Monday, August 15, 2011

General random whining about the DMV

The State of Wisconsin wants me to renew my driver's license.

I messed up when I got the first one, almost three years ago. I went three weeks before my birthday.

The way it works here - I now know - is that you get your first license for three years plus the time to your next birthday.

Had I waited until after my birthday, I would not be getting this renewal notice until October 2012.

The extra money that I will have to pay bothers me - I get only three years plus one month on this fee when I could have had almost four years and you guys know how I feel about wasting money on dumb things like fees and taxes - but even more annoying is that I will have to actually go to the DMV and wait.

Milwaukee's DMV is not a fun place to spend two hours. Unless you really like watching a cross section of humanity. Which I do not. I do not want to hear about other people's personal drama unless I can blog about it and make money. I don't want to watch kids running around unsupervised. I don't want to hear loud conversations about anything. I want peace and quiet and a comfortable chair and none of those are available at the DMV.

Florida has lousy public services. Miami is not a well run place. But they do drivers licenses better than any other place I have ever been, including Wisconsin.

For the record: I have gotten a driver's license in Texas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Florida, so I have some experience in this.

Here is an example of a poorly-run Florida operation: the vehicle inspection station. Unlike the vehicle registration office, which was open only 9 to 5 on weekdays, meaning people who work 9 to 5 jobs had to leave work to register their cars and pay the extra sales tax on it because the Texas sales tax was not as high as the Florida sales tax and that's exactly why I bought the car in Texas - to avoid paying Florida tax on it - not because I WAS LIVING IN TEXAS AT THE TIME, the vehicle inspection station was open on Saturdays.

That is not the poorly-run part. Open on Saturdays is a good thing. The poorly-run part is that there was no policing of the operation. The station opened at 8 a.m. I got there at 7:30 because I was sure I would be the only person in the world waiting when they opened, as Miamians might be up at 7:30 a.m. but that's because they haven't gone to bed yet, not because they got up early.

I was not the only person there. Surprise. Other people had figured this out and had come straight from the discos to get their cars inspected. There was one line going around the block. When the gates opened, the one line split into four for the four inspection bays.

That's fine. That's fair.

But then a latecomer drove in and zoomed around the waiting cars, pulling up at the front of the line.

Someone LET HIM IN.

Someone let him CUT LINE.

I couldn't believe it.

Well, yes I could. I had lived in Latin America for five years and had traveled in other Latin countries. Stand in line in a bakery in Italy, patiently waiting your turn, and you will never get your bread. Little old Italian ladies will cut you to get to the front. You just have to push your way through. Wait your turn in Chile to buy your metro ticket and you will watch in astonishment as other people cut right in front of you. It's the culture, but that is a cultural difference I do not respect. I suppose if that's all you've ever known, it's fine, but when you are used to waiting your turn, it is shocking to see line cutting being tolerated.

I asked my Chilean co-worker, Monica, about the line cutting once as we were waiting to buy bus tickets. She shrugged. "Maybe they are in a hurry," she offered.

So yes I could believe that someone in Miami would let someone else cut line. But I was still annoyed. Waiting our turn is one of the things that separates humans from animals. Line cutting is uncivilized. I know I am being judgmental and culturalist, but there you go. I don't like having to wait longer because someone else cuts line. My time is just as important as theirs.

So a few minutes later, when someone else tried the same stunt, I leaned on my horn and gave the guy the Latin America Finger Wave, which is highly effective in deterring undesirable behavior. It is a simple side to side wave, from 10:00 to 2:00, of the index finger, delivered with an expressionless face - dead eyes help - as the waver shakes her head slightly.

The Latin America Finger Wave means business.

Much to my delight, the other people waiting joined in my honking.

The line cutter was shamed into taking his rightful place at the end of the line.

But the people manning the bays should never have allowed Line Cutter Number One to cut - they should have told him to keep on driving and to go to the back of the line.

The DMV was much better run.

When I got my driver's license, I was in and out in 15 minutes. Why? Because in Miami, you can make an appointment at the DMV. You make your appointment for 9:30 a.m., walk in at 9:28 a.m., go to the attendant who has no line because all those people standing in the long line? They did not make an appointment. Hahaha to them. Have a horribly unflattering photo taken. Leave. It's easy.

But now I have to block out an entire afternoon to drive across town to the DMV, pay $34, find a place to sit, try to read my book while blocking out the loud cellphone conversations around me, and try to remember if it's chin up or chin down to keep me from looking too funny in my photo. I can't wait.

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