Recently Kish and I had to go to the offices of the Auto Title Division of the Franklin County Clerk of Courts.
The very words invoke a kind of soul-sucking, intuitive dread. You expect to be mired in some terrible, Kafkaesque nightmare, where blank-eyed citizens stumble through endless lines and passive-aggressive bureaucrats wield forms and regulations and filing requirements like weapons. And when Kish and I got to the offices on a shabby stretch of Alum Creek Drive before the 8 a.m. opening and found about a dozen people already on line, and looked through the window and saw row after row of hard plastic chairs, my expectations and spirits drooped even lower.
But I’m here to confess that it wasn’t that bad. In fact, I came away with a dawning appreciation for the employees of the Auto Title Division and the challenges they face in their jobs.
Once the doors opened we moved from our outside line to an inside line and then had to wait a few minutes while the clerks got their cash drawers ready. As I looked around, wincing at the ever-present, high-pitched whirring sound made by an old spindle-paper printer, I realized that many of the signs and instructions were in another language, targeted at Columbus’ large population of Somali immigrants. I started to think about how difficult it would be to have a job that requires you to deal with every person who walks through the door. People who don’t speak the language. People who are down on their luck, or have just experienced some unwanted change in their personal circumstances, or are frustrated that they need to make a trip to an office rather than taking care of things on-line. They are all coming to a place where they would rather not be, because no one wants to go to the Auto Title Division. It’s obviously an unwelcome hassle. I’m sure each employee has to deal with multiple unhappy people each day — which wouldn’t exactly make you want to leap out of bed and whistle on your way to work.
But the line moved, and soon we were talking to a perfectly pleasant, professional, helpful young woman who looked up the record information about our car and explained what we needed to do — which required us, of course, to make a call, get another form from a third party, and then come back again later. But the need for another trip wasn’t caused by her screw-up, but rather by an oversight by another clerk working in another bureaucracy.
Really, it wasn’t that bad.