It’s Official

It’s time.  I must get a Tennessee driver’s license and plate today.  I am officially 1 day late doing this since Tennessee law requires new residents to get their Tennessee license and plates within 30 days of arriving.  In this age of online everything, it’s extremely difficult to get the required documentation to prove that you’re a resident, but I managed to come up with two pieces of acceptable evidence–our lease agreement and a printed statement from the bank.

This is the 4th time I’ve tried to get my license.  The first three tries, the lines were too long.  Pat went ahead and took care of his two days ago, so now we have a plan as to how to get this annoying necessity taken care of.  First, Pat took care of my emissions test for me earlier in the week.  Second, we arrive at the Drivers’ Services Center at 8:10AM, 20 minutes before they open, in the hope of being first in line.  This did not work out so well–there are already 9 people ahead of us.  We stand in the parking lot and watch the other people in line.  3rd in line is a woman with graying hair sitting on a stool outside the door.  At about 8:25, a man in a sports jacket and dress pants arrives and greets her.  She has been holding a place in line for him.

At 8:33AM, someone finally opens the door.  We all file in with the faces of people being sent away to prison.  We line up along the wall, forming a square around the room.  We celebrate by exchanging silent, happy looks each time a person ahead of us is rejected for not having the right paper work or being in the wrong place–one less person to wait behind when we get to phase 2.  But, I feel bad for the graying woman who must have gotten here before 8AM–the man she was waiting for is being relocated here from Mexico by VW.  Apparently he didn’t read the memo, because he’s there without the necessary proof of residency.  The woman asks him to check his brief case twice to make sure he doesn’t have some document in there that would meet the requirement, but he doesn’t.  She says sweetly, “Oh well, we’ll just go to the bank and come right back” in a subtle Southern drawl.  But I know what she’s thinking, “You dumb &*#!  I waited here for your for over a half an hour so you wouldn’t have to stand in line and you can’t even show up with the &*#^%$@ documents I told you to bring!”  Well, that’s what I would have been thinking anyway.  🙂

When we get to the window, the woman checks my documents, makes copies of them, and hands me a form and a number and tells me to go sit in the next room until my number is called.  I am prepared for this since Pat went through it two days earlier.  We sit down and I fill out my form.  It’s now 9:00AM.  I pull out my MiFi hot spot and work laptop and get online and start to work.  It takes until 10AM before my number is called–partly due to a faulty license printer.  By this time, I have finished a presentation I needed to get done before vacation, answered a dozen or so emails, responded to multiple instant messages, and caught up on several administrative tasks.  I wonder if I could work from this waiting room every day–I get so much done here!

I walk up and hand the woman my form and other documents.  She keys in all the information I’ve written down on the paper.  As I watch, I wonder why we couldn’t do that from the web.  I ask her if my motorcycle endorsement will transfer and she says “Yes” and circles an “M” on the form without looking at my driver’s license to see if I actually have a motorcycle endorsement or not.  Just then, a man walks in carrying a helmet and asks about taking his motorcycle endorsement test.  Confirming he has an appointment, she tells him she’ll be with him in just a minute.  She finishes up with me and sends me over to wait to have my picture taken.

I stand there remembering my own motorcycle endorsement test.  I don’t remember all of it, but I remember the three hardest parts:  A slalom through tightly spaced cones at less than 20 MPH, a surprise swerve, and, the killer of those on big bikes, a U-turn at slow speed inside a tight box painted on the pavement.  There were 10 people in the group that took the test that day.  3 of us passed:  a woman on a 50 cc scooter, a man on a 750 who was taking the test for the third time, and me on my little 250 Kawasaki.  I seriously considered staying after and renting out my bike when I saw the next group full of 750s and bigger.

The woman who will take my picture is almost ready and she asks me to sit in the chair.  Before she can take my picture, the woman who took my paperwork comes over and I hear her ask the photographer woman, “I’ve got someone here for a motorcycle test.  What do I do?”  The other woman replies, “Just have him ride up the block a little ways, turn around, and come back.”  I find myself wondering how motorcycle death rates compare between Tennessee and Ohio.

After I passed my test that day so many years ago, on my ride back home, I was almost run over 3x.  I was happy I knew how to swerve unexpectedly, gear down quickly, and to always have an alternate plan for escape from such situations.  By the time I got home, I was also happy that I’d made the decision to trade in my Kawasaki for a 1340 Harley Dyna low rider.  Although it was a few more weeks before I got my Harley, when I finally did, the noise and size kept me in drivers’ sights far more frequently than when I was on the Kaw.  However, the Kaw was a life saver for the endorsement test–I never would have passed with the rake angle on the low rider.  I couldn’t turn that thing around on a 2-lane road, let alone inside the box required by the state of Ohio.  Sigh.  Those were the days!

The woman at the Drivers’ Service Center hands me my new Tennessee Driver’s license.  I look it over.  It’s not as colorful as my old Ohio license, but I can’t compare side-by-side because they took my Ohio license from me.  Although I’ve lived in other places for a few months at a time in the past, I’ve never become a resident of another state before.  I am suddenly struck by the officialness of having a driver’s license and it being from another state.  I guess I am a Tennessian–or whatever we’re called.  After putting away my new license, I gather up my things and Pat and I walk outside.  Pat drives me to transfer my title and get my new license plate (there’s only a rear plate in Tennessee), which, amazingly takes less than 10 minutes.  As he rushes me back to my home office for my next conference call, I suddenly realize that I haven’t driven a car in Chattanooga once yet.  Oh well, at least I can if I need to!


