I went to the local Department of Motor Vehicles branch to renew my licence plate tags. Only they don’t call them that in Michigan. They’re called Secretary of State offices, for reasons that Michiganians explain to me by pointing in the opposite direction and running. I don’t mind. I like a little quirkiness in my state bureaucracy. Back in New Jersey the Department of Motor Vehicles went through a phase back in the 90s, like most of us. But its 90s phase was one of renaming themselves every couple years. I know they went through being the Motor Vehicle Services for a while, and the Motor Vehicle Commission. I liked the latter, because it sounded like you had hired them to compose a song about your 1982 Mercury Grand Marquis. “It’s built like a tank // The window nearly cranks // All the way up! // Ooh-ah-ooh! // Bad alternator! // Ooh-ah-ooh! // Needs replacement! // Ooh-ah-ooh // Yes, again!”
Anyway, the Secretary of State has an office in the annex of a local strip mall. Also we have a strip mall with an annex because, I don’t know, I guess 1982 was a happening year. The office had this system where you enter your phone number, they give you an estimated wait time, and text you when you’re done waiting. I even had my phone with me. So I got in the queue. Then I noticed they had an automated booth where you could renew license plate tags without having to wait or even talk to anyone. I did that instead. It’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just I feel like I’m bothering them when I do talk to them, and why should I bother the people whose jobs are about handling my minor legal obligations?
But after that I didn’t see any way to take my number out of the queue. At least no way without talking to someone, for which I’d have to be in the queue. Also I’d have to talk to someone. Again, I don’t dislike people. It’s just I know my conversations can’t live up to the ideal of human interactions, which is Mister Rogers chatting with the people in the restaurant who’re making his cheese-and-lettuce sandwich. (Look it up!) So I left, feeling a little dirty.
Today I looked at my phone and realized I had a bunch of texts. I get maybe one text a month on average, which is fine, since I remember to look at them about every two months. There was one welcoming me to the queue system and thanking me because the without people in it the queue system would just be a performance-art piece on the absurdity of modern life. Also there were messages telling me I was in the queue, and that I was still in the queue in case I worried about that. Also that I was five minutes from being up. And then some messages that I was up. And texts that they were still waiting for me. And texts that they were going to have to stop waiting for me if I didn’t get there soon. And then a text that they had to go on to the next person and they’re sorry to have missed me, but the art critics thought our project charming. They liked its Jacques-Tati-esque setup of a system so automated and convenient that the only role actual humans can have is to slow things up.
I don’t know when I last felt so guilty about ghosting a minor civic responsibility. This is a lie. I last felt so guilty about ghosting a minor civic responsibility earlier this month when I kind of forgot to check in for jury duty. But that was an innocent accident. I moved the slip of paper with the phone number I was supposed to call the night before and forgot it existed. The license plate thing was a choice. I chose to do my business in the most time-efficient way possible and then leave. Anyway, I’m very very sorry, Michigan Secretary of State, and maybe I’ll just renew online next year. Also, uh, sorry, Ingham County Court System.
I haven’t yet actually put the new license plate tag on. So I don’t know if this will need the help of the auto care place down the street again. More on this as it comes to pass.