....you were at the grocery store and you saw the harried father, trying to wrangle his toddler away from the cereal aisle, a nanosecond before the chold dissolved into a screaming, heaving pile of snot on the floor of the supermarket?
"Tsk, tsk," you thought. "What a mess."
Or the woman at the bank, on the verge of tears, fighting to keep the hysterical edge to her voice at bay, as she argues with the teller, "I know I had enough money in this account for that bill..."
"Get yourself together lady," you think to yourself haughtily.
Well, a few weeks ago, I was that person. The scene-causer. At the DMV of all places. I can look back on that afternoon now and laugh. At the time though, I was seconds away from having security called on me.
You see, my car had been towed to a lot in Trenton (this, I assure you, is a story in iteself). Anyways, I discovered, in order to get my car back, I would need to get a new sticker for the plate. This meant Trip #1 to the DMV.
Of course, the lineup was comprised of about 20 or 30 people ahead of me. But I waited. And the head of the DMV was a lovely woman, who went to each person in line before they got to the counter, ensuring they had all their paperwork in order.
"Very efficient," I thought. "I bet that saves a lot of time and cuts down on unecessary waiting in line, only to get to the counter and discover you are missing an important document."
The woman assured me I had everything I needed in order to get my new 2011 sticker. So I waited. About 40 minutes later I finally get to the front of the line. A sweet looking older woman calls me to her wicket. I explain to her that I want a new sticker for my car. She asks for my license. And the plate number. She informs me I have some outstanding parking tickets that need to be paid before she can issue me a new sticker. I tell her I was aware of this.
"Hm, quite a few tickets," she says.
"Yes, I know."
I pay my fines. "Quite a few" was an understatement.
I tried to look on the bright side of things, however. I would be starting this driving year with a clean slate. No fines. New sticker. Great.
"Alright dear, just one more thing before I assue your new sticker..."
Then the woman then asks for my insurance. I handed her the papers my insurance agent had been so kind to email me that very morning. I'm not going to lie, I felt a little proud of myself for being so prepared and bringing them on the off chance they were required. (Even though, I should point out, the woman in line had not told me I would need them for this transaction.)
"No dear, sorry, I need the original copy" said the nice woman behind the counter.
"Oh, no, you see, the original copy is in the car in Trenton. I can't get the original. But this is just as good. Believe me, I spoke to my insurance company this morning and they said, this is as good as teh copy that is in my glove box." I smiled sweetly, feeling confident I knew what I was talking about.
"No, I'm afraid we can no longer accept emailed policies. We need the pink copy. It's a new thing." I can see I'm dealing with a real Take-Charge-Marge here.
"What do you mean, "a thing"?? What is a thing? Is it a law? Is it a rule that has recently been implemented at this particular licensing branch? I don't understand." I am vaguely aware my voice has gotten a bit louder, but I blame the fact that being in the DMV always makes everyone a bit on edge.
"We just need the pink copy, Miss. I can't accept this one, I'm sorry." She fixes me with a steely gaze. Clearly, she is in no mood for having to explain things to a frazzled, and slightly snippy, woman. I notice she is no longer calling me dear, and has started using "Miss" instead. We've started down a slippery slope now, I can tell.
"What is the difference?! This is a white copy - virtually identical to the original pink one - that was sent to me directly from my insurance company!" Cue my voice jumping 5 or 6 octaves.
"Miss, I'm sorry, there is nothing I can do for you without the pink copy." With this she abruply gets up and walks away, disappearing around a corner and returning a few seconds later.
"Look....look! what if I just photocopy this one onto pink paper? Would that be acceptable?!"
No response. Not even eye contact.
"I want to speak to a manager."
"Miss, I just spoke to my manager. I'm sorry. There's nothing more I can do. I told you, it's a new thing."
This is where things really start to go downhill.
(I should explain, before you read this, I have never, ever, lost my temper with anyone serving me in a customer service capacity. I feel pretty confident in saying that most people who know me would agree that I am normally exceedingly polite and quite friendly. I am not proud of my behaviour this day, but I want to preface the following bit by saying that I had recently given birth, my baby was in the hospital, I was without a vehicle, had not yet received my maternity benefits...i.e. broke, was living out of a suitcase for the past 2 weeks, and was pretty much on the verge of busting down the barrier bordering on insanity. Now this does not excuse my behaviour, but I thought you should know.)
"A thing?! A THING?! Stop saying that! I don't understand. That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard!"
This is where the woman, unknowingly, does something that really pushes me over the edge. She places the NEXT TELLER PLEASE sign on the counter in front of me and turns away from me pretending to be couting the dozens of hard-earned bills I had just handed her to pay my fines.
It suddenly occurs to me that I am "that person". I am the "scenario" they were probably given to act out in a role playing exercise when they were doing on-the-job training at the DMV head offices. "How to Deal with Unruly Customers". Or, in this case, you could supplement "unruly" with "hysterical", "dangerous" or "mentally unhinged".
"NO! NO! You can't ignore me! I AM NOT LEAVING HERE JUST BECAUSE YOU PUT YOUR LITTLE SIGN UP!" This is where I started to cry. Not just tearing up in frustration. Like, good hard inappropriate sobbing. Something that should only ever be done under the most extreme cirsumstances, and even then, only in the privacy of your locked bedroom. Not in the middle of a provincial service office at lunch time.
