31 July 2012

Northern charm and Southern efficiency?

Here's a quick story about how, even though city services in DC are so much better than in the bad old days, there still is much to be desired...

I found a license plate from a car in our front yard one morning. I sent a tweet to the DMV, asking what I should do with it. They told me to mail it to the Southwest Service Center. Unfortunately, I didn't have an envelope big enough to do so at the time, so I left the plate next to the mail pile in our entryway, planning to take it to the DMV personally when I got a chance.

That chance came yesterday. After biking to Dupont Circle for a haircut and Foggy Bottom for a appointment with my doctor, I headed down to Southwest to give the plate to the DMV in hopes they could reunite it with its rightful owner.

Since I don't have a car anymore, I've stopped paying attention to when DMV offices are actually open. I didn't realize all locations are closed on Mondays. When I arrived at 95 M Street SW, a few women were talking with the security guard who had come outside to give them directions about when and where else they could conduct their business.

Thinking I might have a chance at simply leaving the license plate with the guard, I told her my story and asked if she could give it to someone when they came in the next day. She quickly responded, "I don't want to be responsible for that. You take it to the police next door."

Disappointed that this was going to be more than a simple transaction on my part, I trudged over to the police station I had walked past moments earlier. After opening the door, I realized I had to walk through a metal detector. I thought about the small saw blade that I often carry with me (handy for taking down illegal signs on lampposts and doing a little illicit tree pruning where kids have torn branches from our young street trees), and then I realized that I had a metal license plate in my hand, so there was no way I could avoid setting off some alarm.

Boldly striding through the arch, I was greeted with a loud beep that caught the attention of a woman behind a desk about 40 feet away. She mumbled something in my direction, but I couldn't hear her over the rumble of an air-conditioner. After letting her know twice that couldn't hear her, she finally got out of her seat and came over to the front desk. I briefly explained the situation, and told her that the DMV guard recommended I bring the plate to the police.

After looking at me quizzically, she turned around to grab a piece of paper and asked for my name, phone number, address, and date and time I found the plate. I couldn't remember the date exactly, but let her know it was some time ago. She asked why I didn't return the plate immediately, and I let her know that I was busy and it hadn't been a priority. "This was my first chance to go to the DMV, and that's why I'm here now," I replied.

The woman (who did not appear to be an officer, as she was not in uniform), took the plate and walked past her desk to a cubicle located behind hers. A uniformed officer emerged, and after a brief discussion, they both came back up to the front counter.

The officer told me to take the plate back over to the DMV. I reminded him that they're closed on Mondays, and he replied that I should go back tomorrow. When I told him that I did not have time to do so later, he shrugged, handed the license plate back to me, and walked away.

At that point, I strongly considered just pitching it in the garbage can and walking out of the building. Thinking better (I really didn't want to provoke the kind of reaction that would get me jailed for some stupid reason), I put the plate back in my bag, laughed, and walked out of the building.

Anyone want a DC license plate? Maybe you could try to find its owner. I gave it a shot, I failed, and I'm ready for someone else to take a turn.


  1. It took me 3 attempts of going to that MPDC station to retrieve my bicycle, the metal detector plays zero roll in the security of that building, officers regularly walk through fully armed, it's more security theater, that doesn't really make anyone feel safe. -@SamuelMoore

  2. I would have left it perched on the door at the DMV. You more than did your duty.

  3. Recycle it, we sometimes get paid almost $1800 per ton for scrap aluminum.

  4. very sad state of affairs, thanks for trying to do the right thing and for bringing this to our attention.

  5. I don't understand the problem. You called and were told how to handle the plate - by mail. Nevertheless, you chose to do something different, including visiting an office whose hours you did not know, and then trying to hand the plate to someone - the security guard - who was not authorized to receive the plate, and who may not even be a DMV or DC employee at all; many security guards are employed by contractors. Then you tried the police, who are not here to handle chores that you don't care to do yourself.
    I think you are trying make this incident into something it isn't. This wasn't a failure of customer service, it was a failure on your part to follow the advice you were given, by what sounds like, by your own description, appropriate and helpful customer service.

  6. I understand the problem - you tried to be a good citizen/Samaritan. Maybe that's why we have so few - no appreciation, just road blocks and criticisms. And no thanks - in the last year, I have found a credit card and searched down the owner, helped reunited two lost pets with their owners, and alerted a mom to her children who had escaped their yard unnoticed - no one thanked me.

    Hope you believe the trees appreciate your efforts on their behalf.

    And I could probably use that license plate. :)

  7. What would you have done if instead of a plate you found a credit card? Would you have tried to return it? Or would you have destroyed it?
    I ask because both are things that are important until lost or stolen, and then they are generally reported as such and become trash.

  8. Awww, you are a good person! I would've give up long before that point!


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?