Easier to just shoot 'em, like a horse

Several years ago, I was dating a woman who lives in Massachusetts. She had to have ortho athero arthroscopic surgery on her knee, and was gonna be laid up for a few weeks. I went with her down to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, armed with a letter from her surgeon, to get her a temporary handicapped placard.

I’d heard all the horror stories, the jokes. Even on TV, the RMV/DMV is one of the circles of Hell, filled with lazy, inconsiderate, rude, incompetent folks. It was the place that employed people like Marge Simpson’s sisters Patty and Selma, Fes, Bud Bundy. I had been spoiled by New Hampshire’s DMV, which wasn’t so bad.

It was worse. Worse than I had expected. Worse than I could have expected. Worse than I could have imagined. Worse beyond my most horrific nightmares.

The first clerk we encountered said that the Commonwealth does not issue temporary handicapped parking placards. Period. No such creature. In fact, we were both probably insane to even think such things existed. I thought she was going to summon the security guard over when I insisted that all states do, even my own beloved New Hampshire.

My lady wanted to leave at that point, but I was in high dudgeon. (We both have tremendous respect for handicapped parking, and I had had to argue with her to come down at all. She would only be on crutches for a month or so, so she felt she didn’t deserve the permit.) I went up to the clerk by the entryway and repeated what the clerk had told us.

One would think we had demanded powdered unicorn horn and dragon’s blood. A TEMPORARY handicapped parking permit? In MASSACHUSETTS? Why, we must be mad, mad to envision such a thing!

Once again my lady wished to depart, but I knew they had to exist. I politely asked for a handicapped parking application. A regular one, not a temporary one. With the kind of expression one reserves for dealing with the mentally disabled or insane, she reluctantly handed it over.

I quickly skimmed it over, and in a second found what I was looking for. There it was, in black and white: checkboxes for the type of permit required, labelled “PERMANENT” and “TEMPORARY.”

I pointed it out calmly to the clerk, who insisted that HAD to be a mistake. (At this point the security guard started eying me suspiciously, while my lady looked longingly at the door. Fortunately, she wasn’t moving too fast.) I insisted that the supervisor be summoned, to explain to one and all that black was white, that up was down, that left was right, and that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts did, indeed, issue temporary handicapped parking permits to those who find themselves disabled for a short period of time.

In the end, she got it and I managed to NOT get myself arrested for the first time in my life — but it was a near thing. I was Galileo, Martin Luther, and Salman Rushdie all rolled into one, the heretic who dared challenge the orthodoxy and deserved to be punished for my impudence. I had done the unspeakable — I had challenged not one, but two agents of the mighty RMV, and prevailed.

That was about four years ago. I had pretty much put it behind me (much like the lady in question), but then I read this story in the Boston Herald. A 78-year-old man with crippling foot problems wants to visit his severely-injured wife in the hospital, but the state says he should have expected his feet to develop this problem 12 weeks in advance — because that’s how long it can take to get a temporary handicapped parking permit. Even after the newspaper got in touch with the RMV’s official spokesperson, Mr. Driscoll still might have to wait 30 days.

And now Massachusetts wants to put the same kind of bureaucracy in charge of making sure everyone has health insurance.

It’s no frigging wonder this state keeps re-electing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. That it keeps both houses of its Legislature overwhelmingly Democratic. (138-22 House, 33-7 Senate.) It’s nothing short of a miracle that they keep re-electing Republicans as governors, providing the slimmest margin of safety from complete and utter collapse.

(Note: this is partly a slam against Democrats, but more against giving too much power to one party. In New Hampshire, we’ve occasionally been utterly dominated by Republicans, but 1) not since the 70’s or so; B) never to anywhere near that extreme; and III) even at their worst, the NH GOP was nowhere dangerous as the Bay State Democrats. Except, perhaps, when the Governor of NH wanted the National Guard equipped with tactical nuclear weapons.)

Over the last few years, Massachusetts’ governors had put a lot of work into reforming the RMV. And I had heard a lot of good reports about how things were a lot better. But this story just shows the truth of one of my mother’s little aphorisms:

You can’t polish a turd.

Update: I wrote this Wednesday night. Thursday morning, I discovered that sometimes sunshine is indeed the best disinfectant — the RMV did the right thing by Mr. Driscoll, with the above-mentioned Registry spokesperson, Ms. Amie O’Hearn, hand-delivering the placard to his home. One can only hope that this will be a learning experience for the RMV, leading to major changes in how they treat the subjects citizens of Massachusetts, showing a little more respect for those people who pay their salary, and…

Sorry, I just woke up. I’m usually far less delusional.

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  1. goddessoftheclassroom May 4, 2006
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