Friday, June 18, 2010
Touring the World Via DMV
The Division of Motor Vehicles, no one who drives can escape it. A huge cross section of humanity is present there during the hours of operation. Rich or poor, fat or thin if you want to legally drive a car in the United States sooner or later the bell tolls and the time has come. A grumble here, a sigh there, we gird up our loins and sally forth to take care of our required documentation, registration, and identification. A necessary evil, not unlike going to the dentist, only with much worse lighting and less laughing gas, to be sure.
However, visiting three different DMVs in the course of one day is not recommended. I know this from bitter experience.
"What's your number?" I asked my son, as he returned from the information desk.
He consulted the scrap of paper, "543."
A little more than a minute later the clerk droned, "501, now serving 501. 501, now serving 501."
Oh this was going to be a long day's journey into night, all right.
I had been settling in to write an email to my friend Angela. I'm so far behind on email at this stage in the game, there are people who likely will accept nothing less than a written note from the alien that abducted me by way of apology. Finally I'd carved out an afternoon's worth of correspondence time, and I was looking forward to it. That's when my Mom Ears alerted me to an increasingly rare occurrence: The sound of my son's voice, with that tone to it. That "I'm actually afraid to tell you how much trouble I'm in right now, but you might want to prepare to freak out." That tone. That spine tingling, adrenaline alerting, sense sharpening tone.
"Mom?" He said. Just one word, but it's all in the inflection. My son had only left the house an hour earlier, and he was back, with that troubling quaver.
I immediately closed my laptop and set it down, "Yes?"
Weirdly, I tend to keep it short when tense. Something that never fails to unnerve those who know me well. An almost perfect stranger to brevity at all other times, I become one of the most concise communicators when things go south.
"Do you have an extra copy of my car insurance card?"
And we were off to the races. Flint had been pulled over back in December, for a variety of things, speeding was the primary reason, but the officer had found three other things to cite him on. My husband and I pay for almost everything in my son's life. The roof over his head, the tuition at his college, his car and medical insurance, almost every morsel of food that goes into his mouth, heck even his clothing is still provided by us. He's only nineteen, and he's a full-time student during the school year. However, he does have two things for which he is financially responsible, his cell phone and his car registration. Guess which one he let lapse?
To try and condense his tale of woe: he had neglected to pay entirely for his ticket , having taken the installment plan with Jefferson County. On the morning, six months after receiving his violation, that he was finally going to be able to pay off his fine altogether, he was pulled over again. This time with an overdue balance at Jeffco, a car that still needed to be registered, and having misplaced his insurance card. Since we're in Douglas County, my son was earning a rep both far and wide.
Rather than impound his vehicle and arrest him, the good-souled cop who pulled him over for grossly expired tags, gaped in horror and said, "Kid, you do realize you could actually go to jail for this? I'm putting your license on probation."
With that he walked away, toting said license, and off he drove.
As my son outlined the story, I listened in almost complete silence, and then without a word, went to the file that contains extra copies of our insurance cards, and fished one out. I stopped by the bathroom, combed my hair, checked my makeup, secured the dog in the large master bath with water and toys, then grabbed my purse and keys.
"Mom, I'm going to need a ride to..." His girlfriend had rescued him from his encounter with the LawDog but I knew he needed someone who couldn't choose to dump him halfway through the proceedings, just to escape.
"I know, let's get going."
I suppose I could have swung into the lecture to end all lectures. I could have let loose with the regular song and dance about responsibility and growing up, but we had a problem to solve and only about six hours left in the day to solve it. Besides, I knew even as we embarked on the journey, that this entire adventure would likely suck with such a vengeance that he'd never forget it.
First we went to the courthouse, a mere thirty minutes away, where my son paid the remainder of his fine. Then we went to a DMV near our home which turned out to not do registrations, then to another that could not solve my son's myriad of problems, and were referred to the full service DMV another forty minute drive away. When we arrived we were greeted by a sea of humanity so diverse I half expected the crowd to burst into a rousing rendition of It's a Small World After All. All of them clutched a battered number. Surrounded by teens there to take their first driving tests, people of all shapes and sizes, many in regrettable fashion choices, and an LED screen that bizarrely kept scrolling trivia questions, sans answers we waited, and waited, and waited some more. Most of that time was spent perched on a window sill as the place was so packed with people, they'd run out of seats. I think my backside is now permanently dented.
