Making Some Days

Today I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles and Traffic Court to fix a ticket I got for driving with expired registration tags. That’s a correctable offense in California, albeit you have to pay a processing/paperwork fee. Along the way I experienced two more examples of the old adage about flies and honey.

When I explained the situation to the DMV clerk I ended by saying I wanted to make sure they had the correct address on file because I never got the registration renewal form. I also told her I knew failure to maintain the registration was my fault, since “ignorance of the law is not a defense”.

She was so taken aback I wasn’t being belligerent that she spent quite a bit of extra time helping me figure out how to get through the rest of the clearance process. “Most people blame us, even though the registration card itself says we’re not responsible for reminding them to keep their car registered”, she told me.

At my next stop, Traffic Court, I waited in line for about 25 minutes. But they had free wi-fi, and I had my iPad, so the time passed pretty quickly. When I got up to the window and showed the clerk my citation she immediately got very defensive. “Sir, this was only issued yesterday! I won’t have anything in my system yet! You can’t clear the ticket today!”

I told her that was okay, I was just in the neighborhood and thought I’d try. Actually, I had assumed since the ticket was produced by a handheld wireless device that the process was electronic end-to-end. Apparently San Mateo County’s justice system isn’t quite that advanced yet.

In any event, as soon as she saw I wasn’t angry she became very helpful as well, and walked me through the forms that would let me pay the fee by mail or online once the citation was formally issued.

The takeaway is that trying to be polite really does make things work more smoothly. And, we should all probably feel more sympathy than we do for public employees who deal with irate people so often their default posture is to meet every new “customer” en garde. It must be a difficult way to earn a living.

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