Saturday, November 13, 2010

Big Brother

My wallet was stolen way back in....June. In Paris, as I was exiting the subway. Not only did they steal my wallet, but my brand new camera and my old cell phone. The camera I could easily replace but I liked my old cell phone, even if it didn't play movies. It was functional, plus it had all my friends and family's phone numbers stored it in.

But worst of all, of course, was losing the wallet. Cash - gone. Credit and bank card - gone. California driver's license - gone. Luckily I had stashed my passport someplace else, or I might still be in France trying to get out of the country.

As soon as I got back to my friend's flat, I canceled the credit and bank cards and cell phone account, and spent several hours on the phone the next day trying to get replacement cards, which was not quite so easy, not to mention that the effort it took wasted half a day of vacation time. But it all worked out, except for the hassle and my financial loss. I finished my trip through several European countries and arrived back in California without significant incident several weeks later.

But guess what detail I postponed indefinitely? Yep, the trip to the DMV. Past visits must have left me traumatized from having to wait indefinitely. Despite three traffic tickets in the past two years (not one of them really my fault, I swear), I continued to drive, without a license in my physical possession for...over three months. (I rationalized this as OK because I do have a valid license, I just didn't keep a copy of it on me for a short period of time.) I did sign up online for an appointment - the system gave me an appointment 30 days out! By the time the computer generated appointment week arrived, I had a conflict in my schedule, so I set up a second online appointment - again 30 days out. All I can say is that the appointment system didn't work for me.

But, alas, this is not a tale of woe. It actually has a happy ending. With Thanksgiving around the corner, and me planning to spend it on the East Coast, the thought occurred to me that I might need to rent a car...for which I would need that hard copy of my driver's license. So, yesterday I hopped on the computer to see which DMV office was closest to my house. And, much to my surprise, I found that the California DMV has actually incorporated some 21st century technology. Each office posted current wait times online, both for appointments and walk-ins! Stunned, I located an office with a low wait time not too far from my house, and 20 minutes after walking in the door, I had my temporary driver's license.

However, California drivers, be forewarned. As of early October, California began issuing a "new" type of driver's license, one with enhanced security features, to make hard copy licenses more difficult to counterfeit. Having had my own license stolen, I'm all for that. But, these new security features include one I'm not so sure that I am happy about - you now also need to get fingerprinted to get a California driver's license.

I'm in the system now. And I am sure Big Brother will be watching.

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