Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Great Tuesday Experiment

The New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles called it “The Great Monday Experiment.” In an effort to save the Garden State money, the DMV closed all its motor vehicle agencies offices on Mondays for the last eleven months, with extended hours on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Four offices were permanently closed, three for austerity purposes. That left 39 remaining offices. A study the DMV had done found Monday was the least busy day, so that was the day they cut. Monday customers would have to come on Tuesdays. There were now two days you never wanted to come to the DMV – the last day of the month and Mondays.

I happened by the DMV office on the last day of the month, though I still had time to get my license renewed; the line that snaked right out of the door of the building – the building mind you, not the office – changed my mind for me. Arriving two weeks later, on a Tuesday, I found the line a little bit better; the line cordon outside the office but inside the mall, designed to accommodate five rows of frustrated motorists, only stretched halfway down the second. I considered myself lucky.

Once inside, a scolding but funny receptionist waved her feathered pen at us. The office only held about 250 people and there were decidedly more than 250 people inside. One line was for the license renewal, the other for vehicle registration and other matters of automotive import.

It’s been ten years since Mohammed Atta, with his colorful collection of state driver’s and pilot’s licenses, drove back and forth past the old Wayne DMV, and then flew into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Still, New Jersey residents haven’t learned that you need at least as much documentation as he carried in order to renew your New Jersey driver’s license. At the minimum, you must have your birth certificate, a valid passport, and some other form of resident ID if you don’t have a passport.

In addition, if you’re a married woman, you must have your wedding certificate. We wondered why the line was so slow. One of the hold-ups was a couple about 100 people ahead of us in line, whom I heard the story from later on.

The man is very meticulous and had all the papers in order, with identifications between them to spare. However, only the woman’s married name appeared on the wedding certificate. No matter how many IDs they showed the DMV agent, she refused to accept the wedding certificate, without which, the woman could not renew her license. The agent wanted some documentation the couple hadn’t brought with them.

Like many other “defaulters,” they had to return home. They were also renewing some vehicle registrations and the wife thought she had accidentally shredded it. The husband had a terrible fit and yelled at her. They had a colossal row until they found the document intact. Then they returned to the DMV where, like the other defaulters, they were allowed to go to the head of the line (where we who had our papers arranged in good order were all berating the defaulters for being nincompoops).

I got past the first receptionist, and came to the second receptionist, who spent ten minutes examining my birth certificate. Like Obama, or maybe unlike him I should say, I do not have an original birth certificate. The hospital where I was born burned to the ground when I was small. My parents had to apply to the state of New York and they had to bureaucratic hokey-pokey to get a certified copy.

It was hilarious. Well worth the eventual two hours that it took to get my license renewed. She read the front. She read the back. Then she turned it over and held it practically right up to her eye to read the embossed imprint. She held it away then looked at it again. And then again. Then she turned the paper around on all four sides to read the complete seal.

When she’d read the seal all the way around, she turned the paper over to read the seal on the reverse side. Her mouth opened and shut several times. Then she read the fine print on the back of the certificate. Every word of it. She showed it to a passing colleague, who shrugged. She read the fine print a second time, flipping the paper over several times, in the process.

At last, my birth certificate passed her scrutiny. I was born and could go on to the next stage of bureaucratic boredom – the dreaded photograph. I could have been born and born again on this line. The wait, when it was finally over, was 90 minutes. Fortunately, not only had I brought all the proper documentation; I’d brought a book as well.

This line-up of motorists was a diverse group. Every age group was represented. The seasoned citizens took the wait in good striding. As long as they could sit, they were good. The younger people, however, found the sitting and waiting intolerable. One young lady, whose packet was number 91 tried to bribe number 50 to let her into line.

She put up quite a howl the entire time, complaining about how she had to be someplace and was going to be late.  Her companions finally tried to shush her catawaulering. She refused to be shushed and threw herself at the mercy of one of the DMV agents. Another young couple simply inserted themselves into line a few numbers ahead of the adults before them, one of whom was me.

We could all see their packet numbers. Mine was in plain sight. I reminded them that they had number 78. ‘Oh yes, ma’am, number 78.” But they never moved from where they stood in line. The gentlemen they cut in front of had reminded them also, to no avail. Several other adults gave broad hints about mind our numbers. The young man simply looked up at the ceiling. The young lady smirked.

They had us. If they refused and we made a fuss, we’d appear petty. If no one said anything, they’d get away with cheating. Who was without sin and going to be the one to cast the first stone? Who there hadn’t used the express lane at the supermarket when they should have been elsewhere? Who hadn’t returned their library book or DVD three months late without ever paying the fine (actually, not me; but still I wasn’t stainless). We had to bear patiently with their immaturity and let the infraction pass. We, who knew better than to cut in line, had we been better people, could have reminded them to be better people. That epiphany for them, however, would have to wait until they were middle-aged and some silly post-adolescent cut in front of them in line.

At last, it was my turn. The photo agent chose me to explain to all sundry why there was this colossal line. The DMV had only shut four offices. Between them, they should have been able to handle the relatively small Monday overflow. He said, though, that service was so bad in other centers, the efficiency so lax, that motorists were flocking to the tiny little Oakland office to renew their licenses.

Oakland DMV, to its credit, was doing the best it could to provide efficient service. Evidently, other DMVs are deliberately not doing their best to provide better service. They want their $4 million back. If there are people complaining, it’s probably the young people, who always have someplace to go and never have the patience to wait (I wasn’t patient when I was younger, either).

The Progressives depend upon young people, our hope and change for the future, to keep things exactly the way they are. Maturity is needed to manage our country with efficiency and common sense. Gov. Christie did the right thing when he demanded efficiency from the DMV; it was the young people who were cutting in line, holding their heads in their hands, and trying to bribe their way to a better place.

Incidentally, I wonder whether Pres. Obama would have the patience to endure a ten minute-long examination of his birth certificate? If he had just allowed the public those ten minutes, we would have been spared three years’ worth of inefficient, conspiracy-theory silliness.


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