Saturday, May 8, 2010

Getting Legal in Tucson

As David and I prepare for our month in Mexico where we'll undoubtedly encounter some frustrations either with bureaucracy or local customs--or both--I was reminded, when I stumbled across this article I wrote six years ago, that dealing with bureaucracy in the United States isn't always easy either. 

Since yesterday marked my one-month anniversary in Tucson, I decided to celebrate by getting "legal."  A trip to the DMV in the morning yielded a driver's license that thrilled me no end with the panorama of the Grand Canyon in the background.  I also couldn't help noticing that my picture looks a lot better than the one taken in North Carolina four years ago, before I left for Mexico.  That must say something about the stress of teaching or the serenity to be found in Mexico--not sure which. 

It's a good thing the license doesn't have to be renewed until I'm 65, because the DMV parking lot seems to be a dangerous place to be.  When I was telling the car inspection man later in the afternoon about the woman who'd run into my bumper causing minor damage that morning, he said that was nothing.  Seems a woman was run over in the parking lot last week --the driver never stopped--and two weeks ago there were eleven police cruisers and a SWAT unit surrounding the building.  When a girl was caught cheating on her written driving test, she went outside and called the police on her cell phone saying a man with a gun was holding the DMV people hostage. 

My inspector said that they'd gotten used to just about everything there, including famous people dropping by (Though heaven knows why they want to stop there, given what happens in the parking lot!)  and he dropped a few names:  Linda Ronstadt, Andy (Can't remember the last name.), the most famous left-handed baseball pitcher in the world, and Kevin Costner. 

I dreaded the next part of the getting-legal-day-- car inspection, registration, and license plate because I drive an almost twenty-year-old van and there's usually something wrong with it.  I know of at least one problem with the front headlights, and I shuddered to think how many more would be revealed by an inspection.  Just fixing the one problem I knew about would mean getting a part shipped from the Bus Depot in Pennsylvania, finding a mechanic to repair it, and a return trip to the inspection place. I wondered, as I drove to the emissions testing center a couple miles away, just how many other parts would have to be replaced. Then, of course, there was the dreaded emissions test itself.  How could my ancient car possibly meet today's strict air quality standards?

When it was my turn to go through the hangar-like building, a man asked for my gas cap key, stuck a hose into the fuel canal and fiddled with knobs on a machine.  The next step was an apparatus a couple yards away that held my car steady, with the rear tires spinning, while I went through first, second and third gears.  It was weird to be driving and going nowhere.  But, then, that's not the first time I've had that experience.  Trying to get around Washington, DC, is a lot like that.

I wasn't surprised when the inspector finally handed me my official form saying I'd failed, but I was dumfounded when I saw why.  The old Rastafarian had passed the emissions test but failed the gas cap test! 

When I went into the office to protest, saying that the cap locked so no one could damage the environment by stealing/spilling gas and what more did they want, the clerk explained that the gasket no longer provided a strong seal.  All I had to do was buy a new cap and I'd pass the whole kit and caboodle emissions test hands down. 

Luckily, there are three auto parts stores, including one for foreign cars, a half-mile away from the center, so it was easy enough to get the part that made the guys happy over in the hangar.  Clutching my official emissions sheet, I decided I was definitely on a roll, and would head next for the car inspection back at the DMV office.  While trying to remain optimistic, I reasoned that if there were too many things wrong with the van, I could spend the long Fourth of July weekend looking for a new car.  Might as well get the bad news over with and deal with the consequences, one way or another.

The inspector had me pull over to the side of the DMV building under a shady overhang, and he asked for my car title.  That's when I tried to distract him by telling him about the fender bender accident earlier in the morning.  That's when he told me all about the goings-on that were routine for the DMV parking lot. He checked the vin number and my old NC plate number, and that's all that seemed to interest him.  When he handed me a form to sign and told me to go into the building to get my new license plate, I asked if he didn't want to at least blow the horn.  He laughed and said  that Arizona only wanted to make sure my car wasn't stolen.  In a daze, I went inside the building, got my plate and drove home. 

My new license plate number is 293 NXT, but, you know, I don't think there will be a NXT.  I kind of like living in a state where, as long as you don't pollute, you can drive a car without lights, horns, or brakes! 

I headed back to the DMV this morning to turn in my old NC plate and to register to vote. ( It seems you can do everything at the DMV.)  The voter registration woman told me how to avoid being cheated at car repair shops, harangued everyone who passed by to hurry up and register so that we could get Bush out of office, and whispered to me that she thought she'd just seen Nicolas Cage walk by.  When she asked if I'd like to work at the polls in November, I said sure.  Who could resist a whole day at the DMV?  And, maybe, if I'm lucky, I'll get to see Antonio Banderas!

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