There are days and even weeks when it is easy to understand why Americans are some of the most stressed out people in the world.
My Old Silver Lady has finally passed away. On a dark night three weeks ago, at 200,800 miles, her rear axle gave out. It didn’t fall off completely but she suddenly started whining and veered to the left. I felt the back tire begin to wobble. Miles from anywhere, my white knuckles gripped the steering wheel and my heart pounded as I coaxed the Old Silver Lady along.
“Come on, you can do it, babe. I know you can. We’ve traveled so many miles together, just a few more to go. I promise. Hang in there.”
My daughter rolled her eyes and slumped in her seat with her feet on the dashboard. It went on like this for five miles as we made the uphill climb to the town where we live. The route home is no longer familiar, we are just learning the back roads through sleepy, dark towns in the night. Both our cell phones had died somewhere north of Hartford so Siri was no longer available to guide us. If we broke down we would be up shit’s creek without a paddle.
But the Old Silver Lady did not fail me. At 10:45 p.m. we limped into the driveway and there she sits, waiting for the graveyard where cars with no trade in value go, otherwise known as the junkyard.
Thus began two weeks of hassles involving car insurance, the DMV, and other assorted problems that had nothing to do with purchasing a new car.
In the state of Connecticut you need a state license to register a car. This was not the case in Florida where I drove for a year and a half with a New Hampshire license until it expired. My new Florida license is good until 2022 but here I am, six months later, at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The first day my daughter came with me. She turned twenty one on July 1st and her Colorado license had expired so it was imperative that she obtain a valid I.D. She had her paperwork in order and sailed through the first of six lines that day. I on the other hand neglected to note that my passport had expired five days earlier. I did have my birth certificate as backup but that was in my maiden name. I was informed I would need my marriage license.
“My Florida license is in my married name.”
“Doesn’t matter. We need your marriage license. That’s the rules.”
“Lesson learned,” I told my daughter. “Don’t give up your identity.”
Because we were here and the DMV is in the middle of nowhere, not even a Dunkin’ Donuts within sight, I sat with my daughter for three hours, moving from line to line. Line Two where they copied and processed the paperwork the first line had already reviewed. Line Three to pay for the license. Line Four where you take the eye test. Line Five where they take your picture although after Line One they had sent my daughter to a photo booth where she took her own picture but they don’t use that picture.
“I think they do that just to give you something fun to do while you’re waiting,” she said.
That’s one way to look at it.
She was all smiles by the time she graduated to Line Six. After the three hour ordeal she was minutes away from holding in her hand the identification she needed to order a cold beer on tap in any bar in America.
The following day I braved the registry once again. I was worried about my marriage license but the woman at the first window didn’t bat an eye when she checked the document from Alberta, Canada where almost twenty five years ago my husband and I simply sat at a desk in a Triple A office in Calgary, where most people were picking up Trip-Tiks, raised our hands, and swore we were legally unencumbered and able to be married in Lake Louise where we were eloping along with eight friends and family who were joining us for the snowy nuptials.
On my second visit to the DMV the following day, it was at Line Two where I almost had a nervous breakdown. My proof of residency was now in question. The woman at the window was questioning one of two bills, a Verizon phone bill and a medical bill, mailed to my current address. I do not have a lease or a utility bill because that is included in the innkeeper’s employment package.
“This doctor bill says road not avenue,” she pointed out. I hadn’t noticed but it’s not surprising. It was from a walk-in clinic in Framingham, MA where they took the first X-ray of my broken ankles and found the reading inconclusive. Their diagnosis was a shadow on my right ankle and a possible torn fifth metatarsal on the left. They gave me a CD of the X-ray, an ace bandage for the left foot, and sent me on my merry way, suggesting I find an orthopedist when I got home.
Three days later in Torrington, the orthopedist I found online said he couldn’t read the X-ray and advised I just throw it away as it was a “piece of crap.” He took new X-rays and his office’s billing department won the race to my insurance company so they got paid and the clinic in Framingham was denied for a “service that had been previously adjudicated.” Adjudicated, in case you are unfamiliar with the word, is insurance speak for “we’re not paying for two X-rays in three days.”
