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On the moving to new lands, and the driving of vehicles

Does moving from state to state within the US count as moving to a new land? Maybe. I’ve been doing it a lot, for years. So has my wife–separately, for a bit, but we do it together these days. And our daughter comes along. As somebody or other once said: “History doesn’t repeat itself. But it often rhymes.”

We’ve recently decided to stay in Texas for a while. Possibly even a few years. But it turns out there are local rituals that must first be completed. I try to take an anthropological “gee, how interesting” approach to them as they arise. It mostly works.

Way back when, I drove my RV to Memphis for a short-term software contract. About a week before I was going to leave the city, I pulled into a 7-11 for some nutritious snack or other (go ahead and believe that, if it makes you happy). A bit later, I pulled back out into the street and drove perhaps half a block to a stoplight. While there, I saw that there were several police cars in the next block. I considered going around…but this was before the days of ubiquitous GPS devices, and I hadn’t been in Memphis very long. There existed a non-zero possibility that I’d get lost. Plus, I was curious.

I drove up to the first cop, rolled down my window, and asked what was going on. Maybe someone was shooting people nearby? Who knew? He refused to answer, but did wave me impatiently to the side of the road. A couple of other cars followed me, and were likewise waved to the curb.

About half an hour later, the guy who’d waved me to the side of the road came by and motioned for me to roll the window back down. I did so, putting my book aside…the book seemed to offend him for some reason. Not sure why. Anyway, he then explained that I was being ticketed for driving 45mph in a 35mph zone.

Huh. Perhaps some of these officers had a quota to meet? They were clearly just skipping the part about actually finding people who were violating the law, and ticketing everybody on the street. Well, you know, different people approach these things differently. Perhaps the locals just figured this was better on average than chasing drivers down and potentially causing accidents. Why not just perform the ritual on much safer semi-residential streets? This approach has its good points, I reasoned. After all, speed limit laws strike me as silly anyway.

A few years later, I had moved to Alaska from Texas (not for the first time), and my Texas driver’s license was about to expire. So I duly proceeded to the Alaskan DMV to receive a blessing…whereupon I learned that my Texas license was somehow or other blocked from being transferred. A bit surprised, I called the DPS in Austin, TX to find out what was going on.

Oh yeah. I’d never paid that ticket from Memphis. I’d taken a “don’t wanna, so prove I gotta” approach to it instead. Sometimes I get that way.

The guy I was talking to on the phone said I needed to pay the Memphis ticket before my Texas license would be somehow-or-other cleared, which (as he emphasized, though it was in fact the reason I’d called) I needed to do before I could get an Alaskan license. Well…okay, as far as it went, but I then asked exactly how I could insure that the people in Memphis would promptly notify the folks in Texas. Since, after all, I only had about three days before the Texas license expired.

The DPS guy began laughing.

After a moment, he explained the process: I needed to get a money order made out to the Memphis people. I could then fax a copy of that money order to him in Austin, whereupon he would reinstate my Texas license for $12.

Ahem. I complied. The DPS guy had gone on to tell me that the general expectation was that I would then mail that money order to Memphis–rather than, say, endorsing it and re-depositing the funds in my own bank account. Perhaps even via an ATM, just to avoid any awkward questions. Well, I’m sure I did the right thing there. I got my Alaskan license, anyway.

That whole thing reminded me of the first time I’d transferred a license from Texas to Alaska. Sort of. See, I’d never actually completed the whole “getting a license” thing–I was legally required to have a licensed operator in the front seat with me. A “learner’s permit,” I’d heard it was called. Texas had implemented this as a thing called an “endorsement” on my license…which therefore, helpfully, said “LOFS” on it. As I hadn’t exactly lived in Texas continuously, and I’d noticed that nobody outside the state seemed to know what that meant (even though it was spelled out on the back of the card), I’d just kept renewing it for quite a while. Which means I’d never taken a driving test. But my boss at my new job in Alaska said that he’d prefer I actually get legal permission to drive just in case something happened and his insurance company felt persnickety, so I drove one of his vans to the Alaskan DMV. Finally, at age 28, I was going to do the right thing! About time, you might think?

So, uh…I took the so-called written test on a computer, and then went to talk to a DMV employee to schedule a driving test. She took my Texas semi-license in hand, looked at the “LOFS” thing, and asked me what it stood for. Virtuously, I told her. I was going to do the right thing!

“Huh,” she replied. “I’ve never heard of it. Is that part of a commercial license program?”

I swear I didn’t plan anything like this. But I felt my mouth begin to move. Words came out. “Um, yeah, I can’t drive the trucks over a certain weight without somebody driving with me. Do you guys have a program like that, or will I have to start the commercial license thing from scratch?”

“Oh…no,” she said. “We don’t have anything like that. I’ll just have to issue you a normal license. I’m so sorry.”

