Left Coast/Right Coast – Public bureaucracies and the barf-bag

Okay, let me say right off, I don’t like bureaucracies. There is just an unnerving aura about them that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Just entering any public office to do business starts my dry heaves. I always carry a barf bag with me.
Mike Gold is a retired entrepreneur providing his views on the Northwest. Photo credit: Katie Stearns.

Mike Gold writes for the News of Mill Creek on a regular basis. He is a retired entrepreneur and describes himself as a, “relatively recent transplant to the West Coast. I have lived (born and raised) in the Northeastern U.S. So these observations are based upon ‘living the dream’ in the Pacific Northwest.”

Okay, let me say right off, I don’t like bureaucracies. There is just an unnerving aura about them that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Just entering any public office to do business starts my dry heaves. I always carry a barf bag with me. Why? Well when you enter their turf, you have surrendered any semblance of power and/or control you have over your life. I imagine it is not unlike your first week of basic training in the military when you are told over and over you are just a “puke,” that your life has no meaning and is worthless unless and until some public official (your drill sergeant) deems you are actually worthy.

Departments of Motor Vehicles:

So you enter the Washington State Department of Motor Vehicles – say for a license renewal. Immediately, you are forced to surrender any control.

First you have to figure out how their numbering system works. Every single state I’ve been in it works differently. (This includes New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Florida and Washington State).

Just tell me what this sign means? “Take a number from machine A if you’re here to get a license renewal, take a number from machine B if you’re here to renew a registration, take a number from machine C if you’re here to make an appointment for a driver’s license oral exam, take a number from machine D if you’re here for an appointment for a road test.” Why do you need to take a number if you have an appointment for a road test? Isn’t that what an appointment is for?

And then this sign, “in case you don’t know which machine to take a number from, take a number from this machine – and wait to speak with a clerk.”  If you take a number from this machine you wait for a clerk who will tell you which machine to go back to so you can start all over again.

In another state, you take a number from a single machine – no matter what you’re there for – then you wait to talk to a clerk about which line/machines you need to use next!

So before you’ve accomplished anything, you’ve surrendered your soul to a faceless, nameless bureaucracy who has complete power and control over you. What are you going to do if you need a driver’s license renewal? Walk out in protest? Then what do you do when you are stopped by a policeman and you have no valid driver’s license?

See, you have no choice. You have to live under their Orwellian rules. When my wife and I had to transfer our driver’s licenses from Massachusetts to Florida, we waited in a line so long; it reached out the door into the hot Florida day. Outside, there was a vendor selling water ($4/bottle) for those poor people not close enough to the counter inside – to have air-conditioned surroundings.

We waited in line. Just behind my wife was an older gentleman (by Florida standards – he was still a young man) who could not stand up very long by himself. First his wife helped him. Then he started to lean on my wife – who was very uncomfortable about this. Finally, a Good Samaritan helped him to sit down inside the air-conditioned office.

They were just behind us when we both made it to the counter. He was there for a driver’s license renewal. He could not see anything in the eye test machine, did not know where he was or why he was there. His wife had to interface with the clerk.

Of course, he received his driver’s license renewal. That represents the Government doing its finest work. Remember; in Florida senior citizens represent the overwhelming voting block. You simply cannot deny a senior citizen any rights (such as driving when blind) because of their voting power.

Now other than in Washington State, every Registry of Motor Vehicles seems to have a singular reason for being. I claim it is self-perpetuation of lifetime jobs with zero responsibility to achieve any result. I think you must first prove you have zombie blood to even be able to take the placement test. Then you have to show you have an uncanny ability to infuriate any and all patrons of the public office by showing complete distain for your customers, the public whom you serve. The more you resemble the walking dead – the sooner you advance through the system.

Other than Washington State, in all the states where I’ve had personal dealings, I have yet to find anyone with even a remote sense of humor. There is simply nothing possibly funny about the proceedings. By far, the best final placement test for any employee is to be able to close down their counter just when it is your turn to speak with them. I can still hear the words, “break time – be back in a couple of hours.”

Now believe it or not, Washington State passes my criteria for providing reasonable service. When we moved here, we went to one of those satellite offices (private places – but chartered by the state) to transfer our auto registrations from Florida to here. There were some complexities – a leased vehicle – where the title was held in another state – which required additional forms. But the service was prompt, courteous and helpful (and reasonably priced).

Clearly Darwinian evolution has not seeped (yet) from eastern states to this part of the West Coast. And beyond belief, all documents including all registration renewals, always have arrived long before the expiration dates. In Massachusetts, there is a separate line (and number machine) in each office – just for people who did not receive their registration renewals before expiration – to get a temporary tag extending your date until finally your renewed tags arrive.

Other bureaucracies:

Unfortunately, I’ve become acquainted with the individual police departments of towns in the Puget Sound area much more than I wanted to. In the case of one town, Lynnwood, it seems as if the police have taken (and listened) to examples from eastern states re traffic revenue generation. So on one occasion, I had to use the public court system in Snohomish County. Frankly, it worked.

The court date was scheduled painlessly, and on the actual date, the court proceeding went smoothly. In many eastern states, often you show up for court and are told: “due to the delay in earlier scheduled court matters, we are running behind and are asking you to come back (daily!) until your case will be scheduled to be heard.”

I’m going to hold off on discussing the U.S. Post Office until another time. I have to wait until my blood pressure returns to normal and I can get a new barf bag.


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