So I got a traffic ticket for not having up-to-date tabs on my 2001 Honda Insight. Oddly enough it was a lack of insight, more of an oversight really, that caused me to forget that I’d not paid for my vehicle licensing (called tabs because they give you a little tab for your license plate) since last June.
Today is my court date to mitigate the case. I chose to mitigate the case and not contest it because I did commit the infraction, however I have serious issues with the State’s priority. Speeding is generally fined at $10 per mile over the speed limit, and my licensing ticket was $240. That means, by way of comparing punishments, the State views simple paperwork mishaps to be just as serious an offense as driving 24 miles an hour over the speed limit. Put another way, I could drive nearly 50 miles an hour down a 25mph residential street with kids playing and old folks trying to cross the street, and the State feels that action is just as dangerous to society as not paying them $45 to renew my tabs when I was supposed to.
But this post is about maddening bureaucracy and the walls which are purposely put up to stop you getting to talk to an actual person. I wanted to know if I could go through my mitigation hearing and pay the reduced (hopefully!) fine using my debit card. All Google was offering was a bunch of different phone numbers that all lead to the same automated phone maze. Pressing 0, *, #, and every secret number combination I could think of only brought me back to the main menu. I even started going down branches in the phone tree that didn’t apply, just to see if I could find my way to a real person who could redirect my call. Unfortunately they had that phone tree locked down tight. Once you entered, there was no way out… an informational cul-de-sac of sorts. I thought about how many other lost souls might be roaming the dead ghost town of the County District Court automated phone tree and shuddered.
After wasting a significant amount of time in the phone tree, I resorted to the equally bewildering maze of links and dead-ends the District Court put up on their website. Along with helpful notices that “the District Court does not respond to email”, all roads lead back to the automated phone tree. Finally I cracked and started typing up a rude and abusive fax that I would fax over 100 times to each and every fax number they listed on the site (there were several). Luckily, in the middle of my furious typing I had an epiphany.
During the 25+ minutes I tried to work my way through the phone tree to find a living person to talk to, I heard the court’s website URL about a dozen times. The District Court’s actual website URL is, of course, a completely long and drawn out piece of bureaucratic mess. Department sub-domains stacked on local government sub-domains, stacked on a State sub-domain, etc. This, of course, is impossible to communicate over the phone, so they also registered a simple .ORG domain that just redirects people to the long messy URL. Jumping on PIR’s whois site revealed bureaucracy was about to shoot itself in the foot. See, bureaucracy loves filling in data fields with data, particularly correct data. This meant the contact phone number listed on the WHOIS record for the court’s domain should contain the actual live phone number for a living person at the IT/IS department. I picked up my phone and called it, and sure enough a woman answered with a simple “D.I.S.” – I was in.
I asked her if she could direct me to the District Court clerk desk. She asked me if I was “inside the county” or “outside the county”. I live in the county, so I replied “inside”. She then asked if I had the name of the person I was looking for, and I said I just had a question about paying traffic infractions with a debit card. She sounded puzzled, then said “Oh, by ‘inside the county’ I mean an employee of the county” – They have their own club AND secret lingo! – I said “Ahh, no, I live in the county. Could you just give me the phone number for the clerk’s desk?”, to which she replied “Ok, well, you’ve mis-dialed, this is the department of information services. The number you want is blah blah blah…”. So, using bureaucracy against itself I was able to call the clerk’s desk and ask my question to an audibly upset clerk. The clerk was so upset that I, a taxpaying member of the public, had managed to breech the outer walls designed to keep people like me from asking my questions to clerks like her, that after answering my question with a terse “yes”, she quickly followed up with “How did you get this number?” to which I replied with a simple -click-
Ahh, so satisfying to finally get one over on the same clerks that smile and say “Thank you!” with such cheer as they take my parking ticket money. They’re only happy because they know the $10 it cost me to stay in a parking stall 3.4521 minutes longer than I’m legally allowed means they get to keep their jobs another .03 seconds.