Going through hell to get a license to drive in Hell

If you’re going to have a Web site that lists inaccurate and incomplete information, why have one at all? That question can easily be directed to the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission after what should have been a simple (albeit long overdue) trip to exchange my New York driver’s license for a New Jersey driver’s license turned into three trips, one-and-a-half wasted days, and a keg of aggravation.

WTF???

According to the wonderful state of New Jersey, there is a six-point ID verification process for obtaining a driver’s license. I completely understand this and have zero objections. Running the risk of granting official credentials to a terrorist would be foolhardy. However, people consult this list so that they bring the proper documents to the Motor Vehicle Commission and make the trip only once, so shouldn’t the list be accurate and specific?

More and more people are switching to electronic billing to pay for their utilities. It’s more efficient, and it helps the environment by not creating unnecessary paper documents. If you choose not to accept electronic bills as proof of residence, shouldn’t you mention that somewhere on your Web site? I don’t have a problem with the policy. I have a problem with not having a clue, despite consulting the Web site, and being turned away after showing up with a document that satisfied the published criteria. The woman I spoke with said, “It happens all the time.” Well, there’s a reason for that. There is not one word on the Web site that indicated that electronic bills are unacceptable. Thanks for wasting my Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, my landlord was kind enough to meet me at his office, prior to leaving for vacation, to print out a copy of the lease for our apartment. A lease is also on the list of one-point documents that satisfy the proof-of-residence requirement. However, as I found out Tuesday, on my second trip to the Jersey City office of the Motor Vehicle Commission, if the lease was signed more than 60 days ago, it doesn’t qualify. Again, there is not a single word about this restriction anywhere on the Web site. I wouldn’t have even attempted to use the lease had I known it wouldn’t be accepted. This marked my second wasted trip to Jersey City.

Fortunately, the supervisor I spoke with was very helpful and made some suggestions that would enable me to complete the torturous task of getting a driver’s license on that day, rather than wasting time on another day. I was able to get PSE&G to print out my bill, along with an official stamp, and I was also able to locate some tax-related documents that were sent to my address, so on trip No. 3, I emerged with a New Jersey driver’s license. But it should not have taken three trips. As I said at the start of this blog, if you’re going to have a Web site that lists inaccurate and incomplete information, why have one at all?

Then again, based on how useful the road signs in New Jersey tend to be, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that the Motor Vehicle Commission’s site was equally useful (read: useless).

On a humorous side note, the helpful supervisor (in a rare occurrence, no sarcasm from me whatsoever — he truly was helpful) suggested PSE&G and directed me to its office in the Journal Square transportation complex. What a freaking nightmare. It was packed when I walked in, and I took a ticket with No. 11 on it, only to look up at the screen and see that No. 54 was being served. When 10 minutes had passed and No. 56 was being served, I got the hell out of there and went several blocks out of my way to PSEG’s Hoboken office, where I was in and out in three minutes. When I finally left the Motor Vehicle Commission with my driver’s license, about three-and-a-half hours after leaving the Journal Square PSE&G location, I peeked in out of curiosity to see what number they were up to and saw No. 24. I would have spent about three hours sitting there. Word of advice: Never, ever go to the Journal Square PSE&G office. Wow.

Anyway, after three trips and almost 10 hours of time spent, my story finally reached a happy ending (not THAT kind, you pervs!). I am now the proud (OK, probably not so proud) owner of a New Jersey driver’s license. As a result, I immediately forgot how to parallel park and use my turn signals, but I was suddenly enlightened as to the mystical ways of negotiating a traffic circle, a roundabout, a jughandle, or whatever you want to call those atrocities. Yay, me!

Contemplating homicide at BJ’s Wholesale Club

I played the percentages while choosing a checkout line at BJ’s Wholesale Club in Jersey City yesterday and lost, big-time.

BJ's Wholesale Club

The self-checkout lines are not an option for me, as I have proven time and time again to be thoroughly incompetent when it comes to using them, so my choices came down to a line with an elderly couple ahead of me, and a line with an Asian couple who looked to be in their early 50s. I generally have bad luck when stuck behind elderly people in checkout lines, as I always seem to wind up behind the ones who question the price of every single item and claim that the sales tax on a purchase of more than $100 is off by a penny, so I chose the line with the Asian couple.

The Asian couple had quite the haul of merchandise, but most people who shop at BJ’s wind up with similar stashes, so I wasn’t overly concerned. I overheard them chatting while waiting for the person in front of them to finish paying, and they spoke nearly flawless English, so I felt pretty good about my choice.

And then, the fun started.

First, the Asian couple proceeded to break up their purchases into four separate groups, each to be rung up and paid for separately. This added a good five minutes to my waiting time. Luckily, despite the complete lack of consideration and the perception that they were the only customers who mattered, I wasn’t in a hurry, so I sighed, rolled my eyes and decided it wasn’t worth saying anything or moving to another line.

