One good bureaucrat

As they chatted amongst themselves about where to get the best deal on rotisserie chicken, the three cops at the Southdale DMV waved their metal-detecting wands over me.


“Stand here,” said one.

“Lift your arms,” said another.

I did as told, obediently if not exactly cheerfully, like any good post-9/11 American who just wants to get along with his day, and I also did well to clam up and not ask the trio if they like their jobs, or if this is the sort of public service they dreamed about pursuing while studying crime fighting at the academy. Not well enough, though, because when I started to leave the scene of the scan a little too quickly to his liking, one of the cops said, “Not so fast.”

Sigh. I reassumed the position and he took his time wanding me, longer than the initial search, hovering between my thighs and retracing my shoulders and torso to his satisfaction. “OK, you can go,” he said, having established his poking power over me not once but twice. I was not about to let our sole interaction in this lifetime be limited to one inhuman dance, so as I headed up the stairs to the county court, I suggested Cub Foods for the cheapest chicken.

They ignored me. Probably because they could tell I was one disgruntled camper, and maybe because they sensed I was not happy with the police state — locally and nationally — that we the people find ourselves swimming against these days, examples of which are stacking up on a daily basis, be it the Trayvon Martin and Terrance Franklin cases, racist and homophobic Minneapolis cops showing their true colors in Green Bay and their indifferent brethren ignoring muggings on Hennepin Avenue and outside of Gluek’s, and the citizenry’s all-too frequent encounters with sullen cowboys who presume us to be guilty of something until proven innocent. 

This good citizen was at the DMV to finally pay my dues and get the police off my back. I’d been stopped twice by squad cars earlier in the summer. The first was for making a questionably illegal turn in Uptown, the other was for “sort of rolling through a stop sign” three blocks from my house. Both times when the officer asked for my proof of auto insurance, I said I had it but not on me and they gave me a warning and politely instructed me to fax it in to the cop shop in the next couple of days, which I totally didn’t do because it was boring and a nuisance, not to mention I bristle at the idea of being forced to show my papers to law enforcement who should have better things to do than hunt the likes of me down.

The truth is, I don’t like being made to feel like a criminal in my hometown, so when the notices came in the mail informing me that the fine for not providing my proof of insurance papers was ratcheting up with every passing week, I tossed them on my Stupid Crap I Have To Do pile, and there they sat. For a month. Two. Finally, when letters started arriving written IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TELLING ME THAT MY CAR WOULD BE IMPOUNDED AND MY LICENSE WOULD BE SUSPENEDED AND A S.W.A.T. TEAM WOULD BE VISITING MY HOME IF I DIDN’T PAY THE $400 FINE, I sucked it up and drove the suspect’s minivan to Edina.

The second floor of the Southdale DMV is as antiseptic as cubicle culture gets, decorated as it is with a few signs telling people how to behave in court and where to stand in line. It was a Tuesday around closing time, so the line of other crooks was short, and when I approached the window I was fully prepared to pay through the nose for my little rebellion and slackerdom.

I turned off my brain, got out my wallet, laid it on the counter, and slid my violation notice papers to the nice government worker behind the bulletproof glass. She looked at my paperwork, then shimmied her chair closer to her computer and went to work.

“Do you have your insurance card?” she asked, after a couple minutes of silence, like she says it a hundred times a day.

I showed her my little white laminated insurance card. She inspected it, wrote something on my notice in MORE BIG BLACK LETTERS, made a copy of it, and typed something into her computer.

“We’re good here,” she said, and I put my wallet back in my pocket.

I was thrilled. I couldn’t believe it was happening. I sensed she was using common sense and taking a stand against nonsense and frivolous ticketing, and now here we were, two people bucking the system — but not really, because in that moment of grace we were the system, and apparently part of that system, one that doesn’t get reported on enough, is one human being doing another human being a solid out of the kindness of her heart, no matter what the bosses and bylaws say.

I thanked her, and thanked her again. I wanted to hug her.

“I wanted to end the day on a strong note,” she said, matter-of-factly, a crucifix dangling from her neck. “This way, I get to do that and you get to save a little money.”

She was a little startled when I reached through the slot in the bulletproof glass to shake her hand. I asked her for her name, which she gave me but which I will not print here, because I want the government to have to work a little if they want to reprimand her for having a soul.

“Have a great night,” we said to each other in parting, and I bounced down the courthouse steps and nodded at the wand-wielding cops on my way out the door to freedom.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet. He can be reached at [email protected] and