moving: chapter four (the bureaucracy)

Taking yet another step to shift our existence from Indiana to Massachusetts, Alexander and I braved the MA Registry of Motor Vehicles this afternoon to convert our car’s title and registration.

It was not pleasant.

I was certain I had everything prepared.  I had visited the state’s RMV website, which laid out clearly (at least I believed) all the materials we would need to bring with us.  The first step had been to acquire active in-state insurance, and have the insurance agent complete the application for title and registration for us.  We figured the easiest course would be to stick with State Farm, so we called the nearest office and Alexander gave the agent all the relevant information over the phone with the assurance that she would email us the completed form.

So I go to print out the form today and realize that the agent had entered the wrong city for our address.  We live in Stoughton; she typed Stoneham.  Which, granted, is a town in Massachusetts.  But not with a ‘02072’ zip code.  Never mind, it’s no problem at all to edit text in a PDF, so I fix the error, print new copies, and we’re out.

So we’re good, right?

We arrive at the RMV, which looks to be fifty or so natural persons above capacity.  There is a line of at least a dozen to receive a service number, and the woman behind us is on her cell-phone with whom I can only assume is her baby-daddy saying “You been outta jail and ain’t even seen your daughter… if you was cool with your aunt you coulda had her pick you up and take you to my mama’s house so you can see your daughter…”  (for the record, I’m with her on that one).

We get to the service desk to pick up our number, tell the woman we’re there to convert our out-of-state title and registration, and she promptly asks, “Do you have proof of residency?”

This is where things got a little touchy, because Alexander had asked me on the car-ride over, “Do we need a piece of mail or anything to prove we live here?”, to which I replied, “No, the website didn’t say we did.”  So now, in front of the customer service lady, he says to me, “This is why I asked you in the car if we needed a piece of mail or anything to prove we live here,” to which I replied, “THE WEBSITE DIDN’T SAY WE DID!”

The saint-of-an-RMV-employee in front of us says sympathetically, “Government websites aren’t all that helpful, are they?” and gently hands me a form with a list of the three different documents we would need to prove our new residency.  Only one of which we had on us at the time.

So I dropped Alexander off at his lab, which was just down the road, and came back home to search for documents.  And although I’ve made a lot of progress getting the place unpacked, paperwork hasn’t exactly been at the top of the priority list, so I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to find and where I would find it.

Proof of address was easy — I still had Alexander’s change-of-address confirmation from the Postal Service out on the counter.  Check one.

Proof of birthday — They would accept an out-of-state driver’s license.  Check two.

Proof of signature —  His driver’s license has his signature, too.  Great!  Or not.  Has to be a different document.  Alexander doesn’t keep his Social Security card on his person, so that’s not an option.  I could use his birth certificate for proof of birthday and then use the driver’s license for proof of signature.  But where the hell is his birth certificate?  I have a vague remembrance that it’s contained in a medium-sized manila envelope which I’m sure is one of these unopened banker’s boxes surrounding my desk.  So I just start tearing through them, much like that scene in Annie when Carol Burnette, Tim Curry, and Bernadette Peters are ripping apart shoeboxes looking for the other half of that stupid locket…

Anyway, I eventually come across his Selective Service card, which is valid for proof of signature — we’re all set!  (There’s still the nagging question of where his birth certificate is… some other day…).

I carefully paper-clip the documents together, drive back to Brockton (which is, admittedly, only about ten minutes down the road), pick up Alexander, and return to the RMV.  The crowd is smaller, and the service numbers sound like they’re being called with an agreeable frequency.  Things are looking up.  I use the men’s room, then we settle onto a wooden bench — he with his iPhone, I with my still unfinished copy of Ron Suskind’s Confidence Men.

After a reasonable 45-minute wait, our number is called — “Now serving A177 at counter six…” — and I dutifully hand over my carefully paper-clipped documents to the clerk.  Guess which documents she doesn’t even look at?  THE PROOF OF RESIDENCE DOCUMENTS.

Never mind, we’re finally getting this taken care of (which is good, since our Indiana registration has officially expired).  She checks the relevant information, fills in the necessary bits, pulls out a Massachusetts plate, and gives Alexander the grand total of fees to be paid, $135.

He begins to pull out his CapitalOne MasterCard just as she utters the words, “Cash, check, or money order.”

Now, I don’t want to go on a tangent here, but Alexander and I do not yet have a Massachusetts checking account.  The reason being that Harvard has yet to give him his first paycheck, in spite of the fact he’s been working for them for over a month.  So we have been living off the dwindling available balance in his IU Credit Union account (for which he has no more checks), and his CapitalOne MasterCard.  

Furthermore, when I visited the aforementioned website, there was NO MENTION WHATSOEVER that credit cards would not be accepted for this transaction.  Not even on the Fee Schedule, which I made sure to consult in advance so we could budget appropriately for the fees.  Do you want to know where accepted payment methods ARE listed?  On each individual RMV branch webpage.  So, clearly, what I should have done after looking up how to convert our out-of-state registration, was click the ‘Branch Info’ link, choose Brockton, then select the tab labelled ‘Payment Methods’.  How could I have missed it?!?  I mean, it’s not like the Fee Schedule — which actually features the statement “The Registry of Motor Vehicles strives to keep the people of the Commonwealth informed with current information and news” — could be bothered to say anything to the effect of PLEASE CHECK WITH YOUR LOCAL RMV BRANCH TO SEE WHICH METHODS OF PAYMENT ARE ACCEPTED.

And do you want to know WHY she couldn’t accept a credit card payment?  Because credit cards can’t be used to pay the excise tax on auto sales.  Now, if you were reading closely enough earlier, you might have noticed that we are exempt from paying an excise tax on the purchase of our car, on account that it took place more than six months ago.  But that doesn’t matter.  The transaction still includes the tax, so a credit card cannot be used.

Once again, this saint-of-an-RMV-employee tells Alexander there’s an ATM just down the strip.  Which he then uses to withdraw the necessary amount of cash, and then proceeds to pay the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for the privilege of having a registered vehicle.

Three hours after this adventure has begun, we leave the Brockton RMV, mission accomplished.

*****

A couple of morals to the story:

~ It is entirely wrong to assume that a website purporting to provide complete information in a clear manner has actually managed to provide complete information in a clear manner… especially a government website (and yes, it kills me to say that as a regulation-loving liberal)

~ Though there were difficulties getting this whole thing done, they had nothing to do with the individuals who staff the local RMV branch, all of whom were friendly, patient, and simply trying to do their job within a poorly designed system.  Be kind to your public servants.