Now, for the action that spurred my homicidal thoughts: After paying for the first two batches of merchandise in cash, the Asian couple attempted to pay for the last two with BJ’s gift cards that had no money left on them. The cashier was nice enough to try each card a couple of times, but they kept coming up empty. Suddenly, the people who were speaking perfect English moments ago were the victims of a shocking memory loss, as the ability to speak the English language was unexplainably removed from their memory banks and their communication with the cashier was reduced to a series of gestures and grunts. How convenient.

After two trips to the customer-service desk, during which the gestures became more animated and the grunts became louder, the situation was somehow resolved, and I was finally able to pay for my purchases after a 13-minute wait.

I had almost calmed down from the boiling point of my anger until the husband from the Asian couple turned around with a goofy grin and chose option No. 1 from the list of Asian stereotypes: “So solly!” I am dead serious and not trying to pass on a racist joke: The man actually said “solly,” not “sorry.” I am truly amazed that I resisted the temptation to unleash a right hook at his jaw.

I was the solly one – solly I chose that checkout line. I hate morons.

If Hoboken is the birthplace of baseball, why can’t I find a vintage Hoboken baseball jersey?

OK, as much as I love the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and as cute and homey as the tale of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in Cooperstown, N.Y., might be, the facts point toward Hoboken, where I happen to live, as the true birthplace of baseball. Cooperstown is a quaint, scenic, beautiful little town with plenty of charms, while Hoboken is a yuppie-filled center of corruption and alcoholism, but facts are facts.

So why is it that despite searching for years, I have yet to come across anything resembling a vintage-style Hoboken baseball jersey?

Jersey City Giants Bobby Thomson #7

I don’t believe Hoboken has had a team in the modern era. The Jersey City Giants were pretty big-time and, since I’m getting married in Jersey City, my fiancée was kind enough to pick up the pictured jersey from Ebbets Field Flannels, which I will likely change into after the reception. In fact, the jersey is a No. 7 for Bobby Thomson of “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” fame.

But there has to have been some team at some point that wore jerseys with Hoboken on them. Ebbets Field Flannels offers obscure jerseys from hundreds of teams, but no Hoboken.

The only time I’ve ever actually seen a Hoboken baseball jersey (aside from Hoboken High School and, while they’re actually beautiful jerseys, that’s not what I’m looking for) was at the very end of Eight Men Out, the movie about the 1919 Chicago White Sox and Shoeless Joe Jackson, who allegedly conspired to throw the World Series, earning the nickname Black Sox. At the very end of the film, after being banished from baseball, Buck Weaver (Jon Cusack) watches Shoeless Joe (D.B Sweeney) in a minor-league ballpark playing under an assumed name, and Jackson and his teammates are wearing Hoboken jerseys.

But I can’t even find a picture of that part of Eight Men Out, or of any jersey that says Hoboken, on the great big World Wide Web.

Anyone got any ideas? I’m all ears.

First baseball game at Elysian Fields in Hoboken

A very, very close call at jury duty

I just finished serving a day-and-a-half of jury duty in Jersey City, and it was the longest day-and-a-half I’ve experienced in quite some time. The stress jury duty puts people through is worth far more than $5 per day, no matter what the state of New Jersey seems to think.

jury duty

jury duty

I left myself plenty of time to get there Monday. I wanted to arrive early so I could secure one of the cubicle-like seats, plug in my laptop and get some work done. It’s a good thing I left myself so much time because, as I found out later, I could not have taken a dumber route from the Journal Square PATH station to the courthouse. I knew the courthouse was on Newark Street, so I found Newark Street on a map and walked to it, then turned right toward the courthouse, which turned out to be about a nine-block walk. However, making the first right off Kennedy Boulevard, onto Pavonia Avenue, rather than walking all the way to Newark Street, would have shaved about six of those nine blocks off the total, so keep that in mind if you ever get stuck serving in Jersey City.

Despite my Vasco da Gama-style route, I arrived early enough to get a cubicle and immediately started working, which was a wise move when you consider my part-time status: If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. A couple of panels got called, but my name wasn’t among them, and I actually had a fairly productive day, including working through our lunch hour because I didn’t want to lose my seat.

Then bad luck reared its ugly head. My name was the last one called for what I later found out was the last panel called on Monday, so at approximately 2:30 p.m., productivity went down the toilet, as I was summoned to a courtroom where, obviously, computer use isn’t allowed.

The case was a civil case involving an automobile accident that took place in July 2005. It’s great to see that our justice system just hums right along, isn’t it? I barely remember last week, much less four years ago. The eight-person jury box was filled, questions were asked, some jurors were dismissed, and then we were allowed to leave early because the judge had another panel set to convene at 3 p.m., but we were told to report back to the same courtroom at 9 a.m. Tuesday (today).

