Welcome to the DMV!
copyright 2007 Glenn Bogart, J.D.
In my work with (and against) the U.S. Department of Education, I have run across a fair amount of bureaucratic nonsense and bullying. Remember the day of the Financial Aid Transcript? Granny applies for a Pell Grant, indicates that she attended Miss Brown's School of Business back in the 1914-1915 academic year, and the school had to get a Financial Aid Transcript from that school, on pain of having to pay back Granny's Pell. Oh, there was no such thing as federal student aid back in 1914-15? Tough. Doesn't matter. Get the transcript, because we're the government, and you're not.
Even though the Financial Aid Transcript is now a thing of the past, you can still find plenty of instances of ridiculous behavior in the Department of Ed. If you work in the field, you know what I mean. If not, count your blessings.
But even the U.S. Department of Education can't hold a candle to my local Department of Motor Vehicles office, where stupidity reigns supreme. It has always been that way. Nearly 20 years ago, I moved to Alabama, and needed to trade in my old drivers' license for a new one. I knew right away I was in for some trouble. On the wall next to the door leading into the testing room was a sign. It said, "Testing Room." And underneath those words I found another sign. Probably it said the same thing. I dunno. It was in Braille.
Today I had occasion to visit that office again. This time, one of my grandsons wanted to take the test so he could get his learner's permit. Now, you'd think that in this day and age, a kid could just pay the fee and take the test on line. Nope. There's a whole lot more to it than that, as I found out over the next five hours.
I picked up Taylor at nine a.m. He had to miss school for this, because of course the DMV is open for testing only during normal business hours, Monday thru Friday. We arrived at the office and poked our heads into the testing office (the Braille sign was gone, by the way, which I found encouraging). We learned that we had to sign a form and return at 1 p.m.
We also learned that the DMV would need, at 1 p.m., a copy of Taylor's birth certificate, proof of his social security number, and proof that he is enrolled in school. Fair enough, I thought. We already had obtained a copy of his birth certificate because we knew they would want it. All we had to do now was cover the social security number and enrollment stuff, return at one o'clock, and all would be well.
So I took Taylor back to school, and told him I would return in time to get him back to the DMV at one. Then I asked the school secretary if she would provide me with something that would satisfy the DMV that he is in school. She printed out a document for me, and I figured, that was easy.
Not so easy was finding proof of Taylor's social security number. I looked through the scrapbook where that kind of stuff is supposed to be kept. I found his mother's social security card there, but not his. But I did find something else. It was a printout from the Social Security Administration's local office, which listed Taylor's SSN, date of birth, and his mother's SSN and date of birth, and the thing was signed by the Grand High-Poobah of the Social Security District Office. Excellent!
Checked Taylor out of school again, and off we went to the DMV. We asked the cop at the desk what we were supposed to do, and he motioned to us to have a seat with the other 50 people who were there for testing. The actual testing people showed up at about 1:20. Well, I like a long lunch now and then, too, I thought, charitably. I was in a good mood, because we had everything we needed in order for Taylor to take the test.
Eventually, Taylor's name was called. "Enrollment," barked the uniformed woman who apparently was in charge of things. (You'll see why I use the word "barked" in a minute. Think about it. What kind of creatures bark?)
"Here ya go," I said.
"What's this?" she said.
I pointed at the bolded words Proof of Enrollment on the form and said, maybe predictably, "Proof of enrollment."
"Where's his grades?" she said as she peered at the form the school had given me.
"Look, I told the school what I needed and why I needed it, and this is what they gave me," I said sweetly. I was beginning to see that this wasn't going to be as easy as I'd thought.
"This the wrong form," she said, shaking her head. "Anybody got an enrollment out there?" She directed the question to our audience of 50 hopeful test-takers. One pretty little girl got up and showed us a form that appeared to have come out of a 1940's-era legal form book. She had gotten it from her school, obviously not the school that Taylor attends.
"Thass the right form. Get one like that and bring it back tomorrow."
"Now wait a minute," I said, starting to get a little bit upset. "This form is what the school gave me. It verifies that Taylor is in school. Why do you need some other form to tell you the same thing?"
"Because thass not the right form," said the DMV deputy, I thought, just a bit sarcastically. Like I must be some kind of dope not to understand why she is jerking us around like this.
"OK," I said. "How about this form from Social Security? Is it all right?"
"This not the form they use." Huh?
"You think I fabricated this thing?" I asked. Yes, it's true. I was beginning to get just a bit hot under the collar.
"Not the right form. You go get a new form, or bring in his social security card."
"Now look. This thing has Taylor's social security number and date of birth, his mother's name, social security number, and date of birth, and some other information, too. Why is this not good enough?"
"Because it not the right form. They don't use this form." Aaaarrrgggghhhhh!
I took Taylor back to school. I can argue with lawyers, before stone-faced judges. I can't argue with this DMV-Nazi, though, because . . . she has no brain!
Tomorrow I will have to do battle with the Social Security Administration. No doubt they will insist that the form I have is the same form they use now, and will refuse to give me another one. I'll tell them this whole story, a cascading shower of stupidity upon stupidity, my voice rising in frustration as I go along. They'll tell me to control myself. I'll probably say something like "I pay your salary, dammit. Just give me a new form!" Then they'll call the police, who will for the first time call Homeland Security, who will haul me away in cuffs and send me to Guantanamo. There, I will be tried by a military tribunal for my insolence, convicted, and deported to Afghanistan. And poor Taylor still won't have his learner's permit.
Now I could almost see why the state is so picky about documentation -- if we were applying for a license to carry a bazooka. But even then, I would have to wonder why a new form is not acceptable to prove that Taylor is in school -- gotta have the old form. And, the old document from the Social Security Administration is not acceptable -- gotta have the new form.
Dang! I should have showed the "lady" at the DMV Taylor's birth certificate. When I go back tomorrow, she will probably reject it because the doctor signed the thing 15 years ago, and she needs something more recent . . .