Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Tale Of A Lost Car Tag...The Whole Story

I received my official Georgia 2016 car tag (usually comes in a blue envelop), three weeks late and in a handwritten unofficial envelop from a fellow in Chicago that said he received it by mistake.



Post Office screw up?

In another time, I would have chalked it up to clerk error at the local office but with identity theft all the rage now, it looks like I will need to go to the courthouse and see what's up.

Courthouses aren't a place that I spend a lot of time in--we have a new courthouse where I live and I've only been there one time--to renew my passport--but the last time I had to get any documentation about my car, that's where I went.

Parking is usually an issue up town, so imagine my surprise when I pulled into a spot right in front of the building. I gathered all the information--the letter I received from Illinois, last year's tag, my insurance card, my driver's license and was almost inside when I realized I forgot my reading glasses. I can't read anything closer than 24 inches--that's as far as I can reach with my arm (I measured)--without my glasses and figured I'd be reading all sorts of fine print before I got this latest bad customer service experience straightened out and went back and got them. If you're new to the blog you can check out my experience with the gas company and bad haircuts in earlier posts.

I retrieved my glasses, side-stepped a man-hole (I never step on those) and made my way to the front of the courthouse. The door gave notice that no firearms or weapons of any kind were permitted and I didn't give it another thought. Another surprising fact was that I was the only person around--I always thought the tax office was a hopping place.

Two officers swung into action when I walked inside. I placed my keys inside my purse and placed it and the paperwork into the gray plastic bin provided by the officer manning the x-ray machine. The other officer motioned me through the metal detector--it didn't beep (but I did make the sound in my head) and giving me a nod and smile stepped back to his place along the wall.

I waited for the bin to come through the x-ray and saw the officer frown slightly. He shook his head and then ran the tub through the machine again. "What's that?" he asked.

I looked at the screen, "That's my medical bag--it looks like a syringe."

"No, I can see that. This item right here," he said pointing to a dark spot.

I looked at the screen. For a moment, the thought "items appear closer (bigger) than they are", you know, what's written on car rear view mirrors popped into my head. "It could be a bottle of glucose," I said. I knew I had one in there and I didn't see it on the screen.

"No, it isn't that. It's right here," he said pointing to another, better defined blob.

"Hmmm, it could be a Chapstick," I said. "You're more than welcome to search it." Who knew I had such a large amount of suspicious-looking contraband in my purse?

"It looks like a knife," he said.

"Could be nail clippers. Does that count as a knife?"

"No, it doesn't," he said giving me a look.

"You can search it. I don't mind." (They must be bored)

"I think it's okay. Have a nice day," he said dismissing me.

I picked up my purse and smiled at the other officer. "Thanks, y'all have a good one. Is the tag office still in the basement?"

"Nope. It moved. Only thing here is court-related issues and court isn't in session this week. You gotta go to the old hospital for tax issues...

...Well, now I had the answers to several questions.

Court wasn't in session.

The tag office had moved.

And the cops WERE bored.

I walked back out to the car lost somewhere between my bad luck with customer service and an insane desire to know what the suspicious-looking object was inside my purse. I was rummaging around in the bag, not paying attention when I stepped off the curve and landed just to the right of the man-hole cover which threw off my balance and sent me and everything in my purse flying all over North Main Street.

I'm not as spry as I used to be, but I somehow managed to avoid the man-hole but ended up with my hand touching what was either mud or fecal matter of some kind. (I resisted the urge to sniff my hand.) After ascertaining that I was all right, my next response was to look around to see if anyone had witnessed my misstep and was relieved when I saw nothing except a puzzled pigeon that was now pecking at something that had fallen out of my purse. I stood up slowly and shooed the bird away as I picked up what had fallen out of my bag. The pigeon was poking around at a small package of Tums that I hadn't seen before. Maybe, that was the suspicious-looking contraband?

I used my one clean hand to gather up the rest of my belongings, opened the car door and sat down inside. Checking myself in the mirror, I reached to push my hair back and didn't catch myself before the dirty hand brushed my hair back into place. Yuck. It definitely wasn't mud.

Sometimes, shit happens, but luckily, I had a brand new container of Handi-wipes in the car and was able to exchange the poopy smell to one just as bad. Why do those things smell so bad? Thankfully, I didn't really notice anything in my hair, except a certain slicked-down area where my hand had been.

The old hospital--now the new administrative annex--was only a mile from downtown so I was there in a short time. I gathered all of my items again, minus the small package of tums (no need to look suspicious at the next x-ray machine) and went inside the building. I was surprised that there wasn't any security at the front door except the same sign prohibiting firearms and knives (I didn't have any) and followed the signs to the tag office.

I waited in line for a few minutes before a nice lady waved me over. The following is our conversation:

Clerk: "Hey. What can I do for you?"

