SYSTEM FAILURE

a ballad of bureaucracy

so we got this car
that wasn’t even running

— the gas tank was leaking and it needed new tires —

and put about $1000 worth of work into it
and were told by the owner,

“I need to find the title, I’ll get it to you soon”

but that didn’t happen.
and she moved to Chicago
and the tabs on the car expired
and I got pulled over by a police officer
and got a warning

(and I got a ticket too, because I hadn’t realized it, but my license had expired three days prior, on my birthday.)

I told the officer I was trying to get the car registered, but I was having trouble getting the title sorted out

so he told me to go to the department of licensing
and buy a trip pass

it is $30 to drive for three days

so I did

so I sent the original owner an email
I told her I didn’t need the title, just a signed loss of title form
she sent me a PDF of the form with her signature in the email
but it wasn’t notarized, so it was useless;
the department of licensing wouldn’t accept it.

so I called the original owner, because now I had her phone number
and I told her I’d be more than happy to pay her for her trouble
and cover any costs of sending the form or getting it notarized
and she said I didn’t need to, she could send it
…but she didn’t.
I called her back and called her back

and called her back and called her back

and called her back and called her back

and called her back and called her back

for about two weeks

and I left lots of messages

but she didn’t answer or return my calls.

so I went to the department of licensing
they told me I could start an ownership in doubt process
this involves sending a letter to the registered owner
— at their registered address on the title
with a loss of title form
asking them to sign it

1) You have to send the letter via certified mail.
2) Then when you get it back you take the UNOPENED LETTER to the state patrol.
3) Then they will issue you a temporary three-year registration.
4) After three years, if there has been no further debate about the ownership of the car, they will give you a title.

but, they said, “you can’t really start that process:
the car has a lien on it,
so technically, she didn’t own the car —
her bank partly owned it —
when she sold it to you.
you could call the bank and see how much the lien is”

so I called the bank

and I got put on hold

but they wouldn’t tell me anything.
Apparently a

Lien Amount

is

Privileged Information.

so I asked for a supervisor.

and I got put on hold

I told her how I had bought the car,
but the original owner wasn’t getting back to me,
and I couldn’t register it
but she wouldn’t tell me anything.

and I got put on hold

I told her I didn’t know how to get the car properly registered
that there’s nothing I can do, if they wouldn’t help me,
I would lose my car. And I started crying

and I got put on hold

and she told me that the lien had been paid off.

so I went back to the department of licensing
and I said, “the lien is paid off!
the bank shouldn’t even be listed on the title anymore.”
but they told me they couldn’t take the bank off themselves
and they couldn’t call the bank to ask them, either
the bank had to notify them, themselves

so I called the bank

I said, okay, you have no interest in this car,
as I understand it,
so can you just call the department of licensing and tell them that?

and I got put on hold

and they said no, we can’t do that, our client has to do that
and I said, but your client won’t do that, she isn’t doing anything
she promised she’d give me the title or send a loss of title form,
but she hasn’t,
and she’s not answering my phone calls anymore.
and they said no, we can’t do anything

so I asked for a Supervisor.
I told Will,

who was the person that I talked to,
and whose name I remember because he was nice,
and tried to help me,

that I don’t have a driveway,
and if I leave the car on the streets in Seattle,
the city will tow it. At the owner’s expense
or maybe at yours,
since you are still listed as part-owners of the car
and meanwhile I will lose my car
but he told me his hands were tied.
I told them I was going to lose my car

and I started crying

so I asked to speak to his Supervisor
and he said, “there’s no one above me,
this comes from our legal department.”

so I hung up

and felt totally hopeless

until he called me back ten minutes later
he told me he’d discussed it with legal
that the lien had been paid off for years

and they’d have someone contact the department of licensing within five days

and get their name taken off the title
so I was happy. It only took me six hours on the phone
just to get them to agree
to tell the department of licensing
that they don’t own a car that they don’t own

so I went to the department of licensing
and got a loss of title form
and got all the instructions I needed
and I put the form in an envelope
and I took it to the post office
and I sent it certified mail
and they said, “It’ll take about two weeks to get back to you”
and I said okay
and waited
but it didn’t come back in two weeks, or in three, or in four
and I had a tracking number to look it up online
but all that told me was that it was still in Renton
fucking Renton

so I called the Renton post office
but they said they didn’t have it

but maybe it went back to Seattle

so I called the Seattle post office
but they said they didn’t have it

but maybe it was up at my Ballard annex

so I drove to the Ballard annex and said,
if it’s not anywhere else, it must be here, right?
but they couldn’t find it.

so they called Renton.
and they called Seattle.
and they told me the letter was lost,
but I should give it another few days because sometimes these things come back

but I am still paying $30 for a goddamn trip pass
every single time I want to drive my car somewhere
so I couldn’t just wait for a lost thing to be found

so I went to the Greenwood post office
the next day
and I said, “how can I send something MORE SECURELY than certified mail,
but also via certified mail,
so it actually gets where it’s going?”
I told Sonja,

whose name I remember because she works at the Greenwood post office
and because she was nice to me and was very upset on my behalf,

that I needed to send a second letter since they’d lost my first

but she insisted that she wanted to check on my first letter just in case

so she looked up the tracking number
and found that it had been tracked in Seattle that very day
and said it was probably coming back to me.
so I said okay and went home.
but it didn’t come back to me
and it’s been two weeks

so I went back to the Greenwood post office
today
and I said, “this certified letter I sent a month and a half ago was lost and then found, but I still haven’t gotten it back”

and the woman who was working there this morning

whose name I don’t remember
because she didn’t even seem to know what certified mail was

told me she couldn’t help me, but I should check at the Ballard annex again

so I drove to the Ballard annex again
and I saw Leanne,

whose name I remembered from the first time because she had been nice to me
and she had called around for me

and she said it was lost again, and it was hard to track what went on at the processing plant
and I started crying
so she called the processing plant anyway
just in case they could find it
but they didn’t

so I went back to the Greenwood post office
and Sonja was working, thank god
and I told her I needed to send a second certified letter
and I was hoping she would comp me at least the cost of that, considering
I have paid $240 on trip passes during the month and a half I was waiting for this
out of a total of about $500 since the tabs expired and we started this whole process
and she said yes, we can totally cover the $6 to send this second letter certified mail for you considering that we lost your first one and therefore did not deliver that service to you

now I just have to wait two weeks
or another month and a half
or however long they feel like making me wait
and hope they haven’t mangled my second letter
because if it’s opened, it doesn’t count
and then I can make a vehicle inspection appointment at the state patrol office
which has a six-week waiting period
and then they can give me a temporary registration
or else tell me I did something wrong so I have to redo it
so I can wait another two weeks (for my certified letter)
and then another six weeks (for a vehicle inspection)
and then I can wait three years
to get the title
for the car that we got almost a year ago

or if I’m really lucky
I have to wait
just another forty-eight hours or so
til the men in white coats
come to take me away
in a windowless van
that I don’t have to register.

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