Department of License: Stand Up

Greg Z_licence-plates

By Gregory E. Zschomler

Walk into your local Department of Licensing (DOL) and you have low expectations, right? Their reputations precede them. Calloused, heartless, depressed persons of the most disagreeable sort imaginable wait so enthusiastically to ‘help’ you. This is usually an experience of customer service at its worst.

Take a number and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

“Oh, let me rubber stamp that for you. Wait some more please. Pay me money. Wait again.”

Half a day later, you’re still waiting for that second rubber stamp. Generally a great experience, right?

Not long ago, I went to the Oregon State DOL in Astoria, Oregon. The dull, neutral colored building was right. The uncomfort-able plastic seating was right. The flickering fluorescents were right. And there was the number taking machine as expected. I was in the right place, but something was amiss.

Before I’d finished the simple paperwork, my number was up (no, not that way; my number appeared on the reader board) and I was greeted warmly at the counter by a jovial man.

What? What!?

“How can I help you?” he said, “I’m not saying you need any help, mind you. I mean how may I be of assistance today?” He actually had a sense of humor? I handed him the piece of paper: an application for Oregon plates.

“Oh, you’re in for the ‘pay through the nose service.’ Okay, let’s start with a rubber stamp,” he said with a wink and a grin.    “There, now let’s head out to the parking lot and get your VIN.”

We wandered outside together and he stopped, turned back and said, “I thought you said your car was in the parking lot.”

“It’s right there, “I said, pointing to our twenty-year-old Mercury Sable right in front of him.

“Oh!” he said, “you said you lived in Cannon Beach. I was expecting a Prius or Lexus.” (I guess the city’s ritzy, snooty reputation precedes it. Yes, it costs a lot to live at the seaside resort, but very few people are actually snobby. I guess outsiders see it differently.)

Back inside, things went smoothly and in no time we were all set and heading out the door in a happy, amused mood, rather than all grumpy.

I recently moved back to Washington and, once again, had to visit the DOL (you know every state wants to take some money from you). Well, surprise, another good experience, but waaaay different.

This DOL looked more like an antique store. The sitting areas, woven into little nooks and crannies, were pleasant and homey. Soft wingbacks and whimsical benches were tucked in and around an array of plants and kitsch. More than half a dozen cats dozed about the place. There were several exotic birds and a dog, too.

The ladies at the counter were just that: ladies. Polite, eager to help, and Johnny-on-the-spot. No, Zootopia sloths here. I hear that people actually go to this DOL just for fun or to enjoy their lunch.

The question begs: Why can’t all DOL experiences be like these?

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