If there were a way to measure deflation in the human body, the best place to witness it might well be the license center. Doesn’t matter which one you choose, they’re all pretty much the same. Lots of gray carpet, earth-tone walls, and fluorescent lights to neutralize your emotions, I guess. It sort of feels like a cattle call at the county courthouse. Take a number and hope the judge is in a good mood.
Blessed are the kind people who work at these governmental gulags because what they endure every day would make most of us thrust ourselves head-first into drywall.
There used to be a handful of centers off the beaten path that were, well, little known gems. Most taxpayers didn’t know about them so you could manage to sneak in and out pretty quickly.
Then came MNLARS, the state’s solution to fixing an outdated license tab and title system. It has been nothing short of a disaster since it was launched in 2017. And now it appears the state is ready to spend another $56 million to replace the sputtering program. Actually, the congestion at license centers pre-dates MNLARS, but it seems only to have gotten more complicated since then.
About a week ago as I smartly arrived at a local license center just minutes after it opened on a Monday, I naively believed I was going to beat the rush, forfeiting no more than 45 minutes of my existence to a necessary evil. That was until I opened the door and saw nearly every seat in the house already occupied and a smattering of residents standing with numbers in hand at the randomly staffed counters. Deflation consumed me.
How did all those people get in so fast, hunched over smartphones, yet look as though they’d been camped out for hours?
I made eye contact with three or four different people, and each time the message conveyed back was the same, “Yeah, this is for real, buddy. Welcome to the world.”
As I settled into one of the few vacant seats, positioned near the main door, I couldn’t help but witness the stunned look that had whitewashed my face minutes earlier now sloppily slapped across every person who pushed through the glass doors.
Sometimes they came two-by-two, joking and laughing about weekend adventures. But as soon as they entered the holding pen, the sucker-punch image before them flat-lined all previous joy. A good 20 percent simply turned, exited through the doors, muttering morose musings.
Those who remained wore high heels, construction boots, loafers, even a guy in gym shorts and flip flops. Some looked oddly uncomfortable, while others looked as though they did this every day.
Those who stayed were like soldiers. Brothers in arms, trenched down in a fox hole waiting for a number to be called so they could charge forward and stake a victory flag in the ground.
The numbering system was odd, utilizing no recognized sequence. In fact, I’m certain some people who came in after me were being called before me. Something about online reservations for passports. That’s a thing?
With more than 45 people in this particular site, and most waiting nearly two hours before being served, it was clear there was a lot of work that was not being done by those of us who normally would have been selling shoes, remodeling kitchens, approving loans, serving coffee, fixing computers or assembling machinery. For this early morning group of people, which was surely replaced three more times during this day, there was a loss in productivity of 11.25 work days. That’s a whole of white noise.
Remarkably, the masses were controlled. Yet, we easily were just one over-saturated Starbucks junkie shy of a revolt. “Give us our tabs or we’re going to, well, we’re going to stand, or maybe we’ll sit, right here until we get them.” Which is of course exactly what we were doing, hence no revolt.
Human nature being what it is, all is forgiven once we are face-to-face with the clerks and we can see just how worn and numb they already look after just two hours of work. We politely complete our business and escape the cell block, knowing it will be another year before we are under the hum of sterile lights.
With one glance back, the clerk offers a simple nod, and an acknowledgment that her mission was not yet complete. With six more hours on the clock and a room full of tab-less citizens, the numbering system rolled over again and another eager inmate appeared at the counter. Way to go, MNLARS.
Keith Anderson is director of news for APG of East Central Minnesota.