We Now Interrupt This Cross-Country Drive For an Important Public Service Message

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When there’s an up front disclaimer, you *know* things are bad. So for the record, and for what I believe to be the first time in my blogging career, let me state unequivocally that the following is my responsibility and my responsibility only. While I personally felt a need to blog the events that have transpired today as a public service message, if nothing else, I was concerned about the potential ramifications for RedMonk so I’ve run this by a couple of people. At worst, they tell me, you’ll think I’m an idiot – which you all probably knew already. At best, you’ll know enough to avoid a similar fate to the one I find myself in today.

The Background:

Some of you may recall that I purchased a new car several months ago. If not, you can read more about the reason for that here. Others of you may remember that like a good citizen, I actually made a special trip back to Denver in late July in order to register said vehicle. What you may not know, is that both visits to the DMV – one the week before I left for Maine, the second as discussed above in July – failed in their primary mission of registering the vehicle. The first time I was turned away because the dealership had not yet completed the necessary paperwork, the second time because the registration fee was closer to a thousand dollars than the forty or so I had anticipated and I – on a flying visit, with my checkbook back in Maine – did not have that kind of cash on hand (one of the downsides of not having a local bank). Why the DMV doesn’t include the registration fee on the postcard they mail you – which includes the VIN, purchase amount, and more – is beyond me. But I digress.

The basic situation, then, was that the car in question was still wearing temp plates that had expired a little more than a month ago. Some of you may note that I declined to complete the registration during my visit to Denver earlier this week – and I’ll come back to that.

The Event:

After finishing up the chore of packing late this morning, I set out from Maine on my planned 2200+ mile itinerary that would see me drive from I-295 to I-95 to I-495 to I-290 to I-90 to I-80 to I-76 to I-25, the lattter of which passes right by my home in Denver. Barely two states into this itinerary, I came around a corner on I-90 west of Springfield, MA to find a very angry State Trooper standing – idiotically, IMO – right out in the middle of the road. This trooper (Trooper Jim Thigam? can’t read his writing) gestured at me vociferously, indicating that I should pull over, which I did promptly. The fact that I was merely the first in a line of cars travelling at a bit over 80 in a 65 MPH zone really isn’t important; I was clearly speeding, and was well prepared to accept the penalty for that. It’s a setback, of course, to get a ticket so early in a long trip, but it’s not a terribly rare occurence for me. I’m not one of those idiots flying around the highway at 110, nor am I weaving in and out of traffic, but neither do I rigidly adhere to the stated limits.

As he strolled up to my window, Trooper Thigam(?) stopped briefly at my rear windshield, peering down at the temp plate stuck there. With no preamble apart from obtaining my license, he asked me if I knew what month it was. I said that I did, and that it was September. He then asked me if I knew what month the temporary plate referred to, and I said that I knew that also – July. He proceeded at that point to inquire as to whether or not I knew the difference between July and September, and I said that I did. He then asked me if I had a registration, at which point I explained that I had not yet been able to register the vehicle despite two different attempts. Apologizing, I said that I knew that it meant paying a fine. Scoffing at this, he informed me that not only was I going to pay a fine, but that my vehicle would be towed and impounded. When I asked him what the process was and what I was supposed to do given that I was 2000 miles from home, his response was that I should have thought about that before I failed register the vehicle. Very professional.

And so it was. We sat in our separate cars on the side of I-90 for about 45 minutes, and then a flatbed tow truck showed up, hauled my car onto it, and the car and I departed for lovely downtown West Springfield. The tow truck driver informed me en route that the trooper – who he’d met several times before – was grumpy b/c he didn’t like being stuck this far out on 90 this late in the day. Wonderful.

The Problem:

Setting aside for the moment the blame and responsibility for this unfortunate series of events – which largely rests with me, of course – I sat back and tried to determine a course of action. Could I get a friend to register the car in CO? Could I hop back up to Maine and register it there? Could I even register it temporarily in Massachusetts?

