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A crash course in vehicular necessity

Whoa! If I had doubts about the planet's collective insanity, or at least this hemisphere's, a trip to the Motor Vehicle Department dispelled them.

It's Monday morning. The clouds gracing the lower peaks of the Catalinas remind me why--all my bitching and moaning aside--we live here. But no more time for stillness. Some fool, going faster than the gods allow, ran a stop sign last week. Today, I'm driving to the MVD because of his mindlessness.

On the way there, absurdity comes along for the ride. The driver ahead of me is weaving from one side of the road to the other. Though there is no change in the posted limit, her speed varies by 10 mph as her car slaloms from the centerline to the shoulder. Approaching a green light, she brakes. Braking at a light! She is so bloody cautious, she is a collision-in-the-making. At the same time, I've got a serious contender for the Stupid Driver of the Day Award behind me.

Mr. Lexus, an older gent who clearly has more money (or debt) than brains (a dangerous combination), is driving, talking on a cell phone and sipping coffee (or maybe his morning vodka) as he creeps up my rear end. Had this idiot caused a mishap by crashing into my rental car, whose life, dear readers, do you think would have been more negatively affected?

We're not looking for a cosmic answer here: Just consider the usual, day-to-day goings-on of male-of-means Mr. Lexus versus your will-do-most-anything-for-work freelance writer.

Arriving at the MVD, I find the parking lot full. Hopeful latecomers circle. Some sit in idling vehicles, waiting for a space to be made available by drivers lucky enough to be finished and on their way by 9:30 a.m. Large cars, humongous trucks and SUVs--the vehicular version of the Antichrist--line up as the front-runner waits for the early bird to pull out and away. A small number of vehicles are parked along the drive, not in designated spaces, but neither in clearly marked no-parking zones. I join them, hoping for the best.

The information line is not too backed up, maybe 20 or so persons waiting to be processed. Approaching the counter, the line splits, and the words of an insurance claims adjuster sound in my brain, "It all depends which clerk you get." I surrender to chance.

I'm next, but just before it's my turn, the clerk to my right shows a guy hoping to earn a driver's license where to write his Social Security number on the form. Hey, I think, directing my thoughts to the applicant, you don't have to do that. Resist. It doesn't work, and the poor schnook follows what he believes is an order. He wants to drive.

The line splits to the left and the right. Choose a waiting room. But keep within earshot of the computer-generated voice, or within sight of the digital display. In time, they will direct you to a numbered cubicle.

There are people everywhere. People plastered to cell phones, people chatting, eating, drinking, staring into space, nodding off, flirting, entertaining their kids, scolding their children, nursing infants. Waiting. Lots of people. Waiting. Few reading.

Some are gaping at the waiting room's scrolling marquee announcing the health tip of the day as well as world, national, business and entertainment news. (There's something about government bonds and a new "reality" show.)

My number's called, and the portents are not good. I chose the wrong waiting room and have to now wend my way to the other side of the building.

I have a hunch this will not be easy. I realize, too late, that Monday's odds are not in my favor. There's a minor glitch with the title, and the clerk, forced to live her working life in a cubicle only slightly wider than a coffin in exchange for state retirement, isn't cheerful.

She looks at the title and starts scolding me about something. Then she asks me what I want. Whatever works, whatever's easier, I tell her. But she insists, what is it you want?

By now, it's clear her morning (or maybe her entire life) was lacking in the requisite daily minimum requirement of belly laughter, and I might be in deep doodoo if I play this wrong. Things go from slightly bad to the-clerk-is-now-raising-her-voice bad, and I realize it's time to push back.

Thirty minutes later, I've got what I came for. But I could be wrong. She's got the computer; all I have is paper. Time will tell.

I book out of the parking lot and pull under the shade of a mesquite down the road thinking: More cars equal more insanity. There has to be a better way.

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