Some of you may have heard part of this story before. To some, the details will be new but the overall theme will be one that everyone knows quite well. The local government in my town is crappy. Ok, I’ll say it, it pretty much sucks.
I wrecked our Camry on November 7, 2005. I know the exact date because Eli and I were returning from a really great trip to visit Andrew, Joy and new baby Sam. We had a rental for a couple of weeks after the accident and then we headed to the beach with Stephen’s family for Thanksgiving. During that trip, Stephen’s grandparents very graciously loaned us their car to use while we were looking at new cars. As it turned out, they decided to sell it to us and so we began the process of buying it from them just after the new year.
On January 9, 2006 I checked the local government’s website for a list of the documents that I would need to have to transfer the title. I went to stand in line on the 10th. I know this because I specifically arranged to go while Eli was at Mother’s Morning Out. It turned out that I didn’t have to stand in line anyway because not only did the website not tell me all the documents I would need, it also didn’t say that you could only do title and tag transfer at certain locations and oh yeah, because of the way the title had been typed both Stephen and I had to be there at the same time. (NEVER underestimate the power of the AND in government documents.)
So on January 17 both Stephen and I headed down to the correct facility to do this title tango with the intentions of completing the paperwork and then heading to lunch.
There were about 25 people in line in front of us.
We stood in line for almost two hours.
There were two processors working out of a possible six windows.
There was a women wondering around behind the desk eating yogurt and playing with her umbrella.
When we finally reached the desk to do our stuff, there was another couple at the processor’s window next to us. They proceeded to yell at her for about 10 minutes because they thought that she had spent an inordinate amount of time with the previous person in line. They accused her of making dates on “their” time and told her how inconsiderate they thought she was of people. At the time, I thought they were overreacting a bit and felt really sorry for the girl working there. We finished our stuff in what seemed to be a really short length of time and scrambled to get some lunch before I had to pick up Eli, again at his once weekly Mother’s Morning Out. I thought we were done with this project.
Boy was I wrong. I just didn’t know it yet.
We got our >$5 refund for the tags on the Camry.
I asked Stephen when he thought we might get our title in the mail.
On March 7, I emailed and asked for assistance from the local government website. This is what my email said, “I transferred my car title on January 17, 2006 and still have not received my updated title in the mail. Who do I need to call or can someone call me regarding this matter?”
This is the reply that I got back on March 8, “The VIN is needed to provide further assistance.” That was the complete email that I got from the state of Alabama. It wasn’t signed. There was no phone number.
So I sent the requested info and here is the second response I got on March 9, “There is no activity shown for this VIN. You should contact the DA that prepared your application to obtain the Remittance Advice Number (RA#) used to submit your application to the Department. Reply with the RA#, the RA# can be determine when and if the application was received.” (I’ve left the typos as is, this is exactly as it was in the email.)
The who and the what and the huh?
Stephen said I should call. Well, who do you call exactly? There’s no number in the phone book for the office where we placed our application and the other number is for the main facility in Montgomery. I called that number. She told me again there was no application on file for that VIN#. I asked her how that could be. She said she didn’t know and she gave me a local Huntsville number to call.
I called that number and got a lady that I will call J. I immediately fell in love with J. She talked to me as if I were a real person with thoughts and feelings and that maybe I didn’t have a career’s worth of time to contribute to getting my tags changed over. She sounded like my grandma.
She found my name on a list (I imagine J’s office is covered floor to ceiling with lists of people in and around Huntsville who need paperwork for their cars) and told me that my application for title transfer had been destroyed.
She said that there were two batches of title paperwork that the USPS had destroyed.
You mean if someone at the post office is having a bad day they set fire to mail? Is that what happened? I’m still not clear on what “destroyed” means by the way and oh yeah, why had no one contacted us about this?
J seemed unconcerned and said she would send me the paperwork that VERY day for a replacement title and no, of course, I would not be required to pay again.
You guessed it.
I finally got an envelope from Mark Craig, License Director, postmarked March 23. Two WEEKS after talking to J on the phone. I immediately wrote a note to Stephen’s grandmother and dropped it, the application requiring her signature and an addressed envelope for her to put it in in the mail. She called me the next day and said she had gotten it, had signed it and that she would put it in the outgoing mail the next day.
Yep, more time passed.
I had to renew the tags on that car in April. No one cares at the tag renewal office if you have a title to the car you are driving or not.
Now we’re getting to the modern part of the story.
Last week I thought I’d preemptively call J and see what was going on. Since it seemed like enough time had passed and I was getting that itchy feeling on the back of my neck that told me there was something wrong with this set of paperwork as well.
A women named S answered the phone. My first thought was, “Oh no! Where’s J!?” (Ok, it turns out that J was not a tremendous amount of help but she was at least nice on the phone and seemed like she might know what was going on.)
J was too busy sending someone else’s replacement paperwork in the crazy mail but S assured me that she would check with J and see where we were.
Ten minutes later, S called me back!
Yeah, that’s right, someone in a government office in Alabama called me!
I felt like a rock star.
S said not to worry that not enough time had elapsed yet to be concerned. It was probably all fine but that she would make sure that J knew what was going on and let me know if the status of anything changed.
Yesterday when the mail came I heaved a huge sigh of relief. Here, finally, was the piece of paper that said my car was all legal and proper like.
I opened the envelope and guess what?
The title is made out to Stephen’s grandparents mailed to our address.
I STILL don’t have a title with my name on it to this car.
I’ve been driving it for SIX months. I’ve doubled the milage on it since I’ve gotten it. I’m starting not to care anymore if I have a title or not. Since the State of Alabama doesn’t seem to care, why should I? And I’m thinking if this is this hard for me, how much harder is it for the old and infirm?
I just got off the phone with someone at J’s number. This women’s name is A. I have to have this title signed by Stephen’s grandparents, a bill of sale and the original title transfer application so I don’t have to pay the fee again AND the best part: stand in line again to have the paperwork processed.
So Mark Craig, License Director, if you are reading this, you won’t be getting my vote in the next election.
Mostly because I won’t be able to drive my car to the voting place since I don’t have a title.