Off the grid

25 April 2012 18:11 

Not the electrical grid.  I’m talking about the insititutional grid:  a w-2 type living at the same address for at least five years with a good driving record, low cholesterol, nothing on your permanent record,  and three people who can give you character references. Not me. 

The Frontier guards are confused

When we moved from California to the East coast, things were scattered. All our stuff went into storage in Massachusetts.  Although I was looking for work around Boston,  I thought it might be best to become residents of Maryland where I had family; but we didn’t get around to that until later.  I kept my truck tags and driver’s license from California for as long as I could. Last, we parked ourselves in Montreal. This made things interesting some times.

I crossed the USA Canadian border over forty times while we lived in Montreal. Trips to Boston, trips to storage, Thanksgiving vacation in Vermont, surgery on my tendon in Vermont, visits to family in the south, and so on.  Almost every crossing was into Vermont onto Hwy 89.  The simplest conversation at the border coming into the USA from Canada:

(pull forward when the car in front of you is done, a picture of the front of your car is taken; I hand over the passport(s) )

US Border Patrol:  What’s your state of residence?

Me: Maryland

USBP: (pause to look at picture of my truck onscreen, then slide the passports through a reader) Who is this truck registered to?

Me: Me

USBP: Why is it registered in California?

Me: We just moved from California.

USBP: Why did you leave California?

Me: We decided to move to the East coast.

USBP: What was the purpose of your trip to Canada?

Me: I/we were visiting family.

USBP: (looking at everyone in the truck if it’s more than just me. If Catherine is along she is probably asleep). Do you have anything to declare?

Me: No.

The USBP will then usually look in the back of my truck, then we’re on our way.

The above was the base  conversation. Clearly I didn’t fit the regular pattern. Sometimes the USBP would ask more questions about where we were going, what I did for a living, and so on. Often I had the sense that they wanted to ask me more questions, but didn’t have any real reason to.  Only once in all those crossings did a USBP say “Welcome home.”

One time I was asked “Why are coming this way?” This was a great question.  If I was going to Maryland from Montreal, a much faster route is to go slightly west and cross into New York on Hwy 81.  The reason we went Vermont/Hwy 89 was to stop at our storage outside Boston.

Crossing into Canada they usually just wanted to know if I have any alcohol or any sort of weapon.

The insurance company just says no

While in Montreal, but a resident of Maryland, I ruptured my achilles tendon in a squash game. See the next post for details. Because  the accident occurred in Montreal, I went to the nearest place in the USA.  My treatment was prompt and excellent,  but the fact that it occurred outside my home state of residence became grounds for the insurance company to initially deny any coverage.

A protracted process of appeals eventually lead to some reimbursement.

Maybe there’s some sort of nationwide insurance plan I should look into.

The French don’t want our money

We’re thinking of staying another year in France, but that means finding a new apartment.  Today Annie called on an apartment internet listing we saw (sending email to real estate agents here is a waste of time – they never respond).

My version of the conversation, as translated by me:

Annie: Hello, we’re calling about listing X which we saw on your web site.

Agent: Hello. Can you tell me where you are employed?

Annie: We’re an American family living in Marseille for a year. We’re not working right now.

Agent: I’m sorry, you won’t be able to rent the apartment.  (is about to hang up)

Annie: We have money saved up and are fully able to pay rent. We have all the papers to prove our income and savings.

Agent: I’m very sorry. But if you are not fully employed and registered for at least two years with the (names some agency, maybe the French version of Social Security), then the owner will not agree to rent you the apartment.

(Me in the background to Annie:  tell him we’ll pay three months rent in advance)

Annie: We’re fully prepared to pay three months ahead.

Agent: I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do.

Annie (turning red, squeezing finger grooves into the phone): WE CAN PAY EIGHT MONTHS RENT AHEAD.

Agent: I’m very sorry. It doesn’t work that way here.

(end of conversation)

No, it sure doesn’t work here. It’s hard to know if the guy just didn’t want to deal with us, or was the bureaucratic obstacle really too great. Not only are we somewhat off the grid in the United States, we’re definitely nowhere near being on the grid here.

Trying to get on the grid

Last June when in Maryland I finally got around to getting my truck registered. But to register your car you must have a Maryland driver’s license.  Having recently visited the French Embassy, I’m pretty well armed with ze papers: passport, birth certificates, bank statements, and so on. If I can take on the French Embassy, how hard can the Maryland DMV be? Piece of cake.

On my first visit to the Maryland DMV I make it most of the way through the process. My California driver’s license is easily transferred, but in presenting a bank statement as proof of residence, not only must I present the statement, but also the envelope. The envelope, really? Yes says the nice but firm lady behind the counter.  But otherwise sir, all your paperwork looked fine. We just need the envelope.

Back at the house I turn the recycling bin upside down and fifteen minutes later, wading through junk paper, I find the envelope.  But it’s too late to go back to the DMV that day.

Next day I don’t get to the Maryland DMV as early, so when I arrive the line is longer. When I reach the counter I present all papers including the requested envelope. Everything is in order, you can proceed to counter number 3.

At counter number 3 is a nice lady with a computer. I fill out some forms, she enters the data into the computer. A few minutes later:

Maryland DMV Lady: Mr. Elder, were you ever a resident of Vermont?

Me: Uh, yes. But I left there in 1985 (subtraction problem: 2011 – 1985 = 26 years ago).

MDMVL: Well, I’m afraid there’s a problem. You’ll need to clear that up with the Vermont DMV before we can issue you a license. (she gives me a number to call and some sort of reference number).

Explanatory sidebar:  the MDMVL has accessed the National Driver’s License Registry. This is:

NDR is a computerized database of information about drivers who have had their licenses revoked or suspended, or who have been convicted of serious traffic violations such as driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs. State motor vehicle agencies provide NDR with the names of individuals who have lost their privileges or who have been convicted of a serious traffic violation. When a person applies for a driver’s license, the State DMV checks to see if the name is on our NDR database. If a person has been reported to the NDR as a problem driver, the license may be denied

Note the text above “serious traffic violations”.  I cannot get a license in Maryland because Vermont says I have been convicted of a serious traffic violation. I can’t wait to find out what it is.

The next day I call the number given to me by the MDMVL. I am talking to a Vermont DMV lady (VDMVL). I give her the information provided by the MDMVL. There’s a pause on the other end of the line. The VDMVL asks if she can call me back; the record locator I gave her is so old it is not in their system; she need to go to the filing cabinet and look it up. In the basement.

About two hours later VDMVL calls me back. I missed renewing my Volkswagen GTI registration in 1985. I told the lady I probably had not re-registered because I was graduating and leaving the state. I asked her how much I owed. Fortunately I was not dealing with the IRS: the ticket was for $25, and to get reinstated into the National Driver’s Registry Cost $35.

This clearly was a serious offense.

I paid both fees, one I could do online, one I had to mail a check. But then I had to wait for all payments to clear, Vermont to update the database, then Maryland to pick up the database changes.  I think at least another week went by.

Eventually I got my Maryland driver’s license. Then I got my truck registered.  Then we moved to France.

Fortunately, damn good baguettes know no bureaucracies.



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