Despite this potential problem, Window Lady Number Two took my debit card, and then told me my paperwork was going to the inspectors.
Every window at the DMV has a sign that reminds the weary citizens waiting in the various lines of the zero tolerance policy for workplace violence and harassment. It occurred to me during those two days sitting at the DMV, trying to read despite the automated voice that kept interrupting my train of thought with “A263 at Window Number Ten. D492 at Window Number Two”, that I was in the United States of America, in a government building, in a nation where many people are packing heat, patience is in short supply, and tempers are flaring. This would be a prime spot for a nutcase with a semiautomatic to take out his frustrations on the government, the state, or the multi-racial people I sit beside. There is no security checkpoint here, like so many other government buildings, but there is a sign with a picture of twenty or so terrorists who obtained false ID’s.
My sister sends me a text. A microburst has torn through the city of Warwick, Rhode Island. Trees are down, power is out, and her neighborhood looks like a war zone. I ask if everyone is okay. They are, but “It is hot and humid and tempers are flaring because only one Dunkin’ Donuts in all of Warwick is open.”
Having her on the line was a pleasant distraction. It may be difficult to read with the automated voice shouting “B62 at window 15” every minute or so, but I can text in any situation. A grocery store line, an office at a temp job, a noisy bar. We start sharing stress, releasing anxiety, bitching about life in the 21st century.
“When I get home I have to call Michelle’s college. They have her account on hold despite the fact they cashed the tuition check.”
“I just got a call from the bank. We’re co-signing Doug’s car loan and they want my two most recent pay stubs. I’ve been using direct deposit with the same bank for years. School is closed for the summer, they don’t mail the pay stubs, and why does the bank need them if they’ve been cashing my checks for years. The banker just told me my last debit purchase was at CVS an hour ago, so how the hell does she not have my pay stub info?”
“I bet this tuition problem is due to the fact the government thought Michelle dropped out of school. They sent her a bill for her college loan payment. It took me five phone calls and hours of my life to straighten it out. At least, I thought I had it straightened out, but who knows what other shit is going on.”
This went on until my phone died, but it helped pass the time and the inspectors must have been in a lenient mood that day. They let the Road pass for an Avenue. I left the DMV with a newly minted driver’s license and although I never get carded these days, I desperately longed for an ice cold beer on tap but it was only one in the afternoon.
It is Sunday afternoon after another busy weekend at the Inn. I am sitting on the porch where the Wi-Fi doesn’t work, trying to stop the world because I want to get off, but I can hear the phone ringing. I get up to answer it because it could be another reservation and the bonus we will earn for increasing business over last year’s numbers is always on my mind. It is an essential part of my meager retirement plan.
It is Steve from BJ’s. Two weeks ago we needed to stock up on the pre-measured bags of coffee we use at the Inn for the pots and pots coffee we make every day but for the second time in a row, this essential product was not on the shelf. Our supply was getting dangerously low so I roamed the aisles of the huge box store, looking for someone who worked there.
I found Steve, a handsome, friendly young man who told me he would look into it and get back to me.
A week later, I hadn’t heard from Steve so after we left the DMV we tried the BJ’s in Waterbury. No luck. They must have discontinued the item. How could they possibly do this? Don’t they sell to lots of restaurants and vendors and hotels? How could I manage having to measure twelve tablespoons of coffee for the eight to nine pots we average on a busy day? Mornings would never be the same.
But Steve was calling me to tell me he had gotten through to the manager of purchasing and told him the pre-measured bags of coffee were an item a lot of people needed and just today, on a Sunday, the delivery had arrived and the box of bags was back on the shelf.
“Now I don’t know if it was really my phone call that did it….”
“It absolutely was. Thank you so much. You are awesome.”
“No problem, it’s my job.”
Most of our day to day transactions are fraught with frustration, anxiety, bureaucracy, inane rules, and redundancy. Tomorrow I have to call the clinic in Framingham because they have been looking for me. They probably didn’t like the letter I sent informing them I was disputing the bill for the crappy X-ray. I also have to deal with insurance for the new car.
But this afternoon I am sitting on the porch looking out at the garden and repeating those five words. “No problem, it’s my job.” What a beautiful sentence.