KEARNEY: Inside D.C.'s motor vehicle registry
- (Photo: TBD Staff)
Yesterday, the Washington Times published this story by senior editor Emily Miller, who chronicles her willfully ignorant attempt to buy a gun at D.C. police headquarters. I decided to do her one better.
The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is not where you go for help getting a legal motor vehicle; it’s where you go to get more confused by bureaucracy.
After going through the heavy glass doors at the Shops at Georgetown Park on Thursday, then descending to the lower level, I saw a window decal that read “DC DMV.” That was easy, I thought. I went through the glass doors and entered a long line behind a desk manned by a single female in a white blouse.
"I'm here to get a car," I told her, when I finally got to the front of the line. I was one of many people there. Her name tag said, "R.U. Syrius."
"You want to register a car?" Syrius asked.
"No, no, I don't have a car yet. I mean I'm here to get a car registration," I said.
"But you don't have a car yet?"
"This is D.C., you can't get a car registered without a car. And you can't be driving a car around without a registration," she said. I was totally confused. I asked her if this was like a chicken-or-egg situation. "No," she said, "this is not a chicken-or-egg situation. This is the DMV. You can't buy a car here, and you can't get a registration if you don't have a car. You can buy a car and register it."
She started putting piles of paper on the desk between us. “Here’s everything you need to know, once you buy a car,” she said. “You fill out these forms.”
“What do I do first?” I asked, picking up all the papers.
“You get a car and then get it registered,” she said.
“Oh, okay, well where do I go to buy the car?” I asked.
She seemed very annoyed with my questions. “You can go to any car dealership or buy one on the Internet,” she said. "But if you get a used car, I recommend checking the Kelley Blue Book first."
“Where do I see this book? And can I get any car?”
“You can even get a PT Cruiser if that’s what you want,” she said. I’d seen a PT Cruiser on TV. It's like an old car, but new? I was confused. “You just buy it," she continued. "And if you get a hybrid, you can get a tax credit.”
“A tax what?”
“Credit, credit, like a discount on your taxes,” she said, clearly tired of the question. “Look it’s all in the packet here. I’m only telling you these things to help you, but you need to go through the packet. You do know how to drive, right?”
"Do I need a driving permit, too?" I asked. This car-ownership thing was even more complicated than I imagined.
"You mean you don't have a license?"
"A license? No. I want a permit."
"Well, to get a permit you'll need to pass a knowledge test. After you've had your permit for a while, you can get a license, but only after passing a road skills test. Got it?"
I did not get it. I had spaced out the moment I heard the word "test." I asked her to repeat it for me, but she just shoved more paper in my direction and told me, "Read this. It'll explain everything."
I thanked her and sat on a bench in the waiting area and sifted through the piles of paper. People kept coming and going, always clutching tiny paper tickets, and I heard a bell ring every time the numbers above each booth changed. I was confused again. I began to think about chickens and eggs, and how maybe it was neither. Maybe the omelet came first!
A few minutes later, Syrius came out and handed me another piece of paper. “Here, you need to take a driving class, these people teach them. It’s all in your packet but here are some names.”
I added the paper to the pile and kept reading. In the time I was there, there must have been a hundred people who came through the office. It seems there is a rush in Washington to register cars. At 4 p.m., Syrius walked briskly out of the office, carrying a large black folder. She locked the door and posted a sign that said: “THE DMV IS CLOSED.”
Since I still didn’t know what to do next, I set out to find the one man in Washington who can actually get me a car, Kwame Brown.
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