I got in line early at the Motor Vehicle Administration. I was there, as I understood it, because I needed to renew the registration for my 2005 Pontiac Vibe. My expected reward for arriving early in the day was spending less time standing in line with my fellow motorists. My unexpected punishment was pending, because I was introducing a user-supplied error to the Motor Vehicle Administration’s system.
The Motor Vehicle Administration does not require motorists to go there, physically, to renew their vehicle registration. Registration services are conveniently automated online. I had used the services—easily and wisely, I thought—and the Motor Vehicle Administration had mailed me new registration stickers for my license plates (or, as they say in Maryland, my “tags”), and only later did I learn about my user error.
I learned about it from the lady in Parking Enforcement, who told me I was being awarded a $32 ticket for having expired tags on my 2005 Pontiac Vibe. But that was the registration I had renewed! Wasn’t it? Or had I somehow renewed it for my 1989 Toyota Van instead? In the fleeting moment when I still believed I could weasel my way out of the impending ticket, I said to the Parking Enforcement officer, “Hey, you know what, maybe I did renew the registration for the Pontiac Vibe, but put the sticker on the tag of the Toyota Van.” Seemed like a halfway decent attempt, to me.
“Take it to court,” said the Municipal Employee as she tucked the citation under the windshield wiper.
That was Friday. The Motor Vehicle Administration was open Saturday, so I went. When I got there, I learned that though the office was open, there were no humans at the counter working on vehicle registration services, to help clean up human errors. I was instructed to use one of the available automated Internet-connected “Kiosk” machines, so I went back outside to the 24-hour Kiosk I’d seen on my way in.
The Kiosk’s screen was reporting a malfunction, so it would not be available for any significant kiosking activity. I went back inside to report the Kiosk malfunction and was directed to a line leading to a pair of indoor Kiosks, one of which I learned, as I shuffled closer along the line, was also not active for Kiosk functions.
There was a human helping other humans interact with the Kiosk, tapping data on the screen backhand while facing toward the line of people, and after she input my registration info she told me the Kiosk would not be able to perform the registration activity I’d thought I needed. I would have to return Monday to meet with a human.
Monday’s reception line for INFORMATION—where you are initially interrogated as to the purpose of your visit to the Motor Vehicle Administration and then handed a ticket showing your number in line to be helped by a staff member—was so long with us early birds that an employee was walking along the line working triage. I handed her my old registration card and told her I was there to correct an expired registration. She scanned my piece of paper with a device and informed me my registration was not expired. I had indeed put the sticker for my Pontiac Vibe onto my Toyota Van instead. What could I do about it now? Go to the line for the Kiosks, she said.
I told her that the staffer I worked with on Saturday had told me the Kiosk was unable to help me. This Monday representative of the Motor Vehicle Administration told me that was because I had not asked the Saturday staffer for the correct service.
Both indoor Kiosks were functioning, with the help of a human who divided the lines between people in need of a Registration, and everyone else. A woman standing in front of me was immersed in interaction with her cell phone, looking at stuff and talking to someone, and was not obeying proper line-shuffling protocol, leaving large expanses of unclaimed line-space in front of her. The Motor Vehicle Administration employee in charge of the Kiosks again announced the two-line situation, and then informed the woman standing in front of me that she was not in the correct line, and summarily dismissed her from eligibility in what I was now proudly internally identifying as “my” line.
The lights in our end of the Motor Vehicle Administration building went out, and I waited a moment for gunshots, but none of the staff were alarmed, it was a regular occurrence, someone leaning against a light-switch somewhere. OK!
I then realized as I, now at the head of my line, stepped toward the Kiosk, that I had made another human error. I had not cleared my mental buffer of the word “registration,” even after being told my registration was up-to-date, and so I had assigned myself to the Registration line. Now I was the bug again, the unexpected item in my own self-check bagging area.
I approached the Kiosk-tender employee to tell him I was probably also in the wrong line because what I needed was a new copy of my previously obtained registration sticker. “A substitute sticker?” he asked, and I nodded my head affirmatively. “Yes, this is the wrong line, but go ahead.” The sweet taste of Bureaucratic Mercy!
He racked up each screen of the interface that was designed for self-service and pointed to fields. “Phone number,” he said. I entered it, and then, seeing a field for email address, obediently began to touch-peck. “No, you don’t need that,” he said, as he cleared the self-service email field. “Hit ‘NEXT,'” he said, pointing to the self-service fields for Tag Number and Registration number. He directed me further through the self-service prompts, I declined and confirmed various things, I paid with my credit card ($5.00) and then a field came up asking me if I wanted to participate in a survey about my Motor Vehicle Administration experience.
“Hit ‘NO,'” said the employee operating the automated self-service Kiosk for me.
“But,” I asked, “shouldn’t I take the survey to tell about the outstanding service I got today?”
“Don’t even worry about it,” he said.
UPDATE: I did not put the sticker on the Toyota Van. I have no fucking idea what happened to the sticker.