I came home Friday evening more enraged, aggravated and agitated than I have been in a long time. Now, Saturday, let’s see if I can calm down enough to give a factual account of recent events.
I suspected my eyesight would be an issue in renewing my driver’s license when it expires on my birthday in December. It has been slowly deteriorating By 2006 it was no longer correctable to 20/20. In April of this year an ophthalmologist determined my vision was now correctable to 20/60 while the Colorado DMV demands vision correctable to 20/40 or better. He said he’d do a second exam closer to the end of the year, within 90 days of the renewal deadline. He referred me to a registered Occupational Therapist who specializes in driver evaluations. If her report was favorable and his second exam showed no deterioration, he would sign off on the DMV form affirming I was capable of safe driving and recommending renewal of my license despite not meeting the precise standard.
The O.T. was a pleasant woman who spent two hours with me and charged me $400. The first hour she tested my vision herself, in particular depth perception, peripheral vision and accuracy of color perception. She also quizzed me on my health history and tested my balance, coordination, and reaction time. All turned out to be within normal limits. A one-hour behind the wheel road test concluded with her saying she saw no problem with my driving and I was a very safe and highly competent driver. During the course of our conversations I couldn’t resist revealing that in the fifty (50) years I had been a licensed driver, easily encompassing over a million driving miles, I had exactly one collision, a 1970 fender-bender in San Francisco in which the other driver was ticketed for an illegal turn in front of me. During thirty (30) years of driving in rural Colorado, I had hit one deer; I had amassed a grand total of three (3) speeding tickets, my only moving violations, during that half century. I also told her I try to avoid night driving, especially in unfamiliar areas, as much as possible. In cities like Denver or Colorado Springs I try to scope out the route beforehand with MapQuest or Google maps in case I can’t read small, unlit street signs. I compensate for my limitations in many ways.
Her written report went to the doctor and to me, was quite favorable and recommended renewal of my license with no specific restrictions.
I didn’t tell her main interests and pastimes were reading, writing, photography and stargazing—all very visual activities. I didn’t mention that I still see well enough to take some photos that have won awards Or that on clear nights I can still spot, with the naked eye, the faint fuzzy oval of the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) 2.4 million light years away. Or that I can still visually make out (through a good amateur telescope) the central star in the blinking blue nebula (NGC6526). But there is no denying my sight has deteriorated. I can no longer see that the star in the bend of the handle of the Big Dipper is actually a pair of stars, Mizar and Alcor. Being able to discern, with the naked eye, that they are actually two stars close together is a traditional test of good vision.
The ophthalmologist’s October 10 exam brought more good news. He noted I actually tested a little better than in April. My vision was not detonating. We both received copies of the O.T.’s evaluation. He explained I should go in to the driver’s license office soon and get the form they have for doctors to sign. He would recommend renewal of my driver’s license, too.
Things were going smoothly. I’d gotten an early start on this, jumped successfully through all hoops and would soon be home free.
I got the form and promptly dropped it off at his office. When I heard nothing after a week I called. “It’s not here. The doctor must have it with him. He won’t be back in the office until next Wednesday. We can’t reach him until then.” A second week went by. I gently reminded the receptionist it had been a full fifteen days now. She searched in vain, consulted another receptionist and they searched for a bit before finding it had been misfiled. “We had a new girl from our other office here that day and she didn’t know our procedure.” She apologized and, to her credit, promptly called me the next morning to tell me the doctor had signed it and I could pick it up anytime.
I brought the signed paper to the DLO. The clerk scrutinized it skeptically and said, “What’s this mean? He checked the box here ‘yes’ for the road test required question, then wrote ‘already done’ next to it. What’s that mean?” I explained he was referring to the road test by the O.T. which he partly based his recommendation on. He had required a road test before drawing his conclusions and making his recommendation.
“That doc didn’t you any favors doing that!” he snapped. “Now we’ve got to give you another road test!”
“Yeah, he checked the box so we gotta do it. We have no choice.”
“Well, then I will do it. I’ll do whatever is necessary,” I said.
“You’ll be notified by letter when the road test is scheduled for.”
“So there’s nothing for me to do until I get a letter from the DMV in the mail?”
“That’s right. You will be notified by mail.”
“How long does that usually take?”
“I have no idea,” he snapped dismissively and turned his back. He kept the original doctor’s form and a form listing my current address of the past six years, which they DMV had failed to record after being notified of in writing five (5) times since July 2006.
A week went by. A second week. No letter. I made another trip to the courthouse, then another.
I soon found the drivers license office was had no schedule, kept no set or posted hours and often closed without notice or explanation. Asking at other nearby offices I was told they keep no regular hours or days. Contacting them was a matter of dumb luck and catch-as-catch0can. One of the part-time irregular clerks was a decent sort. The others were known to be obnoxious assholes often abrasive and prone to giving out false information.
On my third try, after waiting an hour I managed to ask about the missing letter to another surly clerk who snapped “I don’t know anything about that! How would know that? Next!”
