Save the Plates

Posted on March 4th, 2020 by Viveca in New York Stories

$200; hours on the phone with the insurance company, a lawyer, and an accountant; a hero intervention and marriage proposal; multiple trips to the Brooklyn DMV, including one seven and one half hour-long day there; and many, many calls to the Albany DMV, I emerged victorious—and walked out with exactly the same license plates I walked in with.

Back story: The insurance company told me it would drop me from my partner David’s policy unless I registered my car in both of our names. The DMV told me it wouldn’t change the registration unless I insured the car in both of our names. David’s driver’s license didn’t match my address so I couldn’t change either the insurance or the registration anyway.

It took months to sort the IDs and insurance and gather all the documents, signatures, and IDs required according to the DMV cashier and the DMV website. But I did it, and made the insurance change effective the same date I could get an appointment at the least crowded time on the least crowded date.

By then, the insurance company had sent a non-renewal notice and notified me my license would be suspended or revoked if I kept driving.

So I brought everything they’d told me I needed to the appointment, as we finished up, the cashier asked for the plates, which I hadn’t brought. If you change the registration, you have to surrender your plates and get new ones. Even if you are changing your registration to yourself and someone else. I talked to a supervisor about whether I needed to change the registration now that I’d changed the insurance, and he said not at all, NYS law was fine with having the car registered in my name and insured in both of ours.

So I walked away without surrendering the plates. The last time I gave them my plates (when hurricane Sandy destroyed the car), they stored them until I got a new car, at which point Brooklyn DMV said I couldn’t get them back because I’d waited too long, but I couldn’t buy them anew because they were still being held (for me). They showed me the plates with a tag on it with my name and still refused to hand them over till I went over their heads and called Albany.

So I called the insurance company but they said NYS law required me to register the car in both of our names unless we got married. I called David in tears of frustration, and he immediately and cheerfully said we could get married tomorrow. So I called his divorce lawyer (child support) and his accountant, who both gave us permission to get married without it hurting David legally or financially.

But I also called Albany. And Carmella in the custom plate division offered to save my day. She explained that if I surrendered the plates, there’s a long mail-in process to transfer them to another registrant, but she could help me do the whole thing in one day.

I called my hero and still potential but now newly ex-fiancé, and he rushed to the DMV with the plates. I transferred the registration and exchanged my plates for new ones.

Then I hand wrote a letter, photographed it and the rest of my documents, and emailed them to Albany. I called Carmella, she found the email, and she sent the transfer request to a supervisor to expedite. She also took my credit card info so the second the supervisor responded, which she said usually took minutes, she could process the transfer.

Then I waited.

And waited.

And kept getting called back to cashiers, who kept making me wait while they looked up what I had to do by mail with Albany, and I kept telling them I’d already done it, and Albany had already verified receipt of everything in order. But Brooklyn kept saying Albany had to process it, and Albany kept saying they had, and Brooklyn should hand me the plates.

Almost everyone was super nice, if sometimes confused and Kafka-esque. Over and over I had DMV supervisors tell me I was in a Catch-22. One woman, however, was very mean both to me and to David. I asked for the custom plate transfer form, and she said it was impossible to do on the same day as transferring the registration. I said both the supervisor there in Brooklyn and the rep in Albany had said it might be possible, so just in case it could work, I’d like to fill out the form while I was waiting. She said it was impossible. I asked whether she was refusing to give me the form. So she slapped a form down on the counter. I said, are you seriously out of the English version? She said, “it’s exactly the same form.” And I said, “ well, then you won’t mind giving it to me in English,” and she did.

The DMV was crowded, and I handled a lot of surfaces and documents that other people also touched. The bathroom sinks only had cold water and one soap dispensers, and by the end of the day it was empty. Also, it only had a hand dryer, so there were no paper towels to use on the door handle.

I waited. David waited. We gave up on waiting and got a snack at the taco truck, and then I came back and waited some more.

But eventually I got my plates. Re-registered in both of our names. Without having to get married.

On the way out, I stopped by the mean lady’s counter and said, “excuse me, I just wanted to thank you for finally giving me that form even though you said it was impossible to get my custom plates back the same day.” And I held them up and continued, “because here are the custom plates I got the same day.” My tone was so sweet she actually got happy and surprised and said, “you’re welcome,” which wasn’t entirely satisfying, but I guess it was better than losing all moral high ground by being mean to a DMV employee.

But all that matters is the VIVECAR rides again.

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