How the NC DMV Nearly Brought Me Down!

I am one tenacious woman and there has been little in my life that has ever reduced me to a complete puddle (aside from really major events), but I tell you, it nearly happened last week.

It began innocently enough, when my many sons (I have 5 living) and I, decided that the only fitting birthday gift for my husband, would be a BMW convertible! Shep was turning 60, and as Peter my 25 year old son said, “I have always wanted to buy dad a convertible!” We agreed that it would need to be a complete surprise. Having very limited funds and limited time as well, this would be no easy project, so we began looking on Craigslist for possibilities. The prices were high in North Carolina, because, as I soon realized, convertible weather has a long shelf life and with Fall arriving, the perfect time of year. Peter lives in Boston and has been very ill for quite some time. When I looked on Craigslist Boston — aha — many possibilities existed. Prices were dropping there, with the advent of cooler weather.

Now, who could send a 25 year old male looking at cars and have him choose anything other than the bright red convertible 5-speed he chose? The seller claimed he had checked everything out and had a mechanics report to show for that. Peter, then got the title and there began a series of catastrophes that would never end. He put the title in my husband’s name and if you know anything about titles — there is no changing one, once the die is cast.

Peter sent the title by overnight mail to a neighbor’s mailbox so as to keep his dad from seeing any of these covert operations. Snafu number one was that those neighbors were away and the mail carrier left a notice that had to be signed for receipt of this package. It took a great deal of pleading with the post office to finally allow me access to this package and off I ran to the local Motor Vehicle Department.

It was 4:50 pm when I got there and after waiting on a long line, anxious about the doors closing before my turn, I was told, “Uh, uh, you cannot register this car. The title is NOT in your name. I begged, but well, you know how flexible the DMV is. I began to get a little panicky as to how this would all happen.

My sister, Alice was going moving from Raleigh to Wilmington, the next day and I had agreed to spend the night with her in anticipation of the early a.m. moving van. So, I headed to Wake Forest to do just that. Her husband, Roman had died 9 months earlier, and getting everything ready for moving was a huge task for her alone. Roman was morbidly obese for much of his life and hard as he tried, was never able to overcome his addiction. I spent the night in her bed with her, and as I lay right in the spot where her husband had died, I felt a lot of sadness and curiosity. He and I had a very poor relationship, yet, I find a I have felt tremendous compassion for him in his last miserable months of life. While my sister snored in a deep sleep, I stared at the ceiling, partly sad for Roman dying, and partly dreading my visit to the next DMV office in the morning.

I was nervous the next day and could hardly wait for 9 am when the Wake Forest DMV would open. The moving van did not arrive as promised at 7 am and didn’t in the next few hours either. I went to the DMV with papers in hand, waited on line, handed in everything and was told, “Nope, you need to get this other paper signed.” This was a totally different paper than the first one, but things were getting worse, not better. I was getting desperate and called my sister and told her I would be back shortly, but first I would be driving to Durham where I would need to obtain my husband’s signature on this title, without him knowing what he was signing. How would this happen? Shep works for the City of Durham. This is not some cozy little office with a bunch of folks I know. The one co-worker I do know, had taken the week off. So, while I drove to Durham, I wracked my brain trying to think of how I would pull this off. Finally, I called my husband’s boss, and asked him if he would be willing to ask Shep to sign a piece of paper without knowing what he was signing. He agreed to do so.

I parked in a secluded spot, called the boss, folded down the title and application for plates so that none of the information showed and despite my ragged, unshowered, moving-day-unkempt look, met with him outside. I waited patiently for him to get the signature and then headed to the nearest Durham DMV. I waited on yet another long line only to be told when I got to the counter, that no plates were distributed here because this was a location for driver’s licenses only! In disbelief, I climbed back into my car and headed for the local mall where they sent me to yet another DMV. This would be my fourth one. This one was even bigger and had an even longer line than all others, but I waited nervously, knowing that I finally had all the papers, signed, sealed and delivered that I could possibly need. But, just to be sure, I also signed one of the applications where both spouses could sign, before I walked in.

At the counter, a very dweeby guy awaited. He looked through the papers and said, “Oh, this paper is folded down. You cannot have the signature part of an application folded.” “What?” I asked in a high pitched, nearly hysterical voice. “Are you kidding? I asked in an even higher pitch. “I am simply trying to get license plates for a car which I am trying to keep a surprise. I am not doing anything illegal, I am not hurting any one. I am trying to do a nice thing. Please do not make it impossible for me to do this.” “Sorry ma’am these are the rules and you cannot use this paper because in addition it has your signature on it, which does not belong on it. And, you also need his drivers license.” No one in any of the four offices I had been to, had requested a drivers license. This was a whole new twist. I would never be able to get this without my husband suspecting. Had I known this in the morning, I would have taken it from his wallet, but as I said, no one had ever requested a copy of his license. OH NO, I thought, would someone please hand me a gun to shoot myself, NOW! In the meantime, let us keep in mind, I am an hour away from my sister’s house, the movers have arrived and she is alone handling the whole move, unhappily, I might add. By now, I have to pee so badly that I can barely walk, but this is the DMV, after all, and so comfort is not a priority and bathrooms are non-existent.

