Local Gub’mint Blues

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

My city government woes continue. I spent more than two hours of my birthday yesterday getting my license renewed at the DMV. How utterly depressing. And reaffirming of my political philosophy. You couldn’t run a private business the way states run their consumer-ish agencies. You’d go under in a week.

Yesterday, less than half of the 15 windows were open, despite there being being more than 50 people waiting the entire time I was there (I had nothing better to do — I counted). The DMV attendants were openly hostile to those of us they were serving. But then, why wouldn’t they be? It isn’t as if we have the option of storming off to a competitor in protest.

I heard three separate DMV customers say out of frustration, “I’m taking this to (insert higher authority here).” And three times, the DMV branch manager replied, “You can take it to whoever you want. Won’t do you any good.” Like I said, openly hostile. No concern whatsoever for whether we walked out of the office happy, or thoroughly pissed off.

After, I had another errand with local government to take care of. A couple of months ago, my car was rear-ended. The guy at fault’s insurance company requires a copy of the accident report. Bizarrely, the city of Alexandria won’t mail or fax a copy of the report to you. You have to go pick it up in person. I know because I called. Twice. And both times they told me I’d need to get in in person.

What they didn’t tell me is that obtaining a copy of the report costs three dollars. That in itself seems ridiculous to me. What do my tax dollars pay for if not the ability to get a free police report of an accident involving my car? But that’s not what irked me. What irked me was, I gave the cop behind the counter a ten. And she said, “I don’t make change.”

“What?”

“You have to give me exact change.”

“You’re kidding me. I spent all of my singles at the DMV.”

“Sorry. Come back another time.”

“Just take the ten, then. I’m in a hurry.”

“I can’t do that, either. It has to be three dollars, exactly.”

“No one on the phone told me I’d have to pay for it. And they didn’t tell me I’d need exact change.”

“That’s not my problem. You must have talked to someone in another office.”

“I asked for a copy of my accident report. They trasnfered me. The person they transfered me to said I’d have to pick it up in person. And she didn’t say a word about three dollars or exact change.”

“Wasn’t anyone in this office. Come back when you have exact change.”

At this point, I got visibly angry. I might have made some stereotypical comments about police officers. I went home, assembled three dollars in loose change and returned to get the damned accident report. The same cop was in the office, and flashed this nasty smile at me. Looked to me like a smile of satisfaction at having put me in my place. She opened the cash register to put in my change. Yep. The thing was tuffed with ones and fives. More than enough to make change.

Too bad Alexandria’s public servants can’t get as excited about customer service as they do about, say, storming my apartment with their guns drawn after peering into my window from the street and wrongly concluding that I’m beating my girlfriend.

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