Tuesday, May 22, 2007

License Bureau

And now, equal time for the stupidity of others... Here is the lightly edited text of an email I sent in March 2005 after moving from Arizona to Missouri. It was my opinion at the time (and I've found no reason to change my mind since then) that the Missouri Department of Revenue's Motor Vehicle Division is one of the great examples of institutionalized stupidity. I wrote:

I just got my license plates.

It’s a miracle, considering that every time I went up to the desk, they wanted one more piece of paper. And of course, they are the blindest, mindlessest bureaucratic twits you can imagine.

When I phoned ahead to find out what I needed to do, I was instructed to bring 4 pieces of paper:
1. My car insurance card,
2. An emissions inspection report,
3. A safety inspection report, and
4. A property tax waiver.

To get the emissions report I had to navigate through a maze of streets to a parking lot behind the city pool between 3 and 4 p.m. on a Thursday—which, after over a month of never getting home on time, I finally managed to do (but only after stopping for directions twice). The inspection station turned out to be an RV trailer, womanned by a bored attendant who, on learning that my car comes from an even-numbered model year, said I didn’t need the inspection this year. But, she said, I would still have to bring her piece of paper to the License Bureau, to show that I had made the effort. So, without even charging me for it (!) she Xed through everything on the form & gave it to me.

I asked the emissions lady, a town cop, and the people at the courthouse, and they all said I didn’t need a safety inspection this year for the same reason.

For the tax waiver, I went to the county seat, where the winding downtown streets so confused me that I couldn't find the courthouse until I stopped to ask directions at a cafe that offered a “brain sandwich” on its menu, and then I learned I was only a half-block from the courthouse. Then I had to go to the County Assessor AND the County Clerk, so I could give something to one of them in order to get something from the other. Finding my way OUT of the building was rather tricky too. So I finally got that done, and after calling the License Bureau to confirm that I had the 3 pieces of paper I needed, I went there the next day.

Well, the girl at the desk looked at all 3 pieces of paper very carefully, seemed to be about to give me my plates, then said, “You need 4 pieces of paper. Where is the title?” I didn’t have the title because the car has a “lien” on it, as they refer to auto financing in the License Bureau. “In that case,” she said, “you just need to bring me the registration.” What’s that exactly? “You know, the piece of paper that came with your old tags.” I luckily was able to dig it out of my glove compartment. I came right back.

The same girl looked carefully at all 4 pieces of paper as if she had never seen them before, and finally declared, “Your insurance card is expired.” My blood ran cold. I ran out to the car a second time and found a current card in my glove box, though only after digging through about three old ones. I brought it back to the same girl.

The girl then looked at all 4 pieces of paper again and declared, “You need a safety inspection.” I said everyone had told me I didn’t need a safety inspection. She said I did, so I asked where I could find a place that would get me in & out so I could finish this the same day. She gave me directions - poor ones. I went and got the inspection, came back just before the License Bureau was supposed to close, and said I was ready.

After reading through everything all over again, the same girl asks me, “Do you want local plates or unlimited mileage?” I asked her what she meant. She said I could buy plates that I could only use within 50 miles of home. I asked why I would do this. She said some people did this with farm machinery. I asked her why she thought “Hyundai Accent” meant a tractor. She then declared that the way the emissions form was filled out had misled her. This, you may recall, is the form on which everything was Xed out because it didn’t apply.

So now the girl pulls out the license plates and I ask her what it’s going to cost. She looks through 2 or 3 books and is only able to say “approximately” $35, which I would have had in my pocket if I hadn’t just paid cash for a vehicle inspection. But she wouldn’t accept my debit card, and it was too late to go to an ATM and come back. The girl explained this to me as she went around the office, pointedly locking all the doors. So I had to come back again the following day.

I arrived the next day with FIVE pieces of paper—insurance, registration, safety inspection, emissions inspection, and tax waiver. The new lady who served me read through every single one of them. She also needed to be told that I was licensing a passenger vehicle (not a piece of farm machinery).

The lady then demanded the name, address, and origin date of my “lien holder”—meaning a SIXTH piece of paper that, until now, no one had told me I needed to bring. I persuaded her to let me have the plates & I would call her back as soon as I got home to tell her these last three things she needed to know for the record. Which I faithfully did...but when I called her, she told me that I have to come back again the next and let her make a copy of the safety inspection, which she had forgotten to do!

She also noted as she stuck my tags on the MIDDLE of my license plate, that you have to be very careful because people will do anything, including cut off the corners of the plates, to steal your tags. I’ve heard a lot about this going on in Missouri, but I’ve never heard anything like that happening in any other state. And it’s NO WONDER. Considering what they make you do to get vehicle tags, stealing them begins to sound like a good idea!

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