If I may interrupt for a sidebar (legal term!), there are some downright ugly women in Hudson County. Men are always looking at women, no matter what our status is. Anyone that says they don’t is flat-out lying. If our eyesight and our imagination are toast, then our other vital parts are probably toast, as well. But you can throw out the Ginger vs. Mary Ann debate: Mrs. Howell would have been the sexiest one in this bunch. Having no eye candy around was a big disappointment. Eye candy definitely speeds the day.

And if I may interrupt for another sidebar, the only benefit of the long route I took to the courthouse was discovering a White Castle on Kennedy Boulevard. Once I was dismissed for the day, was there any doubt what lunch would be? I freaking love White Castle.

I returned to the courtroom Tuesday morning, taking a much shorter route thanks to the tip from my lovely fiancée. My experience in the courtroom Tuesday provides the clearest example possible about why jury duty is so stressful. I honestly couldn’t decide which way to “root.” Did I want the process to drag on in hopes that my name never got called, so that by the time a jury was selected, I’d hopefully be dismissed? Or did I want the process to end quickly so I could return to the relative calm (and Internet access) offered by the jury room? Were the events of the morning a good sign or a bad omen? The complete lack of control over my situation and the unpredictability were just draining.

The judge had a long list of questions that she planned to ask every potential juror, and the first batch of questions seemed like they would weed out the most people, so when we got through that first batch and several potential jurors had been replaced by people other than myself, I started to feel a little better about my odds of escaping a trial that we were told would likely last through Monday.

Then the bad omen arrived. A woman who appeared to be Indian was seated as juror No. 1, and I immediately knew in my heart that she would end up completely screwing me. The odds were still about 25-1, as there were 25 of us left in the audience, but I just got this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Some people have no business whatsoever being in jury duty, and she was one of them. I’m not one of those people who demands that every person on the planet speak perfect English, but she obviously did not have nearly enough command of the language to get through a trial. The judge, who spoke clearly and slowly, had to repeat each question two or three times, and she was called up for sidebar conferences with the judge and the two attorneys on numerous occasions. Someone must have finally come to their senses and realized that having her on a jury would likely double the length of the trial, because she was excused. Out of the 25 people left, yours truly became the replacement juror. I knew it. Why, I don’t know, but I knew it. I was no longer a free man: I was juror No. 1.

I had two low cards that I was hoping would save me. One was the fact that Yom Kippur occurs on Monday, which was expected to be the last day of the trial. Anyone who knows me also knows that I’m not the least bit religious, except when it comes to Yankee baseball, but with my last name being about as Jewish as last names can be, I thought I had a shot. However, since the judge strongly felt that the trial would end early Monday, I struck out on that count.

I’m pretty sure my second card was what saved me. As I said, the trial was about a car accident, and one of the questions asked whether any family members or close friends had recently been involved in an accident. Unfortunately, one of my friends was indeed involved in a very severe one a few weeks ago, which he was lucky to walk away from. The accident in the case took place on Tonnelle Avenue, and my friend’s accident also took place on 1/9, but further south, on the Pulaski Skyway. I was called up for a sidebar conference, described my friend’s accident, and returned to the jury box.

At this point, things weren’t looking up for our hero. I didn’t think there was any way to avoid serving on the trial, and I was resigned to completely wasting the rest of Tuesday, as well as Wednesday, Thursday and Monday (Friday is a day for motions, so juries aren’t involved). The only chance I had was being excused by one of the lawyers, but I didn’t think my answers to any of the questions raised any red flags.

We finally got to the point where all of the questions were answered, and it was up to the two attorneys. The plaintiff’s attorney excused one juror, so we all had to sit there while his replacement answered the entire line of questions from the judge. The defendant’s attorney then excused another juror, and the same drill happened with replacement No. 2, but this one took much longer, as he was called up for a couple of sidebar conferences. At this point, I was utterly and completely defeated and just wanted the trial to start already, as I saw no hope of not being part of it. However, I didn’t realize that the attorneys could remove more than one juror each.

Then, the magic words came out of the mouth of the plaintiff’s attorney: “Your honor, I would like to excuse juror No. 1.” Did I just hear that, or was I hallucinating? Relief washed over me as I gathered my belongings and returned to the jury room, where another pleasant surprise awaited: I was free to leave.

I have never been happier in my life to log onto my two work e-mail accounts and get busy. But the two hours and 15 minutes or so that I spent in that courtroom this morning were among the most stressful I’ve experienced in quite some time, and I have no desire to repeat the experience, even for another $10. Today’s experience was way too close for comfort.