Rendered Fat Content


Before The Muse left town, she asked me to see if I could finally get the Colorado license plates. We’d arrived in Colorado in late May, and it being early October already, we were tucking in rather closely to the deadline requiring new license plates within thirty days after establishing residency. Gratefully, the law defining residency seemed ambiguous enough to drive a large truck through.

On the one hand, it meant having a job here, which The Muse had from day one. On the other hand, it meant having a permanent residence, which The Deluxe Executive Towne Home, our temporary digs while searching for a permanent place, clearly failed to satisfy. On yet another hand, even once we found a permanent place, a vehicle license could only be issued if I had a Colorado driver’s license, which requires a whole other raft of evidence and proof, like utility bills addressed to me at the new permanent address, and utility bills usually arrive after living in a place for a while, like a month. By the time I received my Colorado license in the mail, we were already nearly six weeks in the new place.

The Muse had found the car title and proof of insurance, but the Colorado DMV site insisted that I’d also need a Vehicle Information Number Verification form, but it provided no information about where I might secure said form or who should do the verifying. The car also needed an emissions inspection, which the website suggested could be secured at either a state-run facility or from one of a select group of mechanics. I found what I thought was the location of the state facility for my new county and went in search of it. It was very well hidden.

My first search was unsuccessful and I could not find a listing for it on my iPhone. After grinding away trying to find the place for a half hour, my iPhone finally gave up. Since I was kind of in the neighborhood anyway, I decided to stop in at my mechanic’s and see if he was a member of that select group. He wasn’t, but he apparently knew the formal name of the mysterious invisible inspection station, and armed with an exact address, I shortly found myself enqueued there.

A little over an hour later, I emerged with the necessary documentation verifying that the zoom car isn’t an undo environmental hazard. As I was parting with my twenty five bucks, the technician asked if I wanted a Vehicle Identification Number Verification, too. I asked what that was for and he replied that it was required, but I could get one at the county court house for nothing and he charges fifteen bucks. He also recommended that I get my plates at the courthouse. One stop shopping, I imagined.

A half hour later, I’m waiting at the courthouse. I brought a book, so I’m comfortable enough though I’d deferred lunch in my lust to gain closure on this chore. Just over an hour later, it’s my turn. The clerk informs me that they do not issue Vehicle Identification Number Verifications, and that I’d have to get the form filled out elsewhere and return.

“Bring cash,” he counsels.Our card reader’s down this afternoon.

“How much?”

“Depends. The computer calculates the exact amount.”

“I’m just wondering how much cash I should bring. A few thousand? A few hundred?”

“What year is your car? 2002? It shouldn’t be over $200.”

“Thank you. Now, where can I get the Vehicle Identification Number Verification form filled out?”

“You might try one of the dealers along Colfax,” he replied. “Or, maybe the sheriff’s office could do it. “

I find no listing for the sheriff's department in the building directory, so I head out for Colfax, looking for a dealership there. I figure I’ll stop at the Subaru dealership, but the admin there tells me that they don’t do those. She points me to the state police barracks a few blocks away, so I head over there. That admin admits that they do fill out those forms then asks me to wait. Shortly thereafter, Trooper Wu, in crisp uniform, leads me out to the parking lot to inspect the vehicle, form firmly attached to a clipboard.

“How much of your work involves filling out forms?” I ask.

“About 50%,” he responds, “but it is what it is. Not all the job can be the exciting stuff.” He’s filling out the form with pen scratches, opening doors and transcribing numbers, asking me questions I do not have the answers to. He finally reaches up to his neck mic and calls in the VIN, but the first response comes back ‘not on file.’ He disconnects the mic before double checking the plate by the driver’s side door, then comparing it to the plate nearly hidden beneath the windshield before calling a number on his cell. Still no match.

“What year is this?”


“There seems to be a problem with this VIN. There’s a close match in the Maryland records, but it has to be an exact match for verification.”

I can’t do anything with this information, so I shrug while he triple checks the VIN plates then calls again on his cell. Third time retaining its charmed status, this time a match is found. “Someone must have had fat fingers,” he reports. “These numbers are complicated. Typos are common.”

He hands me the form and I follow him back into the barracks office to learn that the service is free before heading back over to the court house. The clerk had given me a form before I left the last time that would give me cuts in line, so I was shortly once again sitting before the clerk, this time with all the required forms. “The VIN Verification form’s missing a fuel type designation,” he reports. “Why is that?” I don’t have any idea and I tell him so. Fact is, I have not even looked at the form. In our family, The Muse fills out forms while I watch in awe. I have proven again and again to be incapable of filling out even the simplest of forms. I sometimes return from some errand without the requested result. “What happened?” she’ll ask. “They threw a form at me.” Nothing more need be said.

The clerk shares the form with an adjacent clerk who, sullenly shaking her head, directs him to confer with the supervisor, who inhabits a desk back and separate from the front line. My clerk returns eventually with the news that I’d have to return to the barracks and have Trooper Wu fill in the missing information in the space provided. “It’s a legal document, so we can’t just complete it here.”

I wander back out into the now familiar parking lot with the assurance that I will get cuts in line a second time when I return. They’ll be open until five thirty, but I noticed when I visited the barracks that they close at four thirty. It’s breathing on four o’clock now. Still no lunch and the gas gauge’s is edging toward empty. I zoom over to the barracks to find that Trooper Wu is no longer in residence. The admin disappears with the form into a back hall, returning a moment later to tell me that I should just fill in the missing information. “They told me at the court house that I could not and neither could they, because it’s a legal document.” The admin disappears again, returning quickly with the now completed form. I head back to the court house, stopping to refuel and withdraw cash.

Back before my clerk, he frowns at the twice completed VIN form then slips back to confer with his supervisor. Returning, he reports that they’d never seen one with two signatures, but they would conditionally accept it anyway, like this is a personal favor to me.

“Trooper Wu was off duty the second time,” I whine. He nods in sympathy, I guess.

Other complications appear. The title shows a different mileage number than Maryland’s electronic records show. “Do you want me to flag this difference?”

“What does it mean ‘to flag’ it?”

He explains tautologically, a response that doesn’t inform me, but it does encourage me to give him permission to flag the record. I notice that they are now serving customer R798. I am number R711. Nearly four hours have passed since I first took my turn in line, and my clerk apologizes for the pedantic hassle.

“It is just what it is,” I reply, parroting Trooper Wu’s wise observation. I’d told him that I admired his facility with the form before I learned that he was only more confident but perhaps no more skilled than I would have been. “I came prepared for this.”

Just before five, I left the courthouse with new Colorado plates. “The title should come by mail in three or four weeks.” I drove to my favorite liquor store to learn that they were out of both beers I was looking for. Par for the course.

I drove back up the mountain for the last time in a Maryland vehicle. Once home, I replaced the plates, even soaking the screws in rust remover before replacing them with a drop of LocTite on each. Then I stood back sipping a beer, my third choice, reveling in the beer-ocracy from which so many blessings flow.

I submit this story hesitantly. Never in the history of family gatherings has a similar story not been told. Not only is it not headline news, it’s not news. The Gestapo used the same process to intimidate. A few hours of form filling and anyone will confess to anything.

This rigamarole is necessary. Everyone wants their car properly registered, and it’s no small thing when it involves millions of people and many millions of cars. The logic gets hard to see and even harder to appreciate. Bureaucracy is the problem but it is also the cure. Not every cure can come in a handy, pop-top, single serving container. Some rumble and terrify. Every one I’ve ever engaged with ran on rumor as much as formal protocol. My job must be to submit and smile quietly, knowing that appearances aside, this is how every well-oiled machine works.


©2015 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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