The next time I witnessed another dedicated and salaried State of Colorado “public servant” shouting questions at some poor guy, then repeatedly interrupting his every attempt to answer, talking through him, and shouting him down. I noticed a large sign saying anyone who is deemed “disruptive,” “threatening,” or “abusive” will be escorted off the premises (and probably tasered, too).
Too bad the same behavior standards don’t apply to DMV employees! They are the ones I saw being abusive, threatening, and disruptive. A psychology textbook example of “denial and projection of blame onto others.” The DMV employees in the Delta County Courthouse made little or no attempt to hide the fact they resented doing their jobs, and felt only hatred and contempt for the public they were being paid to “serve.” I tried to remember any job I had ever held where I could have gotten away with acting like that even once. I could not think of one. But people, including me, needed their cooperation to stay licensed, so no one protested or said a peep. Silence, as they say, gives consent. It allowed the “civil servants” to be abusive with no consequences for them.
The next time I dropped by the office was again closed.
Friday I came in yet again and found the tiny office open but crowded with over a dozen people waiting ahead of me.
Oh hell. This could take hours just to ask a simple question.
Then I saw a sign that said “To Contact Regional Manager call 248-XXXX”. Aha! I can go over their heads. That person can probably access the entire state database too and give me a real answer. I called and explained the situation: “I’ve now been waiting three full weeks. Is that normal?” No, “Joy” said. “And the letter doesn’t give you a road test appointment, it just tells you that you need to have one and to pass the written test as well.”
“What? I already knew that! I was told I had to wait to hear an appointment had been scheduled.”
“No. Go right in there now, today! Take your doctor’s form! Tell them you need the written test and you need the road test set as soon as possible. Hurry, this will expire on December 12. It must be done before then!”
Of course there was no admission of wrongdoing; no admission the clerk had given me false information, or any recognition of the hassle, unnecessary delays, and complications that had caused me. Even when bureaucrats correct themselves they never admit their previous statements were wrong. Interesting mentality….
So, not having a copy of the doctor’s form in my car, I drove 20 miles home to pick one up., and then 20 miles back on what was supposed to be day off for me. Again the wait was about two hours. The clerk, a man I hadn’t seen before, grumbled that I was creating problems barging in here on a Friday afternoon, their busiest time. I stated plainly but politely that I was “directed to do so by your Regional Manager. And that’s why I’m here today.” He did give me the written test, which I easily passed with only 3 errors out of 25 questions. (To be legally parked, cars must be within 12 inches of the curb? I thought it was 18). This “dedicated public employee” seemed more passive-aggressive than openly hostile. He asked me questions, pointedly did not listen to my answers, and then said “what were you saying?” While I was speaking he muttered under his breath, disputing or belittling what I said. Everything I said was in direct response to his questions. I was giving him factual, polite, cogent answers. My taxes pay this man’s salary in his make-work job, I thought to myself. He looked up at me and said I’d created a problem by coming in to renew my license “at the last minute.” I politely informed him I’d been coming in for over a month and been sent away. “I’m not responsible for any delays.”
Eventually he sighs deeply, no doubt feeling like a put-upon victim (abusers always perceive themselves as the real victims)and tells me, “I’ll pencil you in for a road test on Monday, December 3. “Now, I don’t know who, if anybody will be here Monday. It won’t be me. Often someone who is scheduled to man the office just never shows up with no explanation. You should be here by no later than 8:30 AM since the office opens, if and when it does open, at 9:00 AM. The vehicle you bring for the road test must be in perfect condition. No cracked windshield, all lights working, brakes adjusted, no defects of any kind. Bring our license, registration, and insurance papers. If someone shows up for work Monday, that person will try to squeeze you in sometime that day. But I have no idea, when, if ever, they can fit you in for a road test. That is all. Goodbye.”
As I was leaving I heard others mumble to the effect that “this shit is what we get because of Obama” as if the federal government were to blame for the deep-seated dysfunction of Colorado state government. For small-town conservatives intoxicated on Fox News, Obama is the handy-dandy, all-purpose scapegoat for everything that goes wrong.
I walked out having had enough “public service” for one day. In fact, for a lifetime. I had bitten my tongue several times on several days to keep from saying, “you are paid to be a public servant, not a public nuisance.” I recount these events to various people and they all say “that’s terrible. That’s outrageous” but then conclude there is nothing to do about it.
Much is at stake. Monday, December 3 may decide much about the remainder of my life. My current job and all jobs I’ve had in the past 30 years require a drivers license. If not renewed I will instantly become unemployed and virtually unemployable for the rest of my life. Pretty much disabled from working and without a pension beyond Social Security. I guess I can apply for SSDI and Medicaid. Amazingly, it all may come down to this: my future depends on the whims of one idiotic, erratic, dishonest, dysfunctional state bureaucrat. Just like rolling the dice, huh?
How’s that old song go—“Ain’t that America?”
(cross-posted at Our Salon as well)