I have to give it to the state of Utah for amazing efficiency in government. The irony is that Utahns hate the government. Pretty sure it goes back to The Utah War of 1857. It was a relatively uneventful skirmish, but apparently there are still some ruffled feathers. The expediency with which they execute the delivery of a drivers license or other services is quite remarkable. Very few things stress me out, but back in Michigan the thought of a visit to the secretary of state or county building would make my innards churn. There are still departments that require you to fax certain documents. Just close your eyes for a moment and think about that.
Utah has found an incredibly novel way to cut wasted time, energy, and of course jobs, from the process by using a primitive device that was invented in the 1980’s by Al Gore called the internet. It is a worldwide repository of almost anything you can imagine; although it is mostly used for pornography and sensationalized media meant to distract the proletariat from “The Real Issues.” Utah has found a way to use this “internet” to allow a person to renew their drivers license, and perform countless other acts of citizenship, through devices such as laptop computers and telephones. Additionally, one can preview a schedule of fees for all of these services. This is an interesting departure from popular Detroit system of dirty looks, cash only payments, no receipts, and services often only partially rendered or not even attempted.
I spent several summers as a pedicab operator in Detroit. The owners of the firm gave all potential applicants an intelligence test before making hiring decisions. The test was simply to successfully obtain a pedicab operators license from the city of Detroit. Sounds easy right? Here’s how it goes: (and please understand that this process can vary widely depending on time of day, who is working, how they feel, etc. etc. etc.)
Step 1: Obtain a copy of your driving record
If you’re new to the inner workings of Detroit, you will have budgeted an hour or two for all of this. This seems reasonable as you are merely trying to get a laminated card with your mugshot on it. Your day begins at the 36th District Court where you need to obtain a copy of your driving record and a drivers clearance. Being a millennial, you arrive on bike with a messenger bag made of reclaimed timber framed houses. In this bag is a laptop, a kindle, a pen, a spork, a rusty nail, and a few other artifacts that you have needlessly been carrying around for six months hoping to find a purpose for them. It’s 8:05. The courthouse just opened and there is already a line to get in. You notice quickly that despite Detroit being one of the most friendly places you know of, nobody here is happy. Most people came to settle minor infractions such as speeding tickets or driving without insurance. An officer walks out the door and makes an announcement to everyone that no bags of any kind are allowed in the building. The gasps start. The fortunate few to have arrived within the confines of their own motorized chariots rush back to lock their bags in the trunk. Everyone else, including you, are stuck wondering what you will do with your belongings. I am amazed that nobody has made a hustle out of waiting by this door with an ice cream truck filled with lockers just ready to collect and protect your property while you take part in our nation’s judicial process.
A bit confused you shuffle across the street to a theater (a real theater) where the morning crew is cleaning cocaine and vodka remnants out of the carpet from last nights gathering of local aristocrats. You remind yourself that you believe that most people are fundamentally honest and ask somebody to watch your comically trendy bag with close to $2,000 in personal possessions. You walk across the street and white guilt does not escape you as you realize that you’re one of a few fair complected individuals and that most of the other people here this morning are trying to deal with overly complicated and overpriced penalties for slap on the wrist infractions that you probably would not have even been pulled over for. You get back in line and watch a man trying to find a place to hide his cigarette lighter on the side of the building. A female officer comes out and repeats the PSA about bags.
“No bags, no lighters, no knives, no phones.”
You put your hand over your back pocket and realize that you have to go back to the theater and drop off your i-phone. You repeat your unwavering faith in humanity to yourself.
You finally get through the door and make it through the metal detectors at about ten to nine. You ask somebody where you go to get your driving record and they point you to the line on the left. You bump into another pedicabber and chat a bit. The line moves quickly and you’re excited to get to the front. Your contemporary goes first. He gives the woman his license and tells her he needs his driving record. “Oh you’re in the wrong line hun, but just so you know my system says you have unpaid parking tickets and there is a warrant out for your arrest.” There is a great deal of confusion, arguing, and fear that follows. You don’t have time for this shit so you go to what you hope will be the correct line.
While in line there is a woman standing behind you telling a friend how there are too many crackers in this town. The friend looks embarrassed and gives you the same “I’m sorry” kind of look that you had to give somebody when one of your friends made similar comments in front of a black family at the bank in your home town. You take a moment to ponder the absurdity of a world full of people drawing imaginary boundaries and making the same accusations about one another without every making an attempt at understanding but you’re quickly distracted when the teller calls you up. You explain that you need a driving record printout for a pedicab license and she quickly gets the paperwork, stamps it, and collects your money. As you dip for the door a middle eastern man with diamonds in his eyes stops you and asks who you ride for.