Me: "Hey. Well, (placing the letter from Illinois on the counter) I finally received my car tag, and in the past, it only took three days, but this time it came from someone in Chicago and took three weeks."

Clerk: "What?"

Me: "This is what my car tag came in," (showing the letter) "Don't you guys use the blue envelops any longer?"

Clerk: "Yes, we do." She picked up the letter and examined it closely.

Me: "You can just make it out where somebody wrote 'Vehicle registration mailed to me' under the barcode,'" I said pointing it out to her.

Clerk: "Chicago? How in the world..."

Me: "That's what I thought."

Clerk: "How did it get to Illinois?"

Me: "Outsourcing..."

Clerk: "Outsourcing?" (giving me a look) "We don't do that there. How did it get to Chicago?"

I continued to stand there as she removed the car tag from the envelop and examined it closely.

Me: "It looks just like the one I got last year."

She continued looking at it before finally punching in a few numbers on her computer and frowning again.

Clerk: "Well, I'm the one that processed this a few weeks ago. Let me check the name of the person that mailed it to you to see if they are in the system."

The last name began with a "P" so there was always the chance the papers got stuck together somehow.

Me: "Find anything?"

Clerk: "Nope. I don't know how it got to Chicago." She examined it again before continuing "It looks perfectly fine. I don't see why there would be a problem just putting it on your license plate."

Really? I could see several problems such as identity theft, stolen tags or someone showing up at my house asking "Are you the MAFW?"

Me: "I don't know, I'm a bit worried about identity theft these days."

Clerk: "Well, this tag is linked to the VIN of your car, so you wouldn't have a problem if you got stopped."

I hadn't even thought about that. I haven't been pulled over in almost ten years, but I sure know I didn't want to try and explain to a Georgia cop that although my license and plate says I'm from Georgia, my yearly decal is from the Windy City. (Not sure I'd be able to talk my way out of that one.)

Me: "I want a whole new license plate."

The clerk examined the tag and envelop once again before agreeing with me. She punched a few more numbers on the screen, shuffled a few papers around and stopped short before reaching for one of the new plates sitting on a shelf beside her.

Clerk: "We got one small problem?"

Me: "What's that?"

Clerk: "I need your old plate."

Me: "Oh. Well, I have that. It's on my car."

Clerk: "Okay, for some reason, I thought it was in Chicago..."

I felt bad for the clerk because I still don't know how my car tag got to Chicago. It was confusing.

Clerk: "You got a screwdriver?"

What I wanted to say was "Why, does one of us have a screw loose?" But, what I actually said was not that bold.

Me: "No, I don't."

Clerk: "Okay, I've got one you can borrow if you want to take your plate off and bring it back so we can exchange it. Can you do it by yourself?"

This time I gave her a look. I knew how to handle a screwdriver well enough to remove a few screws from a license plate. (In Georgia, we only have one plate and it's in the back. The front plate usually has a UGA plate, a Nascar racing tag or is empty like mine.) I removed the plate easily and took it back inside. A line had formed while I was outside and now I stood outside the room waiting in line. It wasn't very long before I heard someone calling my name "Palmer," "Ms. Palmer," and finally the one that caught my attention "Wrong plate from Chicago."

I smiled at the six people that I moved ahead of in line and one man frowned at me. In his hand he carried stacks and stacks of paperwork. "I'm in a hurry," he said.

Me: "I've already been in line once and they sent me my car tag from Chicago."

Man in a hurry: "You go right ahead."

I handed the screwdriver and plate over to the clerk and watched as she punched a few buttons on the screen, shuffled a few papers around and handed me a new plate. Somewhere I had the thought of trying to explain what happened in her paperwork and couldn't help but ask.

Me: "What did you write in your reason code for giving me a new plate?"

The clerk for the first time offered a small grin.

Clerk: "I said the Post Office delivered it to the wrong state."

Maybe? But, who knows?

I thanked her and drove back home to have my lunch before continuing with my errands. I put the new tag on, gathered a few letters and headed to the Post Office.

I talked to several people in line and took my turn at the counter. I exchanged pleasantries with the clerk and told her of my lost car tag. As a former postal worker, I know that the Post Office gets blamed for everything and wasn't surprised when she said "It was probably delivered to the wrong house. You were lucky someone sent it to you."

I agreed with her and was about to walk out the door when she called after me. "Was it in the blue envelop?"

Me: "Nope. It was in a plain white envelop."

Postal clerk: "Doesn't surprise me one bit. Those people at the tag office screw up my stuff every time I go in there."

I'll never know how my car tag got delivered to a residence in Chicago, or maybe, I don't want to know. I do have the return address of the person that mailed it to me and I will probably send them a thank-you card.

It's the least I can do...and I just might ask about that blue envelop!

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