I suppose I should be grateful. The D.C. Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services did mail me a "reminder" that my driver's license needed renewing. That's more than I got when my tags were up for renewal last year. I realized they had expired only when I got a $100 fine.
I protested that ticket, and I lost, of course. The District said if I had gotten a renewal notice the four previous years, I should count myself lucky. The notices were strictly a kind gesture on the city's part, I was told, not an obligation.
So I suppose I am grateful -- sort of -- that thanks to my renewal "reminder," my new driver's license came fine-free. And my "reminder" even told me about a Motor Vehicle location that had opened at 616 H St. NE. "Parking is available at this new location," the card said.
Sounded promising. I was willing to give a shot to any alternative to the industrial-strength dreariness of 301 C St. NW. People down there look like refugees from "1984" -- resigned to take anything the government dishes out.
Best of all, I wouldn't be picturing my meter expiring as I waited in yet another line to get service with a sigh. It just seemed too unfair to get a parking ticket while being subjected to 301 C St.
So I went to the new H Street office. And, surprise, there was a catch.
Because I had to be at work by noon, I figured if I got to the Motor Vehicle office by about 10 a.m., I'd have almost two hours to endure the lines, which should be time enough. And it was. Actually, the renewal process was fairly efficient. My complaint is about one of those government touches that seem designed to break the will of the District's citizens.
I pulled into the office's parking lot shortly after 10. I left my gloves and scarf in the car, because I didn't want to have to haul them around inside. That was a mistake.
As I approached the building, which also includes a sewer and water office, I could see it was almost empty. Wow, I had made one smart move in coming to H Street, I congratulated myself.
I brushed by a handful of people standing outside the door in the cold, to what purpose I didn't really care. Then I saw the sign. Motor Vehicle Services (ironic touch, that last word): 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
A guard sat at desk in the foyer near a long shelf with the forms for plates, stickers and licenses. I showed her my renewal notice, pointing out that it said nothing about this office not opening until 11 a.m. The only hours listed on the form were 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. for the C Street location.
"A lot of people are saying that," she said without interest. Then she said, "You have to wait outside."
I knew better than to protest, and I joined the growing group by the door. Our frustration made for conversation.
Why did we have to wait in the cold, when the office was open and empty? we grumbled. Lucky for us it was only cold, not frigid. What if it was snowing or raining -- would they still make us wait outside?
Probably. I wished for my gloves.
Why did we have to balance application forms on our magazines and pocketbooks when it would have made so much sense to fill them out using the shelves in that empty, open office?
Too reasonable, we agreed. We filled out our forms as best we could; our penmanship was poor.
And why didn't the D.C. government see fit to mention the hours at this new office?
We're talking rhetorical questions here. We shook our heads and looked at our watches -- and continued to wait stoically in the cold.
As so often is the case, patience seemed to be our only option in the face of the D.C. government. We knew that all things pass -- eventually -- even an encounter with the city bureaucracy. For me, it was over in about 90 maddening minutes, and I hope I won't have to repeat it for another four years.
That famously pessimistic American writer Ambrose Bierce once defined patience as "a minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue." I ran out of it.
-- M.J. McAteer is a member of the editorial page staff.