I have become Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. No matter how many times I slay or bludgeon the witch, I never quite get the right broom and sure enough each time I journey to the Wizard, he asks for another impossible-to-get broom! I cannot get it right.

I begged for a supervisor and when one came and reiterated the same litany, I completely lost it… I started swearing at the top of my lungs, I threw myself on the floor and began to cry and cry. They asked me to leave and all the struggling earthly beings in this office, waiting on line, began to laugh and to jeer, wondering just how they would cart me off to the nearest mental health unit. I was told that I was causing a disturbance to all in the office and I would be removed from the premises if I did not get up off the floor and leave. It was then that I began crying so hard and so irrationally, and realized that I had now peed in my pants, in total and complete exhaustion and humiliation. Finally, I dragged myself up off the floor, still realizing that I only had until 1 pm to get the paper work in overnight mail to my Boston son, so that he could get the car on the road in time to arrive in North Carolina. It was a complicated arrangement and none of it was working, but in my usual completely stubborn way, I would not give up. I called my son and screamed and cried and said to just return the damn car and forget that this plan ever existed. I felt as if I would have a stroke right there in my minivan as I felt my throat and eyes bulging. I screamed and screamed at my poor, sick kid and used every swear word I had ever heard, to MY SON! He kept telling me to calm down and to breathe, which only made me more angry. Apparently, when he got off the phone he called his older brother, the middle school teacher, who was on a deserted island off the coast of Maine with 10 students, and told him, “Mom has completely lost it and is totally freaked out and I don’t know what to do.” Of course, what on earth could the son on the island possibly do?

So, just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I drove back to my husband’s city office. I called his boss again, sobbing to his secretary that we would need him to sign yet another paper, covered, but not folded. Lord have mercy. She was so kind and said, “You know, some days are just not good and nothing goes right.” Yep, that’s about the gist of it, I thought. And so, between my tears, I drove back again and waited outside, however, when I said that I would now need his license as well and wondered how we would do that, she said, “We have that on file, because he drives city vehicles.” “Thank you God,” I thought. However, when I got there, the woman in charge of the licenses said that she didn’t know me and couldn’t just give me his license! She came outside, looked me over (never had I looked so horrific, so homeless looking, so desperate and older than Methuselah!) and she questioned my status. “Look, I said, I am his wife, his damned wife for 31 years…. Right now, I wish I wasn’t. In fact, I wish I was not even remotely related, but indeed, I am, so will you please give me the copy of his license?” She looked at me with pity and I am sure she still feels very sorry for my husband, married to such a lunatic, but she did give me the copy of the license.

Back to the DMV, I went, and was required to stand in the long line again. By now, I had found a bathroom and I had composed myself, despite my soaring blood pressure. When I got to the desk, I requested a supervisor right away and she started to say, “Let’s just check to see if you have everything and in fact, let’s have someone else double check.” “Don’t even go there, I said… believe me, there is nothing else in the universe, that I could possibly bring you that would further legitimize my request for this license plate. ” And wham, just like that, she handed me the plates and said, “Thanks.”

It was 12:30 pm and like a bat out of hell, I jumped on the road, searching for a post office, all the way back to Wake Forest, where sure enough there was one in a brand new, Ace Hardware. I ran through the store, plates in hand, to a lady who started chatting, asking me if I was having a good day. She could just as easily have been asking me to recite the Qua ran from cover to cover, as I looked at her in disbelief. “Please just get these plates to Boston by tomorrow morning” I begged. I ran out and got to my sisters in time for the moving van to leave and I felt as if I had let everyone in the world down, taken years off my life, but dammit, the new BMW convertible would be a surprise!

That night as I lay in bed, still trying to do yoga breathing and attempt some sort of recovery, when my husband said to me, “Did you know that the Durham DMV is in a new location?” In the dark of our bedroom, my eyes nearly popped out of my head. “What? I said, “Why do you ask that?” “Well, he said, I was there today at lunch time, about 12:45 or so and it is in a whole new location.” “You were there today at 12:45? I queried. “Yes, I had to return Oliver’s old plates.” “Are you kidding me?” “Why are you acting so odd about this?” Can you even imagine if he had walked in there and seen me in my puddle of hysteria on the floor of that very DMV office? All I could do was to slam my eyes closed and summon sleep. This day HAD to end!

A few days later, we all took my husband out for Ethiopian food, had a wonderful time and parked outside the restaurant was indeed, the RED BMW convertible. Shep was in fact, completely surprised and swooned in delight. Unless it is sub-zero weather, which in North Carolina is rarely he case, he drives with the top down, beaming in his beamer. I suppose it was worth it, but it was so hard to imagine at the time…