The DMV: Every Day Brings New Adventure

               

              I recently traded Italian sports cars with a guy in South Georgia.  His small town banker held his car's title along with a substantial note on the car. I sent his banker my signed title, and the banker released the lien on the seller's title, forwarding it to me along with a Georgia DMV form signed by the seller and his wife giving me Power of Attorney. The car was delivered several days later. The following day, I took the title, proof of insurance, the Power of Attorney document, and my checkbook to the nearest Georgia DMV office, expecting a slam-dunk registration event.  The clerk, a chubby, middle-aged woman with all the apparent symptoms of DMV attitude, curtly informed me that I would be unable to register the car, insofar as the “current registered owners” hadn’t signed the title.  I offered the notarized document, signed by both owners, giving me their Power of Attorney in all matters pertinent to this new car, a  lovely yellow Mangusta.   

This POA was “invalid,” it seemed, because while the owners could have assigned valid power of attorney to any other living adult human on the planet, who then would have had the DMV’s blessing to sign the sacred title as seller, I was excluded from this vast pool because I was the buyer. 

“What does that have to do with it?” I queried.   

“The same person cannot be both the buyer and seller. That would be a conflict of interest.” 

“Whose interest is conflicted?” I responded, with mounting confusion.  It seemed to me that this would be the ideal situation, insofar as both parties, of one flesh, were present for the Sacrament of Transfer.  What could be more simple?

The DMV lady stared blankly into my face and, with a tone implying that only an idiot would need such a simple matter explained, relayed, “This title is a legal document.  The seller is testifying to the correctness of the stated odometer reading.  The buyer is agreeing to this reading.  This is to protect the buyer from fraudulently misstated mileage.  You know, sellers HAVE been known to lie about the mileage,” she intoned with clear exasperation at having to explain the obvious. 

“But I AM the buyer.  I don’t need to be protected from bamboozling myself.  Anyway, the mileage was already written in.  I don’t see where the conflict of interest is,” I pleaded incredulously. 

Having concluded that my comprehensive abilities were hopelessly opaque, she gave up in her efforts to educate me, falling back on the ultimate explanation—a variant of the one we’ve all used with our children when their tenacity overcomes our patience:  “Because I’m the dad and you’re the kid,” or in her case, “The same person cannot sign as the buyer and seller.  It’s the law.” 

“OK,” I acquiesced in a tone of hopeless victimization.  “So I’ve got to send this back to the sellers for their signatures?”

“Either that, or have them give Power of Attorney to your wife or somebody else to sign for them—as long as your wife’s name isn’t going to appear as a new owner,” she offered, handing me my documents. 

The epiphany struck as I crossed the Government Center parking lot.  I had both parties’ signatures on the Power of Attorney document.  I could render a reasonable likeness of each, and I was legally authorized to sign their names.  There was a satellite DMV office not far from my home in the other direction.  I’d go home, practice my best hand at rendering, sign their names on the title, scoot over to the other DMV location, and be done with it.   

I arrived at the satellite location later that afternoon and took a number.  After a relatively brief wait, I reached the head of the line.  I eagerly watched the red LED sign announce my number, directing me to Window #5.  Approaching the window, I was pleased to note that the clerk was a sweet little muffin not a day over twenty.  This would be a piece of cake.  Nonchalantly, I tossed the title, insurance card, and my driver’s license onto the counter and withdrew checkbook and pen from my pocket.

The muffin poked at her keyboard, earnestly noting whatever it was that appeared on the screen of her monitor.   

“Just a minute,” she smiled and rose from her stool, walking back past Windows #4, #3, #2, and #1 to the rear corner of the location, through a door into another area of the building.  With mounting interest, I watched the door for her reemergence.  In several minutes, the muffin led a small procession back to Window #5.  I sensed the formation of a Court of DMV Inquiry. 

 

In her company was a stern looking woman and an armed Georgia State Trooper who looked to be about seven feet in height, Smokey hat and all. 

“Were you at one of our other locations earlier today?” inquired the stern looking woman. 

