Apr 13


Category: Uncategorized

Recently, my friend Mike visited while on business in DC.  Mike was a professor when I was in college, and it’s always a joy to see him.  We picked him up from the train station and on the drive back to the house were enjoying fond memories when we were interrupted by the flashing lights of a patrol car pulling me over.  At first I thought it was for someone else – after all, I was driving at legal speed limits and doing nothing out of the ordinary.

But the light was flashing for me.  I pulled over and the trooper collected my papers without informing me of the reason for the stop.  While he performed his mysterious, time-consuming magic I contemplated how much of a joy-kill this was, as well as something of an embarrassment.  To pass the time we made shadow animals in the UFO glare of the policeman’s headlights.

Eventually I learned that my license plate light bulb was burned out.  This horrifying safety infraction apparently rendered my otherwise sound vehicle into a shambling junk heap deemed unsafe for operation, a hazard to other drivers.  I’m glad I live in an alert society; we can’t let people drive around in any old wreck.  Today, it’s just a license plate bulb, sure – but tomorrow, it’s a dome light, and then, no lights at all!  Hell, why not just do away with tires or brakes!  It’s a slippery slope.  And it must be stopped.  Beginning with my license plate light.

I received a repair order with a deadline of ten days.  Someone weaving recklessly down the road at 100 MPH would get a traffic ticket with a 30-60 day deadline; but certainly I understand that this light bulb was a weightier issue than a speeding ticket.   Exceptional situations demand unusual responses, no?

Ok.  So I’ve got ten days to replace a light bulb.  No biggie, I’ll just go to the local auto parts store and drop $2 on a bulb and… hey, wait a minute.  The repair order’s fine print specifies that only a licensed technician can certify that the repair meets Maryland standards.  Of course, I should have known.  A matter of this gravity cannot be addressed by a mere shade-tree mechanic, some straw-chewing bumpkin.  The drivers of Maryland’s highways demand better.  They demand safety, the kind that can only be guaranteed by professional license-plate light bulb technicians, graduates of the nation’s finest technical institutions.  In fact, this being a research corridor, maybe they used to work at NASA, or something like that.

Wait a minute… I used to work at NASA, building things that needed to be precise to divisions under one wavelength of light.  But it would be presumptuous of me to assume that license plate light bulb installation is any less complex… who am I to presume?  Do I have a degree in light bulb installation?  No.  Then, how could I posses the skill or the knowledge, to do it properly?  I could not.  Am I qualified?  Definitely not.  As they say: “quid erot demonstrandum.”

I must bow to the inevitable logic of the state and either pay to have the light bulb installed by a licensed technician, or if I must, install it myself, but have it inspected by a technician at a state inspection facility.  All within ten days.

This particular set of ten days was a busy one.  I was scheduled to leave for a business trip, and would effectively have only 2 or 3 days to get this done.  I also suffered a death in the family during this period.  As luck would have it, I was unable to deal with the issue until day #10.

I then dropped everything to deal with this critical issue.  If I let it slip, they would revoke my registration and start issuing fines immediately.  So I looked up the address of the nearest inspection station, left work and on the way to the station I stopped at the auto mart and spent $1.97 on some bulbs, which I installed in the parking lot in about 5 minutes.

I Arrived at the inspection station only to see an endless line of cars.  No problem, I had a whole 45 minutes before I had to leave, surely that would be enough time.  Wrong.  Never, ever underestimate the lethargy of the government.  Not only was 45 minutes not enough time; by the time this period had elapsed, the line had not moved.  Fuming, I left and went back to work so that i could attend a critical meeting.  An hour later, I left work again, this time stressed out because I could not spare the time.  I arrived to find a slightly smaller line.  This time I went inside to speak with someone.  “I don’t need the full service inspection,” I suggested hopefully, “Can someone just verify that the light works?”  The answer: no.  Not only that, but light bulb inspection isn’t even done at this location.  That particular piece of work is only performed by the most highly trained technicians at another site.

Sigh.  “OK, where do I go now?”  Answer: “We don’t know.”  Stunned, blank look from me.  Uhhhh… let’s try this again people.  You work here.  I am just a visitor!  WTF?  After much prodding on my part, they produced a brochure that someone thought might contain the address of the right place.  No phone number.  I had to just go there and find out for myself.

As the hour was getting late, and I was missing work, and the consequences of not getting my bulb inspected were dire, I rushed and distractedly, unintentionally ran a red light.  I was caught by an automatic camera – in the act of turning into the inspection station.  You will note that, just in case I had been inclined to dispute this second citation, that there is a distinct sticker on my car that reads “Dan.”

Regrettably, it being broad daylight, the images below do not show my now beautifully illuminated license plate.

Now I’ll give you one chance to guess what happened when I went inside.  I was practically foaming at the mouth, but was still polite to the people inside.  Do you think it was the right place?  Did you guess no?  Good.  Did you also guess that it took another 30 minutes to get there, and to wait in line?  Right again.  However, the second place did know where the hallowed hall of license plate light bulb inspection was located.  Of course, it was in a spectacularly inconvenient and remote place.

As it was now getting quite late in the day, I drove with all due haste to the second location, where an obese and marginally sentient state police officer sluggishly noted the proper installation of my license plate bulb, duly issued a receipt, and in that way, the good people of the state of Maryland were protected from hazardous driving conditions.

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1 Comment so far

  1. Niffer April 13th, 2009 4:06 PM

    Oh man. Don’t get me started on Maryland’s MVA. Both Michael and I still have nightmares about that place. If we want to blame our anger on anyone (even today, far far away in CO), we can surely trace it back to MVA. If you want details, I can share them. I’d rather not have to repeat years of counseling to try to get those memories out of my head.

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