So. When I noticed my license was expired I wrote myself a note on my to-do list, tagged the kitchen calendar, tacked a reminder to my desk and texted Hal a message to "please for the love of H, remind me to renew my license next week!"
Two weeks later I went to the DMV. It was last Friday, and because of the "furlough friday" confusion? The place was empty. Like, crazy empty. The kind of empty that scares. Quiet, too, once I got past the maniac in the trenchcoat who burst into the DMV five minutes after I arrived screaming "every motherfucker here is a FAKE ASSHOLE PIECE OF SHIT!!!"
Apparently he was talking to me because I was the only person there? That's okay. I gave him a friendly nod and went on filling out my forms, thrilled knowing I'd be out of there in no time at all. Say what you will, Crazyman! I'll be home by breakfast!
I handed my license and paperwork to the nice lady behind the counter. Paperwork I had to re-do because I apparently filled everything in wrong.
Eventually, I re-learned the English language and resubmitted my forms, which DMV lady immediately and expertly started processing.
"Oh. Oh. Can't renew your license, I'm afraid," she said. "Says here you have an unpaid traffic violation from February 2008, miss, Woof."
Woof is what everybody at the DMV has always called me. I don't know what is so hard about saying Woolf or even "Wolf." Or fuck, man, even Wolfe would suffice, but Woof it was and Woof it so often is. I am as used to answering to Miss. Woof as I am "Rachel" which is what everyone always calls me also, I assume because Hebrew "R" names are easily confused. (Rachel also happens to be my sister's name.)
"What? Are you serious?"
"Oh, yes, ma'am, quite serious. Looks like you've been receiving court summons for twenty-two months now with no response. The good news is that your license hasn't been suspended. Yet. But could be any day now... tomorrow, the next day..."
"... If I was you? I'd take care of this yesterday. Especially as I cannot renew your license until this is taken care of which means you are driving on an expired, soon-to-be-suspended license. Bad idea."
"Wait. I'm so confused right now. How did this happen again?"
The woman blinked behind bored eyes and shrugged. Clearly she hated me. I was asking questions, on the verge of getting hysterical.
"Ma'am? I don't know."
"Let me explain. I got a ticket but I took care of it! Like, WAY more than two years ago, I swear. I went down to the courthouse to fight the ticket and was told it had been 60 days, wasn't in the system and therefor there was no ticket to fight. I was told I was free to go and to have a nice day, Miss Woof!"
"Could be a mix-up on our end. Happens all the time since budget cuts. You still have to go downtown to the courthouse to sort it out, I'm afraid.
"Really? Isn't there someone I can call?"
"Budget cuts. No more operators. NEXT!"
...And with that? I left the DMV bound for downtownsville, but not before I called Hal and burst into tears because WTF and OMG, was I in trouble? Did I accidentally become a wanted criminal at large? What if I went down to the courthouse and they arrested me!? It was almost too much to bear.
"I'm sure its just a mix-up like she said, Bec! Don't cry. It's going to be fine."
Lies. It wasn't fine. But that's for later in the story. For now, let's talk about the disaster that was the Los Angeles superior court on Hill Street AKA Cattle-Call-of-Doomville.
Last time I spent an afternoon at the courthouse was when I came to fight my moving violation, which no joke was for "cutting off a police-officer going 10mph" or in MY side of the story: I merged in front of a cop during rush-hour traffic.
Apparently Mr. Police officer was having a terrible day because it was indeed the most insane ticket I've ever received (and I got my share of speeding tickets in my younger years, lemme tell you.) But this? Was just laughable. I would fight it in court on principle! Obvy! I mean, not only was it INSANE but dude marked the wrong intersection on the ticket. Larchmont and 3rd? Doubt it. I was on BEVERLY. OH, SNAP!
My car was also listed wrong, my name completely butchered (Rebecca Wook) not to mention the most obvious proof of my innocence. I drive a GREEN station wagon. Who tickets a green station wagon and then sleeps at night? Anyway. My point IS: I had a case. I had a realgood case.