As you might imagine, the next couple of hours post towing were involved in making a series of calls to determine what the best course of action would be. My initial reaction was to press one of my very kind Denver friends into service, which involved printing my proof of insurance and making a trip down to my apartment to procure the postcard sent by the DMV, but unfortunately by the time said friend arrived there and procured the necessary documents I’d spoken with the DMV and been informed that only a friend with Power of Attorney could register my car on my behalf. I’ve got *good* friends in Denver, but unfortunately had not seen fit to grant any of them power of attorney so that option was out. Next, I considered returning quickly to Maine, where I do maintain a PO Box and a temporary physical address, to register the car. Unfortunately, it being a new car, I don’t have any of the necessary paperwork to complete the registration.

This left – with a couple of exceptions – one possible solution: I fly back to Denver, for the second time in a week, complete the registration process, and return to beautiful downtown West Springfield to recommence my drive. I made calls, I talked it through with a variety of friends and family members, but consensus is that that’s the only sensible plan. So tomorrow morning, I’m hopping a cab, flying out of Hartford’s Bradley airport, en route to Denver where I’ll head straight for the DMV to try and get this straightened out.

The Lessons:

  1. At the risk of being obvious: make sure your car is registered, particularly when you’re very far from home (particularly on I-90 west of Springfield)
  2. Think about giving friends Power of Attorney: you never know when you might need it
  3. Some have told me that this should be a lesson to not speed: that not being realistic, I’d say the lesson here is rather not to get caught speeding while driving an unregistered vehicle
  4. Be very careful between Exits 3 and 4 on I-90 West of I-91; troopers do not like to be stationed there late in the day
  5. The Super 8 Motel on Riverdale St in West Springfield has free wifi

The Impact:

My schedule for next week is now thrown into chaos, while tomorrow I’ll probably have some availability. I have a project engagement on Tuesday morning for a half day in North Carolina that I will make, but instead of returning from there to Denver I’ll be flying back to Bradley to retrieve my car and finish the drive West. The net is that instead of me being semi-unavailable today and tomorrow, I’ll be semi-available next Wed/Thurs.

The total cost for my missing piece of paper? A night in a Super 8 Motel, cab fare from West Springfield to Bradley, plane fare back to Denver, a rental car for the weekend, cab fare from Bradley to West Springfield, and – to add insult to injury – the cost for the tow and storage of the vehicle. Not exactly how I’d want to spend my money, given a choice.

The Comments:

  • You may be asking why I’d take this kind of a risk. Well, if I’d had any idea that driving with expired temp plates would result in something more than a ticket, obviously I would have ensured that that was done before I started driving. As hinted at above, my trip this week to drop the cat off would have been a simple time to do it – I simply was unaware of the dire consequences of inaction.

    Interestingly, I got stopped the first week of August in Maine (got off with a warning as I was barely speeding) – also after the registration deadline – and the officer in that case made no mention whatsoever of the date, further confirming my belief that the situation with the temp plates was not serious at all.

  • You may be asking yourself how I thought driving an unregistered car was acceptable. That’s a good question, but frankly I didn’t consider it that way. The car has temporary plates – albeit expired ones, and everyone from the dealer to the CO Division of Motor Vehicles knows whose car it is and who owns it (the former having sent paperwork to the latter, who in turn sent me the aforementioned postcard) – the only thing that’s missing is the registration fee – which I would have paid months ago if they allowed me to do it online.
  • Speaking of which, several of the folks I spoke with this afternoon asked if I could pay and register remotely, and the answer is no. I’m now a *huge* fan of e-government.
  • Also in my defense, I need to stress that I did try and register the car not once but twice. And if on my first visit or on the registration reminder card mailed to my home there’d been any mention of the fees involved, my second visit would have been routine rather than a waste of everyone’s time.

The Net:

I’m going to be sorely inconvenienced over the next week or so, and I’ll be out substantial dollars. Is it my fault? Ultimately, it is: I should have made a greater effort to register the car, despite my ignorance of the penalties involved. But as I told one friend, the punishment in this case does not – IMO – fit the crime. Not at all. Nor did I appreciate the lack of professionalism of the MA State Trooper; I’ve been stopped a fair number of times before, and never complain because the guys are just doing their jobs. But there really isn’t any need to be rude or to try and humiliate those being stopped; it serves no purpose.

As I’ve told a couple of folks, however, things could be far, far worse. I’d much rather be stopped by this than by a bad accident or worse. I’m not happy with the current situation, but I’ll deal.

Any questions on my availability, just drop me a line, and I hope you’ll keep the disclaimer above in mind and not tar my colleagues with this brush. Thanks.