By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
By Michael Roberts
By Melanie Asmar
Whatever. All I know for certain is that my cherry-colored Nissan spent more than a few lovely autumn afternoons on a college-sponsored joyride atop the back of a flatbed. When graduation day came, that little red car sped out of Maine and into Boston so fast that it not only got a ticket, it also forgot to pay for it.
There were two things I quickly learned about Bean Town: 1) When a Boston cop pulls you over, nine times out of ten (and believe me, I counted), he isn't gonna run your out-of-state license, because it's just too damn much work; and 2) What they lack in license-running laziness, they make up tenfold in their fairly indiscriminate distribution of parking violations. In Boston, you can pretty much get a parking ticket even if your car's still moving. And then there's the boot. You double park, you get the boot. You forget to plug a meter, you get the boot. You have Minnesota plates, you get the boot. And when you leave your car, hazards flashing, on the sidewalk in front of Aldo for just a moment to go see if they have those cute, clompy boots in a size seven? That's when they just take it away. Over the span of eighteen months, that naughty red hatchback spent three cold and lonely nights in car jail.
From this, normal people might conclude that they need to grow up. I, however, concluded that I needed a new car. One without such a checkered past. One in a less obvious color. So the little red zipster was replaced by a more clandestine black Jeep. But it was just a matter of months before the violations piled up and the Jeep got thrown into the SUV slammer. Time to grow up? No! Time to leave the state. My scofflaw CJ7 and I set off on a cross-country trip to Colorado.
When my nefarious automobile and I rolled into town, we faced several issues. For starters, licensing required an emissions inspection. And if you've ever had a late-'80s CJ, you know those parts-purging pieces of poop can't legally pass emissions tests to save their rivets. Failing to find a mechanic that specialized in under-the-counter emissions stickers, I slipped into my familiar fallback position: Time for a new car. (By now, you're probably wondering how you buy a car and get insurance, a title and plates without a valid driver's license. It's not all that hard. It's more or less a case of the right hand doesn't even know there's a left.)
About a year into my time here, someone tells me there's a steep fine for having a Minnesota license and Colorado plates. Of course, I'm sure there's a steep fine for driving without a license, but, sheesh, one thing at a time. Selectively conscientious denizen that I am, I trot down to the DMV and turn in my worthless MN license for a brand-new CO one. I explain to the woman behind the counter that I need to swap my Minnesota license for a Colorado one, while mentally pretending I'm actually exchanging a sweater at Neiman's. She asks if I have any outstanding violations, tickets, warrants or the like. I look shocked. "Of course not," I say, smiling. She glares. (Charm, for the record, gets you squat at the DMV.) She runs my license through the system. Miraculously, it clears, and I get a shiny new Colorado license. Internally, I leap for joy, thinking I've finally beaten the system. Externally, I run like hell out of there before someone matches my face to the faxed version tacked up on the police bulletin board.
A week or so later, a letter shows up at my house. Someone at the DMV with an IQ no greater than lunchmeat has pieced my sordid past together and tells me my license is, in fact, not valid at all. And would I please mail it back until I clear up my outstanding issues? That letter gets catalogued in the circular file and never crosses my mind again.
That was three years ago. Fast forward to last month, when, begrudgingly, I deem it high time for this charade to end. I call the DMV to find out what I have to do to clean out my mess kit. Like most things at the DMV, the solution is far worse than the original problem. First, I have to contact every state in which I have a violation and find out how much I owe. Okay. Minnesota: $225; Maine: $185; Massachusetts: $580 (bastards!); Michigan (I haven't even ever lived there! It was simply a pit stop between Maine and Minnesota!): $85. Grand Total: $1,075. (This is absurd! My mortgage isn't this much!) But I bite the bullet, pay it and vow never to pull money out of my 401(k) again. However, no sooner had I made this promise than I am informed that I now have to pay a reinstatement fee. When I tell the woman this is highway robbery, she points out that this is the Department of Motor Vehicles and tells me to just write her the check for $40 so she can go on a smoke break. That final paltry payment made, I ask for my license back. She grins with all the cold-blooded Grinch-heartedness of a government employee and tells me all I have to do now is retake my written and driving tests.