So, in April of 2008 I went downtown to snag myself a court date except was told that the ticket had not been processed.
"What do you mean?" said I.
"It's been 60 days and your ticket isn't in the system which means, you're free to go Ma'am. Just sign here."
"Uh... awesome! He must have seen the error of his ways and torn up the ticket! I mean, I got pulled over for merging in front of him during traffic. Isn't tha-"
"Sign here, Miss Woof."
"Oh, right, Sure."
So? That was that. Or so I thought until last Friday. Apparently police officers have AN ENTIRE YEAR to submit tickets. Mine was submitted weeks after my courthouse appearance which is why it didn't register when I first went downtown. Long story short (kind of. This is feeling very long, actually) my court summons were sent to the address that was listed on my license. An address that was five years old.
I learned this after waiting in line for hours in a room maxed to capacity with the kind of characters I wish I had a secret camera in my forehead to capture on film. Twitter doesn't quite cut it:
When it was finally my turn to speak to a woman behind the window, I explained my story, handed her the paperwork the DMV had handed me and watched as she stapled a bunch of errant papers together. On the top was a piece of paper marked "collections" with the sum of 742.00 circled at the bottom.
"The only way to renew your license is to pay your bail in full."
"But I want to FIGHT this ticket! I'm innocent! I merged in front of a po--"
"Window 21, miss Woof. Next."
But I didn't make it to the front of window #21. Instead I waited in line for forty-five minutes before having a panic attack due to the crowd. (I have issues with large crowds in enclosed spaces. Remind me to tell you the story about how I became hysterical at Archer's kindergarten orientation. PTA President is not in my future.)
So I called Hal, once again hysterical that "I'M INNOCENT! But wait! I'm guilty because I should have changed my address but NO! NO! Rewind! I don't want this to be happening to me today! Why is this happening!? Ahhhhh!"
After some time, I calmed down.
And after some more time, I called called the Collection Office from the safety of my no-lines-necessary car. Unfortunately, once I got a collections operator on the phone, I was told that the earliest court date they could give me was seven months from now.
In order for that to happen, I would have to drive on an expired license until then. "And in the meantime, there's a good chance your license could be suspended..." they told me.
1. Pay the fine and plead "guilty" to the crime of "merging in front of a cop going 10mph."
2. Plead non-guilty and risk possible jail time with LiLo.
I cried again. I cried all over the phone into the very bored ears of Collections Officers before finally agreeing to pay the fine over the phone. Except I would need to GO BACK to the courthouse to pay, in person, a $10 processing fee. Which is just RUDE.
So Wednesday morning, bright and early I went BACK to the courthouse. BACK to the line. BACK to new friends with stories that made mine seem like a virgin in a whorehouse.
And I'll admit, after the initial anger at myself for being too lazy to change the address on my license, etc, etc, I found myself staring down the barrel of relief. The more I probed people for their stories, the more I realized how lucky I was. I could afford to pay my "bail." I wasn't going to lose my license. All I had to do to remedy the situation was write a check and go home.
So an eight-hundred dollar mistake (including fees and parking) it ended up being but also an eight-hundred dollar reminder that yes (I'm going to say it. Again.) I am lucky. The whole situation could have been so much more serious. I could have ended up with a suspended license or worse...
Instead? I just had a bad week...
...But bad weeks yield good advice so for those who care to listen, here's mine:
1. NEVER merge in front of a police officer, even if you drive a green station wagon and are only going 10mph.
2. ALWAYS change the address on your license when you move.
3. Marry the kind of man who no matter what he's in the middle of, will pick up the phone for you and listen kindly as you scream hysterical things. Who will interrupt you, sure, but only to tell you EXACTLY what you need to hear to feel better.
I may have a wallet full of expired cards, a calendar full of missed events, a bank account full of less money but to hell with all that. I have Hal.
Goddamn winged-horses! I did it again.