Hour one passed at a snail's pace, and I perfected open-eyed meditation while listening to my iPod.
"515, now serving 515. 515, now serving 515. Last call for 515. A89, now serving A89..."
Yes, they had two separate sets of numbers going at once. For three clerks.
"Mom, I'm really sorry," my son said, yet again, "thank you for doing this."
"You're welcome, Flint."
Hour three and something about Yak's milk scrolled by on the trivia screen, that otherwise existed solely to inform people to have their documents ready when their number was called.
"527, now serving 527..."
A nearby child screeched at such a volume I could only assume he was expressing the pain of existence for everyone there.
"A92, now serving A92..."
The same child vomited, and I'm fairly certain his mother began to cry. I proffered tissues thinking that either one of them might be in need. They were stickily accepted. A janitor rolled forth, as if this was a common occurrence, and mopped the area with enough bleach to render all of the county incidentally sterile.
"Mom, what's taking so long?" A nearby teen whined, in a voice made from broken glass, "We've been here forever."
"We can go home, Karen." Her mother said, busily tapping away at a Blackberry.
For the fourth time the scantily clad teen huffed out that sigh all teen girls have perfected. The one I'm sure I must have emitted on more than one occasion myself, it sounds something like, "Mom-uh." That "uh" uttered with a shrill exasperation. I made a mental note to call my mother and thank her for sparing my life throughout my teen years.
My iPod battery gave up the ghost before 531 made it to the desk. The trivia scroll asked what the Donner Family was famous for, and I got a wholly inappropriate case of the giggles.
We were fortunate in that several times when a number was called, the person in question was nowhere to be found. I envisioned mummified corpses being stacked in the backroom, daily. Poor old number 537, it was just his time.
Finally after a period roughly the length of the Jurassic Age 543 was called, and off Flint went to get himself out of Dutch with the Division of Motor Vehicles. We'd still have to travel to yet another DMV in our own county to register his car, but that would have to wait until the following Monday.
"Mom-uh, how long is this going to take?" Karen inquired, yet again, as if her mother was a Magic Eight Ball that merely needed to be shaken to get a fresh answer.
"Karen, shut up." Her mother finally snapped.
On the drive home my son thanked me yet again, and then asked, "Are you mad at me?"
"No," I answered honestly, "I'm pretty sure every nineteen-year-old on the planet does something like this."
"Well, not exactly but there was this time in Buttzville, New Jersey where I got pulled over at three o'clock in the morning."
"There's really a place called Buttzville?"
"Yes, and it's weirdly really pretty, it's up by the Delaware Water Gap..."
And I told him the rest of the story. I was home on a break, and had driven to Pennsylvania to visit my boyfriend at the time. While there I had either lost, or had stolen, my wallet. As luck would have it, this occurred in Shickshinny, Pennsylvania, a town just as rural as it sounds. I'd been at a bar there. At three a.m. two days later I was pulled over, in my brother's car, because the officer thought I was weaving while driving. Thankfully, I hadn't had so much as an ounce of alcohol, I was just tired.
But my brother had not only let his registration lapse, there was no proof of insurance in that car and God help me, I'd lost my Driver's License with my wallet. There I was, in an entirely illegal vehicle, without even any way to prove who I was and having to say the word "Shickshinny" multiple times, which even for a State Trouper patrolling Buttzville sounded suspect.
When I told the story to a male friend of mine he said, "Oh my God Alane, if that had been me, I'd still be in jail. What did he do?"
He followed me to a diner, to make sure I was grabbing a cup of coffee, that's what he did. That was all he did. He didn't give me a warning. He didn't lecture me. He didn't throw my butt into the county jail. All of which he would have been perfectly entitled to do. Instead, he followed me to a diner, and then told me to drive safely, and stop if I got too tired. I never forgot that.
There are a lot of occasions when you're young that you screw up. You did it, I did it, the children who come after us will do it too. We learn our biggest lessons from our own mistakes, it is just part of how we grow.
Yelling about it won't often help, it will just make things louder as well as stressful.
"Mom?" My son said.
"You're welcome." I said before he could thank me again.
One word, and it's all in the tone. You might want to remember that, Karen.