I’ve had several run-ins with government lately, and am pleased to note that I’m getting my money’s worth. No, that doesn’t mean bribes.
Got a car under rather complicated circumstances, and when I went to the poetically named Government Center, there were issues with The Holy Title. That’s the piece of paper whose importance is so critical I’m surprised you’re not required to bring it in under armed guard in a box suspended from two poles, with someone walking ahead waving incense. MAKE WAY! THE TITLE COMETH!
There’s a good reason for titles, I suppose, but why not require titles for lawn mowers? Bikes? Dogs? Fridges? I know, I know, don’t give them ideas — you’d have to have a license on your fridge with stickers for the year and month, and they could give you a citation for expired milk. It still seems odd. Say, I have a car. That OK with you guys?
Anyway: The clerk was helpful and cheerful. When she said there was a problem with the title I looked in panic out the window, expecting to see my car being winched into an auto compactor, but she just gave me a form to fill out. All was well.
The other run-in with government happened after a run-in with another car, one of those everyday proofs that two physical objects cannot occupy the same space simultaneously without someone’s bumper cartwheeling 30 feet in the air like a majorette’s baton.
It happened on an afternoon without too many obligations, so I didn’t think, “Oh man, of all the times to have a car accident.” In fact, I thought this was actually a pretty good time to have a car accident, as these things go. Too bad you can’t schedule them.
But you wouldn’t know how to time the accident. If I’d spent two more seconds at the grocery store, wondering if we needed eggs, or whether the ones at home were fresh or were the explanation for the cheeping sound coming from the fridge, the crash wouldn’t have happened. If I’d spent two seconds fewer, this column would have been dictated in Morse code by blinking my eyes and would consist of lines like “OEWSDIWEERNS,” because I don’t know Morse code.
It was a miserably cold day, so I was surprised that neither vehicle exploded in a shower of brittle plastic, leaving only the metal frame with the drivers looking like Flintstone-era motorists. My license plate flew off with such velocity it whistled through the air like Oddjob’s hat and decapitated a plastic deer on someone’s lawn.
I did not see my life flash before my eyes. I saw my wife flash before my eyes, asking, Current on our insurance, right?
The cars came to rest and I sat stunned, jerked back to life when my phone buzzed to indicate I had an e-mail — from my insurance company, informing me my premium had just risen — and then I got out. As I examined the damage to my vehicle, two witnesses pressed pieces of paper with phone numbers into my hand and said they’d seen it all.
“You mean in the jaundiced sense of nothing in life surprising you anymore? I understand, but take heart, there are always new … ”
“No, I saw the accident,” one said. “You can call if you want testimony.” Then they adjusted their halos and flapped their wings and ascended into the clouds with the sound of a harp glissando. Thank you, guardian angels.
Called 911. Waited for 45 minutes, which was unforgivable because I PAY TAXES and hence helicopters should be dispatched instantly with a prowl car hanging from a giant magnet. Waited 45 minutes. Finally, an officer showed up, and his attitude suggested he had spent the entire day looking at busted plastic in the road. He’d gone into this line of work to fight crime, and here he was dealing with people who’d just discovered that air bag deployment is like getting punched in the face by an angry marshmallow.
He gave us documents to fill out, and now I knew why he took 45 minutes: so your hand could stop shaking. Asked to write the details with a pencil right after the crash, you couldn’t draw a straight line without it looking like a seismograph of a major earthquake.
One of the docs required details about the event. It was mandatory. Misdemeanor if you don’t mail it. Insurance does not cover the stamp, either. Purpose? To gather information on crashes.
I’m supposed to enter a number for the type of crash. There are three categories: 1-13 for type of crash, 21-42 for “Collision with fixed object” and 51-65 for “Non-collision.” What happened to 14-20 and 43 through 50 I’ve no idea; they may have been removed because they were archaic, like “car smothered by falling zeppelin” or “expired horse in intersection.”
Number 65 is interesting: “Non-collision of unknown type.” Try to imagine what that could possibly be. Ended up in a tree the previous day due to a ripple in the space-time continuum? I mean, non-collision is easy. It’s called “normal driving.” You’d like to think there were no unknown varieties of not hitting anything.
Well, it all worked out fine. No one was hurt, and I don’t have to sell the car for scrap, which is great because I’d have to find the title. I’m sure it’s around here somewhere. It’s not that I can’t find it. I prefer to say it’s non-located.