She continues to ignore me however. I can, out of the corner of my eye, make out the dozens of faces of th epeople waiting in line behind me. The stare at me in shock. In my mind delirious mind though I imagined they were staring at me, awestruck, admiringly.
"Wow, it's about time someone finally stand up for all the little people. These DMV folk always thinking they are so high & mighty," I imagined them thinking.
In my mind, I was no longer the unstable crazy lady causing a scene in the DMV. I was standing up for all the little my people. I was not going to sit back and let my brothers & sistes be treated like this. The unjustice had been going on for too long. I was a modern day Robin Hood. Or something folk hero-like anyways.
"NO!" I screeched again. My voice not even sounding like my own. "You don't understand! I am not leaving here until I get my sticker!" I slammed my hand down on the counter for added emphasis. The tears continued flowing. The other tellers stared at me.
"I want that money back then!" I cried, pointing at the bills I had just used to settle my fines. The only reason I paid the fines was so I could get my sticker....and you won't give me a sticker. So give me my money back!"
My sweet old lady continued to ignore me. Now she got up and walked away, stopping to whisper something to her supervisor.
I suddenly realize resistance is futile. My mind is going a mile a minute. How I can now walk away, mortified, ashamed, beaten, with the hopes & dreams of all these people in line behind me resting on my shoulders?
With the sudden realization that security was probably being called I make a hasty retreat for the door.
I went home utterly dejected. It being 4:20 p.m ., my insurance company was about to close for the day for the day. After much pleading and snivelling on the phone, my insurance broker (who is from a town 2 hours away might I add) was lovely enough to put me in touch with a local, non-affiliated insurance company. The plan was for her to email this other company my policy information. They could then print it out on a pink slip for me, free of charge. I spent th enext 15 minutes makin approximately 14 phone calls to work out the finer points of this arrangement between two competing insurance companies. Fortunately, at about 4:40 p.m. everything was worked out and I had precisely 20 minutes to get to the end of town where the insurance company was to claim my pink slip before they closed and then make it back to the DMV (which, miracle of all miracles, was open until 7 p.m.)
The woman at the insurance company was a sweetheart, and even stayed a few minutes past closing to make sure she had the proper information all typed up on that much covetted piece of pink paper.
I thanked her profusely and ran down to my dear and patient grandfather, who insisted we go straight back to the DMV to see if we couldn't get this taken care of tonight.
Being that it was well after 5 p.m. now, there was still a line up but not quite as daunting as the previous trip. I waited my turn, feeling much better than I had a mere few hours earlier. Mainly due to the fact that my "dear" friend who had attempted to serve me in earlier in the day was nowhere in sight. Sweet relief.
I was finally called to the counter by a woman who looked to be in her early twenties. I explained to her what I needed, that I had been in earlier to pay my fines, and was sent away because I didn't have the hallowed "pink copy" which I presented to her with a flourish.
"Ha. Now what are you gonna do?", I thought smugly.
"Perfect," the girl said cooly as she began to read over the form with a fine tooth comb.
I waited. My throat began to close. I started to sweat. What was taking so long?
"Yeah, miss, I'm sorry, I can't accept this....you see right here? Yeah, right here, this VIN number she's typed on this pink form doesn't match what I have in the computer."
"What?" I stutter, grabbing at the small piece of paper in her hands. "Let me see that."
I pulled out my white copy that had been so cooly rejected earlier in the day and put the two side by side on the counter. Sure enough my white copy's VIN number ended in 49. The pink copy ended in 94.
This time there were no tears. This time I forgo all the theatrics. This time, I simply drop my head into my hands and lean on the counter. I stayed like this for a good 20 seconds. Less dramatic, yes. But I think I conveyed my feelings accurately. Then I gathered up my paperwork and walked out.
The next morning I gto straight back to the insurance agent and explained the problem. She apologized profusely.
"Oh, it's no big deal, at all!" I said cheerily while smiling as convincingly as I could. I felt my face cracking though.
I then schlep back to the DMV for th ethird time in 2 days. I feel confident this time nothing can go wrong. I wait nervously in line again, butterlies in my stomache, hands shaking.
I look up.
Tentatively I approach that now familiar face. There is not even a flash of recognition. That extra second is not needed for her to place me. She knows me. Oh, she know exactly who I am.
"So dear, how did we do?" she asks calmly.
I roll my eyes and laugh skittishly. "Oh, you have no idea! HAHAHA." Dry, hysterical laughter emanating from my lips. Again, I don't even sound like myself.
I take a deep breathe. "Look, I'm really sorry about how I behaved yesterday. That was totally uncalled for. I don't normally -"
I stop mid sentence as I see her turn away. What could be wrong now?!? I feel the panic rising in my throat. I realize I have been holding my breathe.
"Here you go miss. Here's your sticker."
"WOOHOO!!!", I cried, shattering the relative silence of the small office as I snatched the sticker from her hands.
At this point, I kissed it before holding it aloft for all to see. I was no longer the brave soldier, taking a stand for my fellow man, against the big, corrupt DMV. No....now I was rubbing my hard earned success right in their envious little faces.
Yes, I can honestly say, I am no more proud of my behaviour in that moment, than I was the day prior. Shameful. However, I can also say I have never been so happy to be handed a small, white sticker in my entire life. I felt like 10 years had been added to my life. The weight of the world had been lifted off my shoulders.
And I get to do it all again 9 months.