I got a letter from the Nassau County Department of Motor Vehicles the other day about two tickets. One was a parking violation and the other was for an outdated inspection sticker. The letter was sent to notify me that I was late in paying the tickets. Seventeen years late.
According to what is clearly a poorly-run motor vehicle department on Long Island, I was issued these tickets (I guess, who can remember?) in January of 1995. They listed a license plate number that was vaguely familiar. After some studying and thinking, I realized the plate with that number had been affixed to an Altima I once owned.
Since January 1995, I've moved twice and had three other cars, each with different license plates from the one listed in the letter. I've also had my hair cut about a hundred times, written a couple of novels, decorated 17 Christmas trees, bought and renovated a house, sold an apartment, sold a house, become the godmother of a baby who is now a senior in high school, and had four cats die of old age.
I admit that I'm not the best when it comes to paying tickets, having a tendency to toss them into a pile of papers on my desk and then jerking awake in the middle of the night months later, remembering. Ultimately, though, I always pay. With that said, I find it hard to believe that I didn't pay these tickets, and as I read through the notice I became outraged that now, of course, there's no way I'll ever find proof that I took care of these. My filing system, like my desk, is neither tidy nor accurate. This is not to mention that since 1995 I've not only moved homes, but my office as well. I remember well chucking mountains of old personal files thinking "Hey, I'll never need these again!"
After getting the letter I immediately talked to my sister, who works for an attorney, and screeched for awhile about this travesty of justice, the spirit of the conversation revolving around the concept of you snooze you lose (the motor vehicle department being the one snoozing in this story). They have some nerve, I announced loudly, to threaten me with "additional penalties and/or NON-RENEWAL OF YOUR VEHICLE REGISTRATION" (their capital letters, not mine), most particularly since these alleged tickets have been languishing in their computer system for almost two decades. I waved the letter around in front of Pat, made a copy, and asked her to in turn wave it around in front of her lawyer boss, imagining his getting on the phone and giving some Long Island civil servants a piece of his legal mind.
Then I read the notice more carefully.
The fee for the uninspected vehicle ticket was $40. The penalty for nonpayment was $15. The parking ticket fee was $30, again carrying a $15 penalty. Total due: $100. That means my only penalty payment due was thirty bucks, or roughly $1.75 per year.
Now I know states are in trouble financially in this country, so I'm figuring that somewhere, in some gurgling network of humming boxes, there were thousands (or who knows, maybe millions) of tickets listed in an unpaid ticket file. I'm also figuring that some bean counter in New York State sent a snarling memo to the departments of motor vehicles and told them to get busy and start collecting on these deadbeats, of which I am apparently one. What's really quite fascinating about all this is the tiny penalty. Maybe the bean counter said if they popped us deadbeats with a big penalty we'd all contact our lawyers and screech into telephones.
I have since calmly told my sister to forget the whole thing. I will happily write a check, not that I'm thrilled about sending off $100 but because the situation is so stupid and minor that I don't feel like aggravating myself, an attorney, or quite frankly the people in Nassau County. As for their being a poorly-run department...well, they did track me down two addresses, three cars, and four dead cats later. I guess I have to give them kudos for that.
Congratulations New York State. You won this time.