“That’s what I thought.” You’re a bit taken back. 5 years ago and before several pounds of crack and heroine he would have been a handsome devil. Today he leaches an aura of shadiness and you get a tight grip on your wallet. “You tell your boss that I’m going to fucking kill him.” Before you can respond he clarifies, “Not Mars, we’re cool. I mean the one with the small head. I’m coming for him.” You will later learn that this is Ahmed. He can typically be found doing meth and offering rides to women and children in a jalopy rickshaw with no brakes. He is a disgrace to the fine people that call themselves pedicab operators. Before you can leave he asks you for the six bucks to get his record printed out. You don’t hesitate to hand him ten and tell him to keep the change. Keep your enemies closer…..
That’s step one. It’s 10:00 now.
Step 2-4: Felony record, notarization, and pedicab license
The next stop is central precinct. You have to find a friend to accompany you here as you will need to get some paperwork notarized and signed by a witness. You post a message looking for a volunteer on Facebook and promise lunch as well as some likely entertainment. Your good friend James answers the call and you meet him at the police station. The building is a poster-child of post industrial Midwest decay. Unkempt flowers out front, broken window with year round cellophane covering, busted concrete, and tumbleweed McDonald’s bags. Despite this it has high ceiling and gilted gold charm on the inside. You explain to the woman at the desk that you’re here for a pedicab license.
“Down the hall, third door on the right.”
Grab a seat in the waiting room. This is the same place that somebody obtains a license to entertain in one of Detroit’s many gentleman’s clubs. The people watching is top notch. You’re next in line and approach the man at the counter.
“Hi there, how may I help you?”
“I’m here for a pedicab license.”
He tells you that you need to go to the counter to his right. You literally take two steps to your left to stand in front of the empty desk. The man gets up, walks around a small divider and takes a seat in front of you.
“Hi, how may I help you.” This isn’t the strangest thing that has happened today so you try not to over-analyze and explain once more that you’re here for a pedicab license. He tells you that the first step is to go across the hall and obtain a felony clearance. Speechless at what just happened you comply. The gentleman across the hall takes your license and hands you a slip of paper with various services listed on it. Some are handwritten. He has checked the box next to “Felony Clearance” and tells you to go back to the first room and pay the cashier. You get back in line behind the next round of strippers and are quickly called to the desk by the same man that helped you before.
“Hi, how can I help you.” You hand him the payment ticket and a $20 bill. He doesn’t have change and he doesn’t take credit card. He says he’ll give you a discount next time though and that makes you feel alright. He signs your receipt and sends you back across the hall where you obtain your felony record. You then go back to the cashier and go through the “How may I help you?” routine once more before obtaining another document that you must take to the lawyer on the third floor to get notarized. Back to the cashier where he pretends for a fifth time that he has no idea why you’re there before snapping your photo and printing your license. The fee for the license is exactly the $14 in change that you should have gotten for the felony record and the man says, “I got this one young fella.” All debts have been repaid and you are now legally able to cart drunken suburbanites, that desperately need the exercise, to and fro the great american pastime.
After all of this, you remember your bag is still at the theater and have to cycle through rush hour traffic. It’s still there. Everything is inside. They even offer you a free drink to ease the day’s madness.
You go through this process at the start of each season, although every year the buildings change, the fees change, and sometimes there are blaring alarms and people running around with guns in the background. Nobody behind the counter ever seems shaken by this though so you keep it cool and hand them your money. Sometimes they even accept credit.
Meanwhile in Utah….
You get an email that says your automobile registration will expire in a month. You get another warning exactly one week before it expires. Within these emails is a link to a website on the “internet.” Simply enter your personal information along with your credit card number and it instantly displays a delightful “Thank you,” message. Your receipt is emailed to you and your registration can be printed from your computer or arrive in your mailbox within 5 business days. The whole process takes less than six minutes. It is boring, but it works flawlessly. This is possibly the best way to describe day to day life in Utah.
What does any of this have to do with our travels?
We will sell our car some time in May before flying back to Detroit at the end of the month. The logistical issue is that our registration expires at the end of April. Utah is kind enough to have transparent pricing for all of its services. Our car will cost $109.56 to register. This is an incredibly reasonable fee in comparison to Michigan. At the same time, it seems silly to pay a year’s worth of registration for 2-3 weeks of driving. They do not offer a monthly plan.
In addition to published registration fees, a variety of traffic violations are also published. A ticket for driving without registration is $50………