I had been dreading my trip to the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration because of the nightmarish stories I had heard about registering a car in this state. I was told most people fail the state safety inspection you have to pass before you can register, that the mechanics always tell you that you need repairs and, when you get done, you're in for a rough day at the MVA.
I shouldn't have listened. The staff at the Maryland MVA could not have been nicer, more professional or helpful. It was clear from the moment I entered the site on Industrial Parkway in Silver Spring that the MVA was organized and efficient. I went ahead and paid an extra fee to contribute to a conservation fund and obtain the attractive Chesapeake Bay plate.
The employees' jobs are not easy. Not everyone comes prepared, and I watched them patiently manage not to scream while would-be driver's license and car tag registration applicants blamed them for everything under the sun. (One was screaming at a staffer who refused to process a license application because he didn't bring any kind of funds to pay the fee.) The paperwork and Web site the MVA provides, however, makes it pretty clear what you need to bring. It's not their fault people don't read or think the rules don't apply to them.
I would have been out in two hours, maybe less, with my license AND my tag in my hands, had I paid closer attention to the information before I arrived. Even so, the time I spent there didn't seem to take that long. Clean and well-lit, I passed the time talking to a friend and reading the electronic news boards that can easily be seen from throughout the building.
Still, it was the warm, friendly, we-don't-hate-you attitude that threw me off. Going into the Georgia Department of Motor Vehicles is like going into battle -- an experience almost as bad as dealing with the IRS. (Few things in life are that bad; I've been through colonoscopies that were more pleasant than my interactions with the IRS.) I commend everyone at the MVA for making what I thought would be an irritating experience something that was quite painless.
There must be something strange in the water up here. I keep finding other Maryland state and Montgomery County government employees working in a way that's a credit to their employers and the taxpayers who fund them. Oddly, I've even found most federal government employees here to be friendly and helpful.
While I was astonished by the friendly service at the MVA, the voter registration process made me mad; I'm still stewing. The state forced me to choose a political party when I registered at the MVA (if I wanted to vote in a primary). I learned that you are also limited to voting in the primary of the party you designate.
Let's set aside for another day my argument that both of the old parties are equally un-principled, that they sold out long ago. In Georgia, I had the right to cast a ballot in whatever primary I wished. If there were more horrifying candidates running under the GOP banner for president, senate and down the line, I'd make like an elephant and vote against the most socially conservative Republican. If I found the Democrats to give me the greater horror, I'd make a jackass out of myself and try to lop off the most fiscally liberal Democratic contenders.
The state of Maryland, however, forced me to make that decision upon registration -- even though I was a long way from deciding whose candidacies most deserve to be stopped. That offensive mandate should be repealed now. Every American should have the right to vote in whichever primary he or she chooses: The parties don't stand for much anyway, and no voter should be forced to pretend otherwise.