I needed to get license tabs for my wife’s car, on the off chance she ever drives somewhere again.

In the olden times when she went to an “office” — remember those? — she’d be nervous driving with old tabs, for fear she’d be pulled over. Now, you suspect, the cops have other things to do. Worrying about expired tabs seems almost quaint, like an old man who shines his shoes every morning even though the city was firebombed by planes every night for months. One has to uphold the old ways.

At the Southdale Service Center, I saw the dismaying words: “Appointment required.” Anyone who does not have an appointment would be turned away. The idea of walking into a government service center to give them money for something they require, and being turned away, is not only anathema, it’s several athemas. I decided to plead my case.

“I don’t have an appointment,” I said. “But could you fit me in?” I gestured to the room, which was sparsely populated. “It’s not like there are throngs of people trying to get visas to leave Paris and two doomed and star-crossed lovers are arguing with an indifferent bureaucrat to stamp their papers so they can cross the border before the Gestapo commander, played with icy precision by Conrad Veidt, can arrest Humphrey Bogart for his work with the underground.”

OK, I said all but the first few words in my head. The clerk said no, I had to have an appointment, because there were other people who had made appointments. I get that. But there was no one behind me in line. It was Friday afternoon. Couldn’t I just squirt in?


For the first time in my life, I was actually tempted to say, “I pay your salary,” which, of course, is an automatic game-changer. “Oh, well then,” they’d say, “I didn’t realize who I was dealing with here. Let me get out the rolled red carpet and personally kick it so it unfurls to the exact window where the boss man gets his tabs, and I’ll inform them to commence bowing and scraping.”

Instead I called up the website where one makes a reservation and pointed out the problem with this whole affair. November: no slots. December: no slots. January: no slots. February: first available appointment, the 17th. The place was booked for three months.

This is insane. There has to be a compromise between throwing open the doors to rheumy-eyed, maskless miscreants who stagger in shedding viruses like a dog shaking himself after a bath, and sober, careful and self-important people like myself who are not entirely sure what the “wheelage tax” is. (It probably has something to do with wheels, just an educated guess.) But I do know that you can get ticketed if you don’t have the holy, shiny rectangle.

In the end, the clerk relented, somewhat. I was able to put my documents in an envelope, and I could pick up my tabs four days later. Not optimal, but better than waiting until Valentine’s Day.

Why didn’t I use the online renewal process or just mail in the forms? You ask. Because I regard quick, efficient service at the motor-vehicle counter one of those things that makes me proud to be a Minnesotan and renews my faith in our institutions.

But mostly because I forgot.