Trust No One


'The X-Files' main message was correct; you ignore it at your peril.

One of history's many lessons is that betrayal is a fact of life. Both individuals and collectives perpetrate betrayals, but by far the worst offender is the State, which includes the agencies that spring up to support it. State agents run State agencies. They not only believe in the State, they also stand to profit from it, at your expense. Alas, instead of being considered cause for alarm, today's State agents are often regarded as being essential to your freedom, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently, I was stopped by a CHP officer for an expired vehicle registration. Actually, it had expired over three months earlier. This was news to me, so I was unable to explain to the officer what had happened. My assumption that I had renewed by mail proved to be false when a quick check of the DMV computer showed no record of payment. Ten minutes and one citation later, I was free to leave the scene of this crime against the State.

Upon returning home, I searched my checkbook register for the check that I hoped I had written and mailed months ago, but to no avail. It soon became evident that I had never received my registration renewal in the mail.

(In California , renewal by mail is standard procedure and the preferred method, to avoid the long lines and save gas. Twice in the past five years I did not receive my renewal stickers in the mail, after I had renewed by mail. Both times I had to visit my local DMV office to beg for my stickers, which they finally gave to me after verifying that I had paid for them months earlier.)

Luckily, I live in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so my wait in line at the local DMV office was measured in seconds, vice hours. While waiting, I overheard a conversation between a DMV clerk ('technician' in DMV-speak) and an elderly woman who was also attempting to renew her vehicle registration. The clerk was explaining to the woman that she could not renew her registration because there was a flag in the woman's Social Security file indicating that her SSN was associated with a name other than the one that she was using. When the woman asked the clerk what name that might be, the clerk replied that she couldn't tell because it didn't say.

The elderly woman was dumbfounded to learn that not only could she not renew her registration in person, she now had to visit the Social Security Administration office to ask them to 'fix' her SSA record before the DMV could do anything. The elderly woman became upset, said that she 'had the same SSN for 90 years,' complained to the clerk saying, 'this is not my fault and not my problem,' but eventually left when it became apparent to her that she wasn't going to prevail.

( California recently started linking its DMV files to SSA files in an effort to comply with PATRIOT Act provisions, catch deadbeat parents, and suck up as much uncollected tax revenue as possible.)

Meanwhile, I explained to another clerk that my vehicle registration had expired, but that I hadn't received my renewal by mail. Shockingly, she waived the late fee. Then she gave me a form, indicating which portion I had to fill out, explaining why I was renewing late, and that I was aware that my registration was due in the month of April. (This is apparently standard procedure so that next year I can't renew late again, using the same story, without paying a late fee.)

I asked the clerk if there were any flags in my DMV record. She said no and that she didn't know why I hadn't received what I should have by mail for three of the past five years. (I haven't moved and I haven't changed my mailing address.)

I almost asked the clerk if she considered my five-year 60% system failure rate to be satisfactory, but I held my tongue, knowing that I had just dodged a bullet, the infamous DMV late fee, which is substantial and grows over time.

After forking over $75 and providing proof of insurance, I was out the door. Now all I had to do was find another law enforcement officer to sign my fix-it ticket, so that I could then mail it to the courthouse in another county.

I drove to the local county sheriff's substation and was greeted at the bulletproof window by yet another clerk.

Clerk: 'Can I help you?'

Me: (Pushing the paperwork through the hole in the bulletproof window.) 'Yes, I have a fix-it ticket that I need to get signed.'

Clerk: 'Who's it for?'

Me: 'It's for me.'

Clerk: 'What's it for?'

Me: (Pointing to the paperwork.) 'It's for that.'

Clerk: 'What is it?'

Me: 'It's a citation.'

Clerk: (Rolling her eyes, with a sneer.) 'For what?'

Me: 'Expired registration.'

Clerk: 'That's it? Nothing on the vehicle?'

Me: 'No.'

Clerk: 'I'll see if I can find you an officer.'

The clerk returned to tell me that no officers were available so I should walk over to the courthouse entrance to ask the officer guarding it to sign my ticket. He finally signed it and I was done.

After waiting in two lines, paying $75, providing proof of insurance, filling out a form, and speaking with four different State agents, from three different agencies, in four different locations, spread across 12 miles and 90 minutes, on two different days, I was finally ready to mail my signed fix-it ticket, to avoid being forced to also take a day off of work next month for a court appearance 90 miles away, to explain to a judge in another county why my vehicle registration expired last April. What's wrong with this picture?

It could have been worse. At least I didn't have to make a separate trip to the Social Security Administration office first, just to start the process. But then, there's always next year!

It should be obvious that the culprit in this story was none of the State agencies already identified. The culprit is and was the United States Postal Service, another State agency, no matter what the pols tell you about it supposedly being a semi-private organization. What do you think the clerk at the post office would have said if I had asked her why I hadn't received my registration renewal material by mail for three of the past five years?

Some would say that now all is well, but they would be wrong, because now I am still expected to trust the USPS to deliver my signed fix-it ticket to a courthouse 90 miles away. What if it never makes it there? How would I ever know?

I would find out when I am pulled over for a burnt out taillight and the officer's computer lists an outstanding bench warrant for failure to appear. Such a deal.

This signed fix-it ticket is going back by traceable means, but the USPS will not be involved, and I'm keeping two copies locked away in secure, fireproof locations, to keep me out of jail for this crime against the State. Rest assured, there will be others.

If you value what's left of your freedom, trust no one, especially State agents.

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Joe Blow's picture
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Joe Blow is a privacy advocate with proven subspecialties in strategic planning.  Note: Pirate Poop is now a free newsletter, available by email only. Send all subscription requests to