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Monday, October 06, 2008


My Brush With Bureaucracy in Small Town Maine

I was throwing out some boxes in my cellar last week, when I saw a scrap of yellowed paper in the corner of one of the boxes. I pulled it out an examined it. It was a traffic ticket I'd received in a very small town in a very rural part of Maine back in the mid-80's. I'd been pulled over because I'd forgotten to affix the registration sticker to my license plate. I had tucked the ticket away somewhere and promptly forgotten about it. Until it came time to renew my license, when the Worcester Registry told me I had to rectify the ticket issue before they could give me a new license.
So I called this tiny town, which I won't identify here, and spoke with the police chief. This was around 1988, but the conversation was so bizarre I remember it very well. I told the chief I needed to pay for a ticket I'd received two years earlier. I gave him the date. He had one of those amazing Aroostook County accents where all the words are flat and pinched and the more "R's" you can work in there, the better. He took my phone number and asked when would be a good time to call me back. I asked him why. He told me the ticket was two years old, so the record of it was filed away.
In a cardboard box.
In the cellar.
At his house.
He told me he'd be stopping home for lunch and he'd pull the record then.
He then had second thoughts and reasoned with me that since this was a long-distance phone call, and I was the offender, it was MY obligation to call HIM back.
I couldn't argue with that.
I called back about two that afternoon.
I told him that shortly after getting the ticket, I'd obtained the records from the Registry showing that I'd had proper registration for the car all along, and that I could fax him those papers.
"Okay. That'll be fine."
He gave me the fax number. I told him I'd fax him the papers right away.
"Fine. Course, I can't get them till four."
"Excuse me?"
"Four o'clock. That's when I can pick up the fax."
"Why is that?"
"That's when the funeral home opens."
"That's where the fax machine is."
He said this to me like he was a man of infinite patience trying to explain something obvious to an idiot.
Okay, well, at least we were making some progress. I then addressed the matter of paying for the ticket. The police department in this town did not, of course, take credit cards.
"But cash is fine."
Well, I didn't want to mail them cash.
"Check is okay. Course, it'll take time to clear."
"Well, I need my license as soon as possible."
"Uh-huh. Money Order'll do."
"I can do that."
There was a pause.
"Or stamps."
Now it was my turn to stop for a second.
"Excuse me?"
"Stamps. Stamps'll do. We don't have a postage meter. We go through a lot of stamps."
I thanked the man and told him I would send out a money order that afternoon.
I did. And it took about 5 days, but, true to his word, he cleared the paperwork and I was able to renew my driver's license.

Maine is a state of mind.

funny story
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