"Anne M. Gannon, Tax Collector, Palm Beach County, Welcomes you to the Un-Government Experience," read the numbered ticket I received at the beginning of my car-registration ordeal this morning.
Oh, the irony.
I was standing in line with at least 50 other beleaguered citizens, all sweltering in the packed Delray branch of the tax collector's office, trying to avoid fainting before renewing our license plate tags.
Today is the last day to renew your registration -- or transfer a title or get a driver's license -- and avoid the statewide rate hike for these services. Some fees are more than doubling (a new title will go from $34 to $80, a license renewal from $20 to $48) and these days, no one's willing to part with the extra dough.
So there we stood, doing our best impression of a Depression-era breadline. The air conditioning in the office was inexplicably broken, and the computer system was so overwhelmed that it was crashing, too. A kind bureaucrat made an announcement apologizing for these inconveniences and begging our patience, but it was tough.
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The line of waiting customers stretched to the door. There were moms with baby strollers, a woman with her foot in a cast, and so many elderly people that one overworked employee had to periodically ask the disgruntled crowd to vacate a seat for them. Everyone was sweating, fanning themselves, trying to telepathically will the ticket numbers on the big computer screen to advance past A121 (My number was F113).
"It's a nightmare," commented one man, who had given up and was waiting outside.
The employee who was escorting seniors to seats -- young, kind, with curly hair that was quickly plastering to her cheeks -- displayed heroic grace, given the circumstances. She would shout out the ticket numbers so the people standing by the door could hear, and she saved me from a long wait by explaining that, due to my particular paperwork situation, I would have to return later in the week and pay the higher fee anyway, so I might as well leave.
Despite her best efforts, though, there was nothing she could do about the heat or the crowds. It was, in the end, a very government experience.