I hate people insisting on enforcing stupid, nothing, meaningless rules. It requires a serious lack of imagination, being a stickler; I can’t stand it. Take this afternoon. I filed my stories earlier today (ker-ching!), and then put my head down and studied for my Driver Knowledge Test, the little exam they give you before you can get a Learner’s Licence. Yes, yes, calm down, I can’t drive. This has never really bothered me before, in fact, never being designated driver has distinct advantages, but it is starting to feel a bit silly. It does feel like something I ought to be able to do, kind of like swimming, identifying a rip and tying my own shoelaces (although come to think of it…). And I think that if (there it is again) we do happen to have kids one day, I’m pretty sure being able to drive a car is really going to come in handy. I look at mothers struggling on and off public transport with progeny and paraphernalia, and I think, “No thanks.”
Anyway, all of this had me standing at the local Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) this afternoon. I finished reading the handbook, and got myself down there toot sweet thinking I’d sit the test while it was all still fresh in my mind. I was issued a ticket, and the time on the ticket is recorded as 4:06 pm. At about 4:10 pm, my number was called to window #2. I explained what I was there to do, and the woman looked at her watch and said, “We don’t do Driver Knowledge Tests past four o’clock without an appointment.”
I looked down to my left, to the bank of empty computer consoles.
“I’ll be quick,” I said hopefully. “And it looks like there’s room.”
“That doesn’t matter,” she told me, and I could see what was coming. “You don’t have an appointment. It’s after four o’clock.”
“You really can’t let me just do it now I’m here?”
“You can come back tomorrow. Would you like to make an appointment?”
No, you hideous rule lover, I wouldn’t like to make an appointment. What I’d like is for you to allow that I missed the stupid non-appointment cut-off time by a matter of minutes, bring a conspiratorial finger to your lips, smile, and direct me to the bank of available computers so I can do the damn test and get the hell out of there so I don’t have to come back and go through the whole process again tomorrow. That’s what I’d like. But no.
“I suppose so,” I grumbled.
She started tapping away.
“You’ll have to pay for that now,” she said. “Because you’ve made an appointment.”
“But if I walked in off the street any time before four o’clock tomorrow, I could just do it all then, including pay?”
“I can come first thing in the morning, if that’s easier.”
“If you want to come in earlier,” she said, “you don’t need an appointment. Just let them know you have an appointment for later in the day so they can cancel it.”
Just then I had an unpleasant premonition of jostling a cast of thousands at the ticket machine. Because that’s exactly the sort of thing that tends to happen when someone’s protocol obsession means you have no choice but to come back. Subtle changes in the environment mean the entire experience is guaranteed to be worse the second time round. I’m not a gambling woman, but I would sure as shit put money on that. I tried to anticipate and pre-empt; this attempt to save my own time is doomed to fail, but I like to give myself an A for effort. Mostly I hand out A’s for ARSEHOLES.
“Is there a time in the average day that’s usually really quiet?”
“Pretty much the rest of the day,” she said, and I swear to god she did not even remotely smirk. Sticklers don’t tend to be smilers. The heart of the matter is right there in that poker face. “But after four, you get the school kids, and you have to have an appointment.”
“Right,” I said, nodding, looking again at those empty test seats, so near and yet so, so far. “Got it.”