Brainstorm - June 2005
When I listen to the news or read the paper, I always look at the stories of suicide bombers in the Middle East and say to myself, "How on earth can you get so frustrated that you want to strap dynamite to your chest and go blow up a building?" Well, after spending 30 days trying to register my latest project truck with AAA and the DMV, I think I finally understand their frustration, and it's a good thing that I have zero access to heavy explosives.
After sticking the new motor in the S-10, I grabbed all the paperwork and cheerfully headed down to my local AAA. I've paid them for the last 12 years for the simple reason that I hate going to the actual DMV offices. Of course, any time you have to deal with the DMV side, it's going to have a certain amount of suck associated with it. I had prepared myself to deal with waiting in line, having little kids run over my feet since their parents wouldn't control them, and sitting next to some guy who hadn't showered in at least a decade. These things, I've learned, are standard operating procedure. In fact, I think AAA even hires the stinky dude to sit in its offices, just to ensure we still get the full DMV experience.
After waiting for nearly an hour and text-messaging almost everyone I know, the blown speaker above my waiting area finally squawked out, "John O'Neill, please come to window number 12." At window number 12, I found a middle-aged woman wearing blue-jean pants and a blue-jean long-sleeved shirt, or as some call it, a Canadian tuxedo. I handed her my paperwork, gave her the rundown, and let her know that I'd like to transfer the title and get a temporary moving permit in order to get the S-10 smogged. Her fingers began picking at the keyboard in front of her, as she bobbled her head back and forth, obviously rocking-out to the easy listening/please-don't-get-angry-with-us soundtrack that AAA's psychologists have deemed will calm down irate customers. She finally looked at me with a forced grin and said, "Well, sir, since there are still 27 days left on this registration period, you will need to pay for all of last year's fees as well as this year's." Needless to say, I didn't smile back.
Twenty-seven days left out of a whole year of non-op and they wanted me to pay double registration fees! There was no "Let me see if there is anything else I can do" or "Maybe I can work something out." It was just straight up "Thank you, sir, please go pound sand." They did, however, find a way to take at least some of my money by transferring the title and letting me know that I could come back in 27 days and take care of the rest of the paperwork. Meanwhile, since I had reservations about ripping the truck apart for the suspension work before I had the truck OK'd by the smog nazis, my truck would have to sit at my buddy's shop for the duration of the month.
Now we can fast forward to this last Friday, exactly 27 days after I'd set foot within the AAA lobby. Before heading to a photo shoot scheduled for that afternoon, I made my way back to my new favorite place, swiped my membership card, and waited for the blown speaker to squawk my name like some sort of digital parrot. Again, after waiting for almost an hour, my name was called, this time to lucky window number 15, where a younger girl, obviously new, waited with a chipper smile across her face. We went through the same routine, the exchange of paperwork and me listening to her fingers tap the keyboard in front of her. This time, though, every finger tap ended with the most annoying beep, which she would answer with a scrunched-up and confused face. Finally after a solid minute of beep-beep, beep-beep she called over her supervisor to give his expert opinion on the current beep situation. After a few seconds of deep thought, his answer was, "I dunno why it's beeping. We'll have to call Sacramento to find out." She repeated his stellar explanation to me, even though their conversation happened literally only 15 inches from my face, and let me know that I could have a seat and she'd call for me when the computers came back up.
After an hour of watching the employees behind the desk walk around mindlessly and listening to two younger girls talk about how much they "like, oh my God" hated their English composition classes down in San Diego, I was done. I walked back to the window and gathered up my paperwork as well as confirmed that they'd be open the next day, and then took off.
The following morning, I drove back to AAA and did exactly what I hoped I would be able to do on my Saturday morning: stood in line, swiped my card, sat down next to the stinky guy, rocked-out to easy listening on K-SUK, and watched a herd of kids trample over my new shoes. Trust me, I was stoked, but I held onto the glimmer of hope that this would be the last time I had to visit this hell hole for a while. Finally, the parrot squawked my name.
A short, plump Mexican lady was in the middle of having a conversation with a fellow employee at the next station as I walked up to her window. Without losing a beat in her conversation, she gave me a half-glance and plopped her outstretched hand in my general direction. Apparently, that is the universal AAA gesture for "Hello sir, I hope your weekend is going well. How may I assist you this lovely day?" I handed her my stack of paperwork and waited for her to finish her important conversation, which from the portion that I caught sounded like she was bitching about her boss.
When she was done, she looked at me and asked, "Hi, what you wanna do?" Rather than going into detail about how I'd like to strap explosives to my chest and hold her hand, I let her know about registering the truck and getting it smogged. She began entering my information and then suddenly stopped. Raising herself out of her chair, she peeked over the divider separating her from the other employees and asked, "What's an F-code error? I usually only get D-code errors."
I wish I could tell you that AAA-man flew in through the window at that point and saved the day, but no, it was all downhill from there. She looked through code books, asked every employee what an F-code was, and even called her supervisor. Her final professional conclusion was that they would have to call Sacramento on Monday and I that I should come back then.
Now, I've never seen the demographic for AAA customers, but from what I've learned over the last 30 days, AAA assumes all of us have nothing better to do than sit in its lobby and get frustrated. F-code? Frustrated? Wait, I think I've cracked the friggin' code! Maybe AAA can give me a job so I can go F-code myself and everyone around me, since obviously I have nothing better to do with my time.