THE LINE – It snakes back and forth like those security rows at the airport, with ropes keeping us in order. The line goes out the door and down the hall. There must be 150 to 200 patient people here, each clutching papers. This office is either the ICE citizenship application department or a VA hospital’s out-patient clinic for today’s heart attack victims. This scene reminds me – and, no doubt you, too — of bodice rippers. More, later. Actually, this is the local office of the Texas Dept. of Motor Vehicles where we go to change vehicle ownership registration, get a 150,000-mile checkup or obtain new license plates since the DPS is looking for your old set, something about an armored car robbery.
I am here to change my car’s registration title, but knowing how bad the wait would be, I brought along some reading materials (Hustler slipped into a Gideon Bible), dinner, a bedroll and a calendar. But something is wrong here. After a long period of waiting, I notice that the line has not moved. Not an inch. I shall be here until they finish the Florida presidential recount. Probably this problem is because there are 45 windows and four clerks working. Finally, they wear me down and I get ready to leave. Maybe if I come back some day when business is slower. Like Christmas. Then again, there are so many state holidays (147) Bob Cratchit will probably close up shop mid-November. The guy in front of me says, “There’s a shorter line I know of. Only used car dealers go there to change registrations.” Great, I say. Where is it and I’ll go there? “El Paso.”
I won’t ask if this has happened to you, because it has. Every Texan has had to deal with car registrations papers, new plates, DWIs. Even if you can afford to pay someone to stand in for you, that doesn’t help with driver’s licenses. Incidentally, not knowing just which state agency to deal with, I accidentally went to the closer DPS’s driver’s license bureau. There were people waiting in the parking lot to get in the lobby so they could wait in line. The next day, upon finding the correct state building almost in my time zone, I came here and got in a line, only it was the wrong line. That one was for people paying off misdemeanor fines for violations such as disrespecting hobos, standing your ground or voting Democratic. There was an express line for those with six violations or less.
It seems there are long lines at every state agency, bureau and pay toilet. At the Walls unit in Huntsville, do convicts on Death Row have to wait for their turn with the needle? You’d think our state leaders, like the gov and lite gov, would have dealt with this problem, as they’ve been in office since Sam Houston retired. All these people want to pay off fines or buy license plates or complete some other way of paying the state money. So wouldn’t you think Texas would make this process as painless and quick as possible, even by phone or mail, email or carrier pigeon?
This obviously brings us to bodice rippers. I knew you’d wait. It is the year 2000, and I receive a registered letter from a small East Texas town I’ll call Small East Texas town or SETT. Inside the envelope is a large yellow form. Across the top in bold letters is: “Small East Texas Town.” Below is: “Public Works Department.” The rest is fill-in-the-blanks and goes like this: In the interest of the Health, Safety and Welfare of the people, I have 10 days to throw myself on the mercy of the court “to avoid prosecution by this department. If this condition is not corrected with the allotted time given, a complaint will be filed against you in Municipal Court. A fine may be levied against you as authorized by City Ordinance.” Huh? I am about to be fined by a town I’ve never visited? Should I pay property taxes on no property?
I call up SETT’s law people and a deputy explains that a car registered to me was found in a vacant lot. He describes it as a gray ’92 Buick. I had a car of that description, but got rid of it three years earlier. Yet, unbeknownst to me, since that time my old car has been riding the streets and highways of Texas and wherever else. Clearly no one ever changed the registration. But don’t you have to show the state your ownership papers or a DNA sample to get tags and stickers and all the authentication the State of Texas requires? Obviously not. In how many bank robberies has the Gray Ghost been the getaway car? Should the deputy check the trunk for bodies? Mine was a trade-in on a new car. The dealer was supposedly reputable. The salesman had told me, “We wholesale these off the lot.” Meantime, the State of Texas lost all those state fees, licenses and inspection costs because our lawmakers make it so hard to follow the law.
Here is where the bodice rips: The deputy, who sounded big, tough and not the kind of guy you’d mess with, was quite nice. We got to talking about my job, and he finally confessed: “I write, too, romance novels, under a different name, of course.” He even joined the Romance Writers of America and went to their annual convention in Dallas. “I was the only male there.” He didn’t give me a ticket and I didn’t tell his colleagues Officer Bubba McMean was also Miss Olivia de Quincy Featherstone. (The Romance Writers of America is headquartered in that hotbed of racy literature, Houston, Texas.) Wait, the line is moving. “This may go even faster than the El Paso line,” I say to my fellow waiter. He replies: “This IS the El Paso line.”
Ashby waits impatiently as ashby2@comcast