Feb 09, 2016
A while ago I did the usual song-and-dance with the California DMV to renew the registration of my vehicle, as one does periodically. Due to the fact that I live in a fairly high-infrastructure area (not quite New York City, but certainly not as underdeveloped as Pittsburgh or the part of the DC metropolitan complex I used to reside in are in this respect) it's actually kind of rare that I need to actually drive anywhere. If I can't walk to it in half an hour or therabouts I can take BART and not think much of it (usually because I can catch up on my reading during the trip). So, I paid however much I needed to renew the registration and forgot about it because it was going to take a couple of days for the new registration and stickers to arrive in the mail. Due to the fact that the process to renew a registration is much less involved than the process to get registered in the first place it didn't seem like such a big deal.
A few days ago it suddenly struck me that I hadn't gotten the new paperwork in the mail and set about making inquiries of the California DMV. As John Scott Tynes once observed, when you scratch history it bleeds weirdness; the same principle holds when trying to figure out what may or may not have gone wrong inside the bowels of the Department of Motor Vehicles, a realm which I feel certain that no earthly sorcerer or adventurer should investigate too deeply lest it awaken and devour the unwary.
Long story short, they managed to (internally and on the card) get the address on my driver's license correct (they won't actually tell you what it is, you have to read off what's on it and they'll give you a "Yes" or "No" answer, sort of like the planchette of the world's most fucked up Ouija board) but they got the registration address of my vehicle completely and totally wrong. By this, I mean that they somehow managed to combine my old address in Maryland and my new address in California into something completely off-the-wall in their database, get it past the usual sanity checks (though I think I'm being overly idealistic in my supposition that there are address sanity checks in their back-end database, I don't think those were a thing when the system was built), but get the address of registration superficially correct appearing on the paperwork. They sent the new tags and paperwork to this completely fucked address, where it's probably sitting collecting dust at a Post Office's dead letter drop. Moreover, once the errors were identified I was informed that the DMV cannnot correct the error online or over the phone, nor can they issue new tags. I have to wait until a full month has passed since the error was detected, show up in person with supporting documentation, and straighten the problem out manually. I believe that a full cycle of sacrifices must be made at the correct times for the process to correctly initiate. This may also have something to do with the relative maturation rates of the sacrifices themselves (black and purple hens with heterochromic eyes don't exactly grow on trees, you know).
Contrast this with one of my cow-orkers who made the journey into the Plane of DMV Torment some days ago while their back-end database system was offline, meaning that every process was carried out manually by the employees there. Thirty minutes, in and out, and she walked out with all of the correct paperwork required and no errors.
Here's what I had to do to start fixing the problem:
I showed up at the DMV office without an appointment, went to the front desk, and calmly described the problem with relevant paperwork in hand (vehicle registration, driver's license, receipt for renewal, and a couple of supporting pieces of documentation that proved where I live even though they wound up not being used (because I still don't trust the DMV)). They did confirm that something was very wrong with their records, and I was issued a form signed and stamped by the California DMV that states that the car has a valid registration even though the tags are out of date (that they keep the form and stamp ready to hand speaks volumes about the state of their databases), made an appointment to get their records fixed (which happens to be 30 days from when they mailed out the new tags), and issued me a form that I need to fill out in advance to start the process (again, that they keep this form ready to hand at all times is telling).
My appointment at the DMV was yesterday morning. I showed up with the form they gave me filled out (correct address in place, requesting new month and year sticker and corrected vehicle registration card), my old and incorrect vehicle registration card, and my driver's license. After standing in the "I have an appointment" line for about an hour and getting my queue ticket, I waited for another hour or two, got up to the desk, and explained my situation. I handed over my paperwork and inside of five minutes my DMV records were corrected and I had a corrected vehicle registration card in hand along with an updated vehicle registration sticker for the license plate. My car's now completely street-legal.