk your smoggy car. Sweet I think, my registration is up I can just donate it and get $1000.
    Well in order to junk the car, I have to have it REGISTERED. In order to register after failing a smog check you have to pay not only the registration $59 but also another $50 to put a ticket in your window to extend the time you have to "pass" the smog test.
    I of course ask the DMV lady if I get any of this $120 back when I junk the car in 2 months since they won't legally let me drive it. Of course the answer is no.
    To do all this, she makes me run to the car to get my insurance card. Looks at it, fine. Gives me all the crap.
    4 days later? Letter in the mail from the DMV, they don't have my insurance info.
    Call them, somehow the DMV is 2 separate entities who can't find my insurance. Even though I SHOWED IT TO A DMV AGENT LAST WEEK.
    7th circle of hell indeed.