There were 50 people in line when the Department of Motor Vehicles in Santa Monica opened on Tuesday at 8AM. I know because I was there at 7AM.
It all started with the IRS. Getting ready for 2014 taxes, my assistant, Paula, went out to look at the car registrations to see how much we paid last year. Much to her surprise, the blue car had expired plates. She double checked to see if we paid it last year. Nope. Didn’t get a notice. Didn’t get a late notice. The insurance is up to date. But I’ve been driving around with expired plates for six months. By the way, the back of my registration says that, if I haven’t gotten a renewal 10 days before expiration, it’s my responsibility to call the DMV or I’m responsible for any late fees. We tried to register the car online, got the message “Invalid plate.”
We called the Auto Club’s toll-free number. 800 Lady said the DMV had listed the car as “title surrendered, car moved out of state.” And there were $100 in late fees due on top of the $192 registration fee. We assured her we had both the title and the vehicle in possession. She asked if we had ever surrendered the car and moved it out of state. We assured her we had not. She advised us to visit our local AAA office, where they could be of more help. I got the title out of my safe deposit box, grabbed the expired registration and proof of insurance, and set out to fix things.
In the Auto section of AAA there were three customer service folks. One was a slow-moving woman with a heavy accent. One was a sassy tall lady who was expertly and patiently helping a confused customer. The third was an older gentlemen who never lifted his eyes from the floor and mumbled a lot. The customer before me got Slow Mover. I was pulling for Sassy. She walked right up to me (yes!), then turned right and walked out of the building. I got Mumblin’ Joe.
According to his name tag, Joe (not his real name) was been serving customers since 1927. OK, I might be exaggerating a little. I explained the situation to him and he blurted, “We can’t fix that!” He examined my title, then asked me if I had ever surrendered the title and moved the car out of state. Um, no, he was holding the title. He told me I had to go to the DMV. I asked if I could make an appointment. He said the first appointment was in 5 months. He suggested I get to the DMV before they opened and get in line. I thought that was just ridiculous. I don’t mind waiting a little, I could bring a book.
Monday I drove up to the DMV about 10AM. There was a line around the block to get into the parking lot. All nearby parking spaces were full. In that neighborhood the meters are good for two hours. Which means a lot of people are going to come out after a long wait and find a parking ticket.
Here’s the problem. In California, it became legal for undocumented people to get a driver’s license on January 1, 2015. I think this is a great idea. It will allow thousands (millions?) to get an ID that wasn’t available before. It also means more drivers will have to pass a test, have insurance, and pay a fee. That’s just good for all of us. Except for me on Monday.
So there I was at 7AM on Tuesday, standing in line. It was cold. There wasn’t a lot of chatting. Nobody was in a good mood. The DMV, bless ‘em, had an excellent system to get us in the door with the right paperwork. After 15 minutes, they called my number.
I handed over my paperwork and explained the situation to the clerk. She looked up the file. She asked me if I had ever surrendered my title and moved the car out of state. I assured her I hadn’t. She asked me if I had brought the car. That one stumped me a little, since driving an unregistered car would be illegal. She said I needed to prove I still owned the car. I showed a photo I had taken that morning. Nope. I explained that the DMV has never seen my car. They gave me a title (that one, there! In your hand!) based on the dealer’s paperwork. They’ve renewed the registration every year based on the previous year’s paperwork. I did nothing to change that process in any way. And if they were charging me $100 in late registration fees, they must believe there’s a car to register. She took my paperwork and said “someone” would decide what to do. I texted my assistant and asked if she wanted to buy a car. She replied that she only buys vehicles shipped out of state.
The clerk called me back and had me write an account of what happened and request a waiver of late fees. She took my $192 (has to be cash or check. I had exact change). Now I was registered, right? Oh, no. I needed a smog check before she could register the car. She gave me a receipt, and a temporary registration, valid for 30 days, good only for driving the car to and from the smog check. I asked her if I could make an appointment to return with the smog certificate and pick up my registration and stickers. Yes, in four weeks. I asked her if I could do it at AAA. She said “Sure.”
Paula postponed the dogs’ baths (they don’t fit in that car) and drove it down to get the smog certificate. She used my other, legal car to take the paperwork to AAA. She bypassed Mumblin’ Joe and got the branch manager, who said, “Oh those people at the DMV are horrible.” We don’t disagree. The blue car is free to roam the streets of Southern California once again.