Friday, May 02, 2008

The Ingenuity of Man

I have great news for you.

I know for certain that government can work, that government can be efficient, responsive and effective. I’ll say that again for those of you who may think you didn’t quite hear that quite right. Government can work. I’ve seen it happen.

Sure, we have memories of FEMA’s lightning-quick response to the disaster in the Gulf Coast, but that was the Bush administration. I’m talking about government.

Now, I live in the great State of New Jersey, the Garden State. We have much to be proud of and much work yet to be done, of course. We can point to a history marred by political corruption. We have the well traveled jokes about the scenic drive down the New Jersey Turnpike. Recently, we had a Governor who came out of the closet. But throughout, we knew that this great state could withstand any scandal, could take on any challenge.

…but then of course, there was the New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles.

Everyone who lives in New Jersey knows that you could find your way out of a black hole faster than dealing with the New Jersey DMV. It was a life changing experience. To get a jump on this marathon, people would sleep in their cars outside the agency, like it’s the pending release of the latest version of Xbox, or the final episode of Star Wars.

First, you’d enter - that is if the line was not out the door and down the block (it usually was). You didn’t know it yet, but you were on something called the information line. Here, you’d find out what endless line you really needed to be on.

There was some initial indication as to how long this process would take. The coffee truck outside was a clue. There were some folks who’d had breakfast and were back for lunch. And if you’re aware of the level of cuisine usually available here, you’ll understand what I mean when I tell you that this was the highlight, the best thing about this experience.

Renewing your license or registration, took anywhere from 3-4 hours. Picture licenses, even longer, and felt like a booking. Sometimes I envisioned myself channeling Tom Hanks in Castaway. This could bring you to your knees in prayer.

So you can understand my awestruck reaction, and how I know that anything is possible. Anything. Any horribly inefficient business, any misguided, mismanaged mangled bureaucracy can be made streamlined, customer friendly. I’m sure of this, because they fixed the New Jersey DMV.

Though in shock, here is my best recollection of how it went.

First of all, there was no line outside the same familiar building. I asked someone if this location had been closed. They said no. I walked inside, then outside to check the address. Yes, it was the Lodi, New Jersey Department of Motor Vehicles. I looked for the information line. There was none. There was, however an information desk. It took fully five minutes for me to make sure I was in the right place.

I never sat down, never experienced how uncomfortable plastic can be. I went straight to the counter, where the apathetic service agents had somehow been replaced by helpful, almost kind people. Understand this - previously you could risk your life asking for a pen in this place.

The whole process, including my initial disorientation, and effusive expression of gratitude, took 20 minutes. For someone who’d felt like a prisoner of War, it was a surreal experience.

So, If I move away, I’m still coming back to visit. When I can no longer drive, I’ll still come back. It’ll be like a pilgrimage.

Its given me a renewed sense of optimism, of confidence. Sure, we have a third-world education system, crumbling bridges and tunnels. Healthcare is a shambles, financial institutions are imploding. Yes, these are big problems. But we now know that we can do anything.

Forget cold fusion, forget perpetual motion. Forget the miracle of Hannukah.

We fixed the NJ Department of Motor Vehicles.


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