A Connecticut DMV survivor tells all

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The Old Saybrook DMV office.

Connecticut’s version of Catch 22 — 2.0 no less — nearly caught me. I am shaking yet.

I recently have returned from more than three solid hours at the Old Saybrook office of the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles. At the end of my long half-day’s journey into trauma, I came within an eyelash of having to come back another day.

Warning: this tragicomic tale is not for the faint of heart.

It was mid-morning, mid-week, and a beach day: how bad could it be?

Almost the worst of it was sitting next to a guy who said he hated Connecticut and wanted to move to Dixie, where, he repeated over and over, taxes and housing prices are roughly equivalent to a pack of gum up here. After two solid hours of this, I wanted to Fedex him down yonder and jump ahead of him in line.

A large man sporting a Sons of Anarchy motorcycle jacket —an appropriate symbol if ever there was one— was right behind me in line. I would have swapped waiting chits with him in a heartbeat, if he’d asked me to.

After I finished my book, time really began to drag. You can only watch people for so long. I did notice that the bureaucrat who reigned behind the counter in front of me was no nonsense, never cracked a smile, and stone cold when several of his victims showed signs of acute emotional distress.

When my number was finally called, I got him, of course. What’s worse, I think he’d heard the guy next to me badmouthing Connecticut and the DMV. He may have taken my repeated nodding and occasional “Amen, brother” as solidarity with Motor Mouth.

I had three pieces of business to transact. I wasn’t sure that this ambitious DMV “trifecta” was legal, but I was going for the brass ring anyway. My mission was to:

  • Return the plates from my old car
  • Register my new vehicle and get shiny new plates
  • Return the old plates that had been on my new car (I bought the car from my friend Andy and said I would return the plates for him).

As the man was processing my new registration, I mentioned in passing that I would be returning my friend’s plates at the same time. I did it just to make conversation, you know, nervous chatter. He gave out a big sigh and said if I had waited another keystroke he wouldn’t have been able to do that third transaction. He seemed disappointed that I had mentioned it in the nick of time. One bullet dodged, if barely.

Now he was perusing my new car’s insurance card. The sheet also included the card for my wife’s car. He was looking way too hard.

Finally he said, “This is no good. It’s expired. You’ll have to come back with a current card.” Indeed, the document showed an expired expiration date for my wife’s car, and that’s as far as either of us looked.

I said, “You mean I have to go home, get a new card and come back?”

He gave me the “dah” look.

I had driven Andy’s (now my) car, taken his plates off it in the parking lot, and handed them to this man. Without new plates I was stranded.

“Can I have his plates back so I can drive the car?”

“No, you just turned them in.”

They were sitting on the counter behind him.

I said that meant I would have to call someone to come and pick me up. Dead silence.

As I was staggering back from the counter, dropping forms on the floor, a flicker of humanity flashed across his face. “Look,” he said, “Call your insurance company and have them email the card to me.” He gave me a pre-printed slip with a DMV email address on it. Why he hesitated before offering this simple solution is anyone’s guess.

On the phone with my agent, we realized that the dates on the card for my new car actually were good — as opposed to those on my wife’s card. The DMV guy and I had looked at the wrong card. He wasn’t the least contrite.

Now I had dodged two bullets.

Not wanting to press my luck, and with unsteady hands, I screwed my new plates on and drove straight home.

David Holahan is a freelance writer from East Haddam.

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