“Yes,” I replied innocently.  “Why do you ask?” 

“Who signed this?”  she probed, pointing to my well-rendered signatures of Jeffery and Lou Ellen Hutcheson.

I had learned as a very young boy that one lie inevitably leads to another, then another, and ultimately disgrace, embarrassment, and humiliation.  It had long ago become a rule of practical necessity to simply tell the truth.  “I did,” I offered with the assuredness and self-satisfaction of a frat boy who’d just won the fart lighting contest. 

The trooper seized the title from the stern looking woman and gestured to it with his huge trigger finger.  “So you forged these two signatures on this document????” he asked menacingly, fully expecting that my answer would result in Georgia's first-ever felony collar at the DMV office.

“Sure,” I answered in my best Beaver Cleaver innocence. “I have Power of Attorney to sign for them. Isn’t that what Power of Attorney means—that I can sign their names?”

 

"Where is it?" he challenged sharply.

“Out in my car,” I Beavered demurely. 

“Go get it,” he demanded.       

I returned with the POA document, watching him with the smugness of a fourth grader whose big brother happens on the scene just as the neighborhood bully is cocking his arm.  He scrutinized it, mumbled something to the stern looking woman, and peeled out of the formation, retreating to the room behind the corner door.  

Returning both documents and my license to me, she admonished, “You’ll need to get the sellers to sign the title before you can register as the buyer.” She turned on her heel and also stomped back to the door in the corner.

Most of the time, you can outsmart stupid rules or irrational policies, but not when the force of law underlies the stupidity.  I crumbled into compliance.  I lined out my signatures and FedExed the title back to the Hutchesons for theirs.  They signed it and FedExed it back to me a couple of days later. 

Armed with the officially signed title, I returned to the satellite DMV office.  By luck, I drew Window #5, but instead of the muffin, the window was staffed by a middle-aged woman with a pleasant smile.  Reviewing the front, then the back of the title, her smile vanished, furrows appeared across her brow, and she apologetically advised, “This document has a correction.  You’re going to need their affidavit explaining this first set of crossed-out signatures.  Either that or the sellers need to apply for a new title.” 

“I was in here last week and some woman from back there,” as I pointed to the corner door, “told me to have the sellers sign this document.  That’s exactly what I did.  She didn’t say anything about an affidavit or applying for another title.  Can you please go back there and bring out the lady I talked with last week?” 

She excused herself, my title in hand, and headed for the corner door.  I could feel my pulse quicken.  I was beginning to sense the onset of a major case of the redass. 

The stern looking woman from the previous week’s episode came out of the corner door and walked briskly to Window #5 with Pleasant Smile chugging along in her wake. Before I could recite my verbatim recount of last week’s instructions, she assaulted me with her quintessential gotcha.  

“You can’t submit a motor vehicle title with names crossed out.  Look.  It says right here in large red letters:  NOTICE: ANY ALTERATIONS VOID THIS TITLE.  Just below that it says SUBMIT A SIGNED AND NOTARIZED AFFIDAVIT EXPLAINING ANY ERRORS.  Can’t you read???” 

“Look,” I countered meekly, figuring to throw my seemingly illiterate self at her mercy. “All I want to do is register this car I bought.  The bank acknowledges I own it.  The sellers acknowledge that I own it. Notaries have testified to the legitimacy of all these signatures.  The car is out there in your lot.  Go look at it.  Take it for a ride.  Here is the key.  Here is my proof of insurance.  What more do you people want?"

The DMV likes to see us grovel.  It validates their self-appointed superiority and reinforces their mastery over us.  They alone have the power to elevate one’s status from pedestrian to motorist, and they know it. 

The stern looking woman, acknowledging her victory, adopted a demeanor of enhanced condescension, advising me that the Hutchesons needed to apply for a replacement title, or alternatively, submit a notarized  Affidavit of Correction since, as far as the DMV was concerned, they still owned the car---signatures, paper, and possession not withstanding.  (. . . to be continued)

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DMV Frustrations