Saturday, July 24, 2004

Tati town

The dryest state in the dryest continent was wet today. It rained solidly all day long. Most unusual and, of course, generally appreciated. But the city is not accustomed to such lengthy deluges and, as I scuttled across town under my silver brolly to renew car registration, it was to splash through puddles formed on the footpaths and to leap over torrents rushing towards gulping stormdrains. And with the heavy rain clouds also was the dim, grey light - not dark exactly, but dull. No shadows.
The motor vehicle registration office was interesting. I had forgotten how quaintly Orwellian it was with its austere sweeps of faintly vulgar minimalist design, vast curves of counters with officials tucked behind their glass walls, above them digital banners numbering each official and also each client. I was client 122. This identity was presented to me by a darting little information officer in a central booth. She snapped to and fro behind her high, sleek counter, diminutive and neat, like a character in a Jacques Tati film. Oh, Tati would have loved this place,. And we clients sat and waited on very uncomfortable ultra modern chairs, set rather impractically, I thought, in curved rows dispersed here and there - so the waiting clientele was less aware of their own numbers. An electronic voice crooned out the calls - "Number 97 to counter 14..." - and the turnover was quite efficient. The officials were pleasantly impersonal. Mine was a trainee called Daniel. I explained that my real intention on traipsing down in the rain was to register a change of address for the car. The Department's website had stubbornly refused to recognise my client number, so I had been unable to complete the process electronically. I presented him with the form the little Tati woman had given me. "I can't take this," he said. "It needs your husband's siganture." I explained that he was in the US and it was a simple address change for the car's garaging. "It still needs your husband's signature because it is in his name," insisted the official. "But one is supposed to be able to do this online. I am only here because your website was not recognising your numerical system," I explained. "This function is designed to be done electronically - in a way that does not require a signature. So why do you need a signature when I come in person?" He had no answer except to say that he had never seen the website. I gave up, paid the registration and went back into the rain. I did not need to make that trip at all. So it goes in the world of bureaucracy.

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