The Art of Waiting

One of the things we have to take care of soon is getting a Tennessee driver’s license. We think that in a small town, this is likely to be easier than in Columbus, so we plan to walk down to the closest Driver Services Center at lunch. Lunch comes and I have an hour before my next conference call. We head out, but I make the mistake of letting Pat navigate and we discover a half mile later that we went the wrong direction. As we walk what has become a mile to the center, the trees disappear and the neighborhood deteriorates. It’s amazing the difference a mile can make.

We are hot and sweaty by the time we arrive at the center. There is a small woman standing in the entrance between two sets of doors and it appears that the line is backed out the door. I ask the woman if she is waiting and she replies with something unintelligible like, “it shor ’nuff is, uh-huh,” which I take to mean yes. But then I look more closely at her, standing away from the inner door, swaying slightly on her feet and wearing enormous sunglasses that cover 2/3 of her face. I decide to ask again as someone comes out the door, but she doesn’t move. This time, she says, “uh, no, uh-uh” along with a bunch of other mutterings that seem unrelated. We decide to step inside, discovering a line that wraps the wall of a 20×20 room. There are no cattle ropes to create switchbacks in the line and people lean wearily against the wall fanning themselves, although it feels cooler than in the entry way by at least 20 degrees.

Following the line around the room leads to a window to our immediate right with one woman working with one person, moving as slowly as if she has all day to wait on each person. I look at the line, my watch, and then Pat and say, “We’re not going to make it.” We walk on home and I return to work early for my call, but we decide to try later in the afternoon when my calls are done for the day and I can come back to work on my own schedule.

We decide to drive on our second attempt. It’s only gotten hotter and the neighborhood wasn’t really conducive to walking. When we arrive, at first we think the line hasn’t moved but we don’t recognize the people in the room from earlier. Many are teenagers. Most have books–never a good sign when you’re getting in line. A woman arrives after us and suggests that the long line is due to kids wanting to get their driver’s license before the holiday weekend. I ponder this and think about the increased death toll on the highways over Labor Day each year–coincidence?

We wait outside the door in the terrarium-like entry way until people shuffle forward enough for us to fit inside the air-conditioned room. No one has actually left, but they condensed somehow. We stand there watching the same, slow-moving woman waiting on a man that could have been the same guy who was at the counter three hours earlier. We are there 20 minutes and the line hasn’t moved. I experience a flash-back to picking up an overnight package at the Rome airport nearly 15 years ago.

Back when I was doing software acceptance testing and Telecom Italia was my customer, I was once on site when we needed a patch and we needed it quickly so that I could wrap up and go home on time. The team in Columbus decided it would be faster to ship the patch to me (back when software was shipped physically on tape) through airline cargo service instead of DHL since I could pick it up at the airport the next day whereas it would take two days to have DHL deliver it to the site. When I told one of my Italian colleagues this, he rolled his eyes and did the Italian shrug thing indicating he thought it was a very bad idea, but smiled when I told him I would pick it up myself. He asked me twice before he believed that I was really going to pick it up myself. Had I been older, wiser, or a little more experienced, I might have known better than to volunteer. I arrived at the airport cargo area just before 9am the next morning. My first problem was reading signs in Italian. I followed a sign around a fence and paused, confused as to whether I was in the right place. As I started moving forward again, I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw two uniformed men carrying automatic weapons, running towards me frantically waving their arms. Things got worse from there.

Fortunately for me, it was pre-9/11, so they didn’t shoot me. But I was apparently headed out onto the run-way when they stopped me. They gestured me back to the other side of the fence showing some small amount of patience for a lost American who didn’t speak Italian, but not much. After that, I spent the day moving from one desk to the next, changing buildings 6 times, paying fees and getting papers with special stamps. I literally had to get approvals from 10 different people, only one of whom spoke English.

Had it not been for a kind English-speaking man who guided me through about five of the steps and humbly asked each Italian bureaucrat to take care of me quickly since I didn’t understand, I’m fairly certain I would still be standing in one of those lines. I brought my American expectation of customer service with me to the airport that day and was wholly unprepared for the Italian bureaucrat who wields power by withholding a stamp.

At the end of the process, I stood outside a warehouse in my spring dress next to a group of truck drivers there to pick up their daily load. A man driving a forklift would disappear for 20 minutes at a time and reappear with one load associated with one number regardless of how empty the forklift was. A security guard came over and started chatting me up while I waited. He spoke enough English to take pity on me. He spoke to the forklift driver and my package was the next to be delivered. I was extremely grateful, but not grateful enough to accept the security guard’s offer to take me out for pizza. The funniest part was seeing the forklift driver arrive with my package. He drove this huge forklift that could haul a good-sized truck load, but he made a single trip for my one box that was about 2″x3″x4″. I imagined him trying to lift it with the fork.

When I arrived at the office just after 3PM, my colleague looked up with shock on his face, “What?! You are back already?? That was fast! We will have to send you every time!” Not on your life, I thought. I made sure to tell all my American colleagues never to ship that way again.

But now, here I am in the good old US of A being held hostage by another bureaucrat. Once again I look at my watch and think of the work I need to finish before the holiday weekend. Pat suggests we try another office that’s bigger, although across town. We head out and drive 20 minutes to get there (partly because we took the long way by accident). The office is bigger, but the line is longer. They use numbers here and we’re told that they’ve already announced that they aren’t giving out any more numbers today. It’s 45 minutes before close and they aren’t sure they’ll be able to serve all the people already in line. We give up and decide to block out several hours on my calendar the following week since we will be at the 30-day limit for getting our licenses changed. I do not look forward to our return.

These tasks are never fun, but I find myself frustrated by agencies who make them worse.  I’m not sure why Chattanooga is so behind the times on making this easier.  Maybe they haven’t outsourced the task to private business owners?  Maybe they don’t collect enough taxes?  Who knows, but I wish I could order my drivers license online!