You mention the Department of Motor Vehicles to someone, and there's a good chance that images of Patty and/or Selma Bouvier will dance unbidden into that someone's head. This suggests to me that the characterization of the DMV on The Simpsons is probably more accurate than it's supposed to be, though my one experience with an actual DMV — California's — was not at all unpleasant. Then again, I had enough prescience to schedule an appointment, and what happened at that particular office — Torrance, since you asked — may not be representative of all California DMV offices.

If the preceding makes no sense to you, inasmuch as I'm 61 years old and I've been driving for at least two-thirds of that time, taking time out for meals of course, you should know that the state of Oklahoma assigns the usual functions of a DMV to the Department of Public Safety, which in turn outsources the routine stuff to the private sector. There are some 300 tag agents in the 77 counties, and just about every county has at least one, even Cimarron County at the far end of the Panhandle, which has only about 2500 people, half of whom live in Boise City, a town known mostly for having been bombed by a B-17 during World War II.

The tag agent serves at the pleasure of the state Senator representing the area; he charges pretty much what the DPS office will charge for the same services. The difference is that the tag agent can scale the business up or down as needed, a distinct advantage of the private sector. Oklahoma City's Northwest Tag Agency, formerly at 4200 Northwest Expressway, is now in larger quarters at 4275 NW 63rd Street. (Do not ask me to explain how these two addresses are literally next door to one another.) It is a fearsomely busy place, particularly on Saturdays, when it's open until noon, and more so on the last Saturday of the month, since all vehicle registrations expire at the end of the month.

Which explains why I was there yesterday, which was a Saturday, but not the last Saturday of the month. And I had two wholly unconnected renewals to handle: registration of my car ($44) and my driver's license ($21.25). There were five waiting on the driver's license side, so I signed in, figuring I could do the vehicle work while waiting. This was perhaps pushing it, since I arrived at 11:32 am.

There was something new afoot: you can now register to vote at the same time you get your license renewed, and the law says that they must explain this option to you at that time. So the sign-in sheet has been modified to require you to pick up a form which explains said option, on which you mark Yes, No, or Already Registered. No problem here. I hied myself to the other side of the building, and got in line for license plates; wait time was about 50 seconds.

Getting the annual tab is a fairly simple routine: you present your renewal card, if you have it, though technically you don't need it, and a copy of your insurance verification, which you definitely do need. In and out in three minutes, including the time it took to write a check. (Credit-card payments are accepted, but they're surcharged.) By the time I got back to the driver's-license section, the line had shrunk to two; I paid cash for the license, inasmuch as I didn't want to write another check, and they don't take plastic for driver's licenses. Some quirk in state law, I suppose.

There's just one problem with this otherwise-admirable setup: they can't issue original driver's licenses or state ID cards. For that, you must report to the DPS. And four years ago, they balked at my DL renewal for reasons that they could not explain, with the results you might expect from a DMV:

[T]he only station in Oklahoma City proper is on the far southside, which meant a trip to either Yukon or Edmond. I opted for the latter, contriving to arrive 75 minutes before closing. This got me a 50-minute stay on what you'd get if they'd ordered chairs to match the Group W bench, after which I was admitted to the Inner Sanctum. I presented all manner of paperwork, as required; the high priest punched several thousand buttons, issued me a slip of paper, and bade me return to the tag agent.

What brought this on, you ask?

[T]he real culprit was some feckwit of similar name and description who was wanted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for various unspecified high crimes and misdemeanors. Driver's-license compacts being what they are, the Keystone Kops asked everyone else to keep a lookout for said feckwit.

You might think that I was a trifle apprehensive when they ran a check on my current license, and of course you would be correct. But no problems this year. Photo snapped, two fingerprints taken, organ-donor box checked, and gone. It was still ten to noon when I stepped out of the storefront and into the stifling humidity of the morning. There were, I admit, two anomalies to report. For the first time in 16 years, I had failed to wear a red shirt for the photo session. (Same style shirt, a pocket tee, but this year it was purple.) And when I got home, peeled the backing, and applied the "2016" tab to my plate (singular, we have only the one) I managed to get it about three degrees off plumb. You can't peel them off and try again — they're designed to frag when removed — so I swore a sweary swear and tried to persuade myself that it didn't matter. Truth be told, most people get them crooked to greater or lesser extent; but I am not "most people," or so I keep telling myself. And anyway, I'll figure out something to do about it, somewhere around the middle of next June.

The Vent

#922
  21 June 2015

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