Sunday, October 17, 2010

Are you Kidding Me? (part II)

October 15th, 7:15 am
I cradle my travel mug full of tea and sleepily plop myself down onto the passenger seat of the car. Dave, nursing his mug full of coffee, gets behind the wheel and points us toward Halifax.

This is my day off, but because of last night's encounter with the police, Dave is driving me into the city so I can go get my license renewed. I seriously considered throwing caution to the wind and driving myself there in the truck. But I was sternly warned against that last night, and with my luck, the officers are huddled in hiding somewhere along the hour-long route, just waiting to catch me behind the wheel.

We arrive at the Access Nova Scotia centre in the Bayers Lake Industrial park. Of course we can't access the centre yet because it doesn't open for another 15 minutes. Already though, there are at least four other cars idling in the lot, presumably occupied by people needing to renew their license, or registration or some similar bit of paperwork.

After a few minutes, another car pulls up and an older woman and a teenage boy get out. They walk to the front of the building and grab the door handles. The locked doors, of course, don't budge. It's very windy and very cold, but instead of getting back in their car, they stand there and wait.

A few more minutes go by, and someone else gets out of their car to join the line-up. I figure I'd better do the same, besides, Dave (whose coffee mug is now empty) is itching to enter the Tim Horton's line up down the street. I put on my gloves, turn up my collar and join the folks at the door.

I'm cold, but the older woman must be freezing. She has no coat and is wearing only a green, cable-knit hoodie and a pair of black capri pants. She hugs herself tightly to stay warm. The sandy haired, chunky teenage boy with her is wearing black shorts and a hoodie, but seems oblivious to the cold. In his hand, he tightly clutches a folded sheet of paper

We do as Canadians do and talk with each other about the weather. The older woman looks at her watch and wonders aloud why they haven't opened the doors yet. I look at my cell phone and tell her it's only 8:26am. "Grandma, your watch is always fast", says the boy in a joking, but respectful tone.

Finally, at 8:30 (plus thirty seconds), a grey-haired man emerges from the brick building and unlocks the doors. The shivering woman looks at me: "They don't open a single second early do they?". No, indeed they don't. As the glass doors swing open, I can hear car doors slamming behind me from the now fairly-full parking lot.

As we enter the sterile, brightly-lit environment, The "Grandma" and her grandson are directed to the left. I'm given a piece of paper with a number on it and told to go to the right. My number immediately appears on an overhead screen and I'm instructed to go straight to the counter.

The woman behind the counter is probably in her early fifties. She wears a patient, but not entirely genuine smile. I tell her I'm there to renew my license, and without really looking at me, she starts the paperwork. I mention that I didn't even realize it had expired. She gives me the "tsk tsk" look and in school-marm, scolding style, says: "We mail out several reminders you know".

"I didn't get any".

She looks at me over her glasses as though assessing whether I'm telling the truth.

"I would definitely remember if I got a reminder".

She mumbles something about "maybe with the change of address and all that..."

I don't say anything else, but I know I didn't get any reminders in the mail. I love getting mail. When I see that little red flag go up on my mailbox, I grab the dog, and skip with her to the end of the driveway to see what the nice Canada Post lady in the burgundy SUV has left behind. I would know if I'd received reminders. But there's no point arguing about it now.

I fill out the paperwork and pay the $70 dollar fee (again). I'm pointed toward another counter to have my picture taken. After a bright flash, I'm told to take a seat while the photo is plastered to a plastic card. A few minutes later, I walk to the doors with my new, still-warm license in hand. Now I have to swing by the RCMP detachment to prove that I have indeed renewed my license-- if not, I was warned that I'll receive the full $300 dollar fine plus another "non-compliance" fine. Overkill?

In any case, I poke my head out of the building but see no sign of Dave, so I wait (it turns out he popped into the hardware store for a few minutes-- as well as Tim's). Also standing in the doorway, looking outside, is the "Grandma".

Within a few seconds, her grandson pulls the door open from outside, a look of distress on his face.

"The card, the insurance card, he says it expired September 1st."

Grandma: "Yes, but we renewed it. The new card should be there."

Close on the boy's heels is a middle aged man with a clipboard in hand. He confirms what the boy said, and it becomes clear that he's a driving tester.

The grandmother sends the boy back out to search the vehicle for the newer card. Then, she calls her husband. I'm standing less than six feet away, I can't help but overhear the conversation. She asks where the new card would be. I gather he tells her it's in the glove box. I also gather that he has a couple of copies of it at home too.

She gets off the phone and looks at the driving instructor.

The man tells her he can't take the boy for his driving test unless they have valid insurance.

Grandmother: "We do. Why don't we call the insurance company to confirm. I have the phone number".

Tester: "No, the card has to be in the car."

Grandmother: "My husband can bring it. It won't take long."

Tester: "No, it would be too late by the time he got here. You'll have to reschedule the test."

Grandmother: "But his beginner's license expires next week. We need to do the test right away."

Tester: "You'll have to tell them that when you call to book a new appointment. Maybe they'll shuffle a few people around and get you in right away. They do that sometimes."

Grandmother (looking dubious): "But it took us months to book this appointment. Can't we bring the insurance card and then wait around to see if someone cancels or if you're running ahead of schedule and might be able to make some time for him?"

Tester: "No. I schedule one person each half hour and I'm booked solid."

At this point, the boy re-enters the building. His hanging head makes it obvious that he didn't find the up-to-date card.

Grandmother: "So there's no way we can do the test today?"

Tester: "No, I'm sorry. Call and reschedule. Tell them his temporary permit's about to expire. Hopefully they'll shuffle things around for him. Here's your receipt and your form."

He walks away.

Boy: "Every time, something goes wrong."
Red-faced, he shoves the door open and, close to tears, walks out into the cool wind.

His grandmother, embarrassed and sad, follows behind with her head down. "I'm so sorry. It's our fault."

I feel so bad for them that if I didn't have to drop Dave off at work, I'd give the boy the keys to my car and tell him to do the test in it.

Honestly, is there really any reason to be this inflexible? I'm sure the tester is very, very busy. I'm sure appointments fill every minute of his day, but couldn't he have tried to give the insurance company a quick call? Couldn't their verbal confirmation have served the purpose? Perhaps they could have faxed the card? Where oh where has all the common sense and compassion gone?

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