Oct 10, 201209:36 AM
Dispatches from a New Orleans Newcomer
Misadventures at the Department of Motor Vehicles
This is a stock photo, so it is not me, but it illustrates my mood on Tuesday.
I would like to apologize, New Orleans. I was pretty mad at you yesterday and I said some mean things. Let me explain.
Being the procrastinators that we are, Chris and I waited until this week to worry about voting. That quickly became a problem because we started thinking about this on Monday and the deadline was Tuesday. We needed new licenses to vote (which actually isn't true, but I’ll get to that later), so we fell into a frantic rush on Monday night to get all of our important documents together so we would be ready for the Department of Motor Vehicles on Tuesday morning.
We woke up before the sun came out on Tuesday morning so we could get to the DMV before it opened at 8 a.m. Like many Americans already know, you get the best service at the DMV if you get there early.
The DMV for Orleans Parish is on the West Bank in Algiers. That’s about 25 minutes from our apartment, which we thought was a little too far. “Why is this so far?” we kept asking as we drove toward the DMV. I learned later that this was an unfair criticism since there were more DMV offices before Hurricane Katrina, and there is actually one under construction about 10 minutes from our apartment.
But the trip felt far, especially when the address for the DMV did not exist on our GPS. This was going to be a problem. Like Lewis and Clark had Sacajawea to guide them through unknown America, Chris and I had our trusty GPS to help us navigate the Crescent City. It sometimes takes us on strange routes, but it has never failed us. Keeping this in mind, I decided to pick the closest address to take us to the general area and we would be able to find the DMV from there. There would be signs, right?
The GPS brought us to this random address that turned out to be a a very, very short street which may have been a driveway at one point or just a big concrete spill. Whatever it was, it was not a DMV and we had no idea where the DMV was. When we decided to turn around, we accidentally turned back on the highway headed over the bridge and we had to go through a toll. We were down $1.
We finally found the DMV after switching to my phone's map system as our GPS sat in shame in the glovebox. We parked and walked up the front steps, but immediately stopped when we saw the "Cash Only" sign. We did not have cash. One of Chris’ friends had told him checks were fine, so we thought we were okay. (What is it about DMVs and their out of date systems? Cash is also preferred in Missouri, and if you want to use a card, you have to pay a $1 fee. Why is this?) We trudged back to our car to go find an ATM.
To make my pathetic and already too long story short, we found out we were actually in the wrong office. While we waited in line, I read a sign on the wall said that the Algiers location, where we were now, did not do license and registration renewal for people from out of state. We were supposed to go to Metairie or Harvey for that.
Our frustrating trip had been for nothing.
“I don’t even need my license!" I thought to myself. “ I don't want to vote! I hate this American bureaucracy nonsense!”
Feeling defeated, I asked Chris to drop me off at work. I proceeded to complain about my stressful morning to my co-workers, who were sympathetic. They had their own stories of frustrating experiences with government in New Orleans. This appeared to be a fact of life with living here.
My mood improved when a friend, who works for a senator in Washington D.C., said I could still vote absentee in Missouri. I consider my parents’ address to be my permanent one since I have been a nomad in my early 20s, so I decided to sign up to vote absentee. The problem of the morning was solved.
In retrospect, my anger at the city of New Orleans and the DMV was unfair. It’s not the DMV’s fault that Chris and I got lost and it’s not their fault we had no cash. It’s not their fault I procrastinated until the last day to register to vote in Louisiana, and it’s not their fault I gave up so quickly. In my research for this blog post, I found that if you don’t have a Louisiana driver's license yet, you can still register to vote by mail.
I know no city is perfect, but I was so frustrated with New Orleans earlier this week. My DMV trip was a failure and on top of that, I couldn't drink the water at my apartment because of the water boil alert. It seemed like nothing was working in New Orleans.
The root of my anger is probably from a larger frustration—frustration with not knowing where to go, frustration with my bad decision to procrastinate and frustration with being in a new city. People don't like to admit they're new and that they don't know what's going on. It hurts their pride.
That's how I felt yesterday. How could I get lost looking for a DMV? How could I have missed the directions about cash on the website? How could I have been so dumb?
So I’m sorry, New Orleans. It wasn't your fault I was so mad at you on Tuesday. While I do think the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles needs more information on its website, and the DMV definitely needs more signage, I don't want this experience to ruin my opinion of New Orleans. I'll be voting in Missouri this year, but I still like you Louisiana. I would like to stay.