So. It’s perfectly possible that I’ve never actually taken a driving test. Believe whatever you like, on that front. I mean, if I’d been, in principle, willing to smile and accept a license without one…it could very well have happened. Hard to say, at this point.

I’ve often noticed that DMV/DPS employees are actual people. They often view many aspects of their jobs as being unduly burdensome, both for themselves and the public. They’re not the only folks who think the whole cloud of regulations/rituals is best avoided or circumvented, either.

So yesterday I went to a Texas DPS office to get my Texas license. I had my social security card, my passport, and my Alaskan license. All of these were required. I had my vehicle registration and proof of insurance. These, too, were required. But there was a catch: my vehicles were registered in Alaska. I had some number of days to change that, but I couldn’t get a Texas license without first doing so.

“Wow,” I said, making eye contact with the woman who was explaining this to me. “All of them?”

“Um. You’re supposed to,” she said. “But that’s so expensive…”

I agreed.

So it turned out that I had to participate in a vehicle-inspection ritual before I would become eligible for the blessing-I-mean-registration ritual. Well, okay. I drove down the street, keeping an eye out, and found a little shop that said they could perform that sacrament. I parked in the driveway, which actually blocked all other vehicles from entering or leaving–the lot was full, and I figured this might give me a bit of leverage. (My brain works like that. Sorry.)

I walked in. There seemed to be only one employee (or possibly he was the owner) on duty. He raised his eyebrows at me. “I need an inspection…sticker,” I said. Stressing “sticker”–which wasn’t strictly possible, as Texas used to have separate stickers for registrations and inspections but had recently combined them, but he seemed to grasp my meaning.

I have this facial expression I like to try in situations like this. I strive to convey things like “we are men together, and these rules are burdensome, and let us not concern ourselves with them,” and “life is what it is, and we all must do what we must,” and a bit of “come on…you know you want to.” It often seems to affect people’s behavior. If you’d like to try it yourself, but are unsure of exactly how to start, you might try placing yourself in front of a mirror and declaiming: “Hold my beer and watch this!” as it turns out that these expressions are almost totally identical.

“What year is that truck?” he asked. I told him. “Looks like it’s in good shape,” he said. I agreed, and said that we liked to take care of it. He nodded.

A bit later, he got into my truck. He honked its horn, drove it about ten feet, and got out. He stood in front of the vehicle and looked at it for a bit. Then he went into his garage, and came out to hand me a sacramental inspection report. You may, at this point, assume that he took other actions regarding my vehicle in between these steps. If that fits your world-view. At any rate I thanked him, and gave him the customary offering for his actions. (No, I don’t mean I bribed him. I paid him the standard $25.50 for an inspection.)

Then I proceeded to a Tax Assessor’s office. Because, in Texas, the DPS doesn’t actually handle vehicle registration. It’s best handled in separate locations, spaced miles apart. Once there, I produced an Alaskan title, an Alaskan “proof of registration,” my ID, and “proof of insurance” while I was at it (has anyone but me noticed that these are just pieces of paper, and paper is not hard to find?). However, I was not allowed to proceed. “We’ll need your wife’s signature,” the young lady I was speaking with informed me.

“Do you see where it says on both the title and registration that the truck is in both our names, but they use the word ‘or’ rather than ‘and’?” I asked. “That means either of us can do what we need to do. That’s why the distinction is made.”

“We don’t do it that way,” she said.

Very well; I drove away. Came back with my wife’s signature (probably) on a piece of paper. I then was issued license plates and a couple more pieces of paper. One of them had a sticker on it. “You’ve charged me for a new title,” I pointed out. “Where is it?”

“Oh…I processed this as ‘registration purposes only,'” she said. “We don’t always issue a new title. It’s optional.”

“But you charged me for it,” I said.

She shrugged. “This is just how we do it.”

Well, okay. Local customs are what they are. I could deal with that. I went away, and drove back to the DPS office. I traded pieces of paper and plastic for other pieces of paper and plastic. This absolved me of all my sins, and guaranteed me a happy afterlife. Probably. It did a mystical something or other, anyway, even though my truck and I both seemed unchanged afterward. Except for the license plates and the sticker–oh hell, that’s a lie. I haven’t actually put them on the truck yet. I’m kind of hoping my wife will do it. It could happen, right?

Was there a point to any of this? The various blessings and rituals, or even this blog post? Well, how do I know? I’m just an observer here. I like this planet. It has funny monkeys.

Meanwhile, a friend and ex-roommate of mine (from about 25 years back) has started up a travel blog. Though that’s not totally accurate–as he says, he doesn’t actually travel much. He just moves, instead. He actually goes to different countries, and I think his blog would benefit if he’d document which ones he’s been to, along with brief summaries of his time therein, but maybe he’ll get to it. Or maybe he prefers to focus on the present rather than the past. Who knows? I’ve enjoyed reading what he’s posted so far, and maybe you will too.

Have fun out there!

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