Turns out guy at MVA isn't a big shot

THIS JUST IN ...

August 28, 1996|By DAN RODRICKS

He read about himself in this column Monday morning and for several hours considered lifting the phone to give himself up. He was the unnamed man who, ushered to the head of a line at the Motor Vehicle Administration, got a new driver's license in about 10 minutes while others had to wait an hour or more. When he left, it was in a car with state government tags, which compounded the offense (a social misdemeanor punishable by dirty looks) for those already irritated by what they perceived to be special treatment for a big shot.

Everybody's busy. Nobody likes to stand in line at the MVA. We wanted to know why this guy got the red carpet.

So late Monday afternoon, he picked up the phone and, in a quivering voice, told his story. His name is Bob. Bob is not a big shot. He's a midlevel employee at the Mass Transit Administration.

Bob had his Maryland driver's license stolen Sunday, Aug. 18. He called the MVA the next day and asked what to do to replace it. He was told the matter could be expedited if he went to MVA headquarters in Glen Burnie. (The updated computer system there probably had a match of Bob's driver's license; if he was short on documentation -- birth certificate, Social Security card -- the Glen Burnie computer could verify his identity.) Bob says he spoke to the muckety-muck in charge of drivers' licenses. Spent 45 minutes with him. Then another MVA employee escorted Bob through three processing stations. He got his new license and left (in a state car driven by a co-worker).

At no time, he says, did he ask for special treatment.

At no time, he says, did he mention his job at the MTA as a way of gaining a little favor from his bureaucratic cousins at the MVA. He has no clue that he was given special treatment, though he understands why other people in line might have seen it that way and been annoyed by it.

So that's what I have -- Bob. Just Bob. Bob sounded convincing, and I'm told it's not unusual for the MVA to provide a little concierge-style service for people with special needs. (Though I'm still not exactly sure what Bob's "special needs" were.) On the other hand, I also hear the MVA sometimes discreetly expedites license processing for certain people with clout or celebrity. (That's not you, Bob. I didn't use your full name; you still have 15 minutes of fame coming to you.)

West Virginia pride

The one and only time in my career I try to slip a West Virginia joke into a column, and what happens? One of my most faithful readers reports shock, hurt, sadness and betrayal. He didn't like the little shot I took at his native state in a recent column about a string of burglaries out there. In keeping with the family-style tone of TJI, I thought I'd bring Mr. Richard Michael Lowe to the kitchen table and let him have his say. Go ahead, Richard.

"The story was compelling," he writes from East Baltimore, "until I got to the point where you felt it necessary to say that finding fine art inside homes of West Virginia residents can be a challenge. Was it really necessary for you to denigrate the fine people of the state of West Virginia in such a manner?

"I am truly distressed to see my home state so readily maligned in the various media. While it is true that West Virginia is a poor state, let me assure you that the residents of this great region are immensely rich in heritage and culture. And everywhere there is an exuberant feeling of pride and honor ingrained in the pioneer spirit of this vast and beautiful land.

"I have been a reader of yours for many years and even followed your radio and television shows, and I realize you have a remarkable knack for finding humor in unconventional settings. But did you really have to insult these fine people just for the sake of a few laughs in a newspaper story?"

OK, Richard, you've had your say. I see your point and understand the sensitivity. West Virginia jokes have been on the circuit for a few years, and just about all of them are based on stereotypes of poor and ignorant hillbillies.

But, here's how I see it:

The two suspects in the case hadn't been accused of taking Picassos from Jay Rockefeller's place. Police said they had been hitting homes in the most rural areas of West Virginia with an eye for fine art and collectibles. The idea of burglars looking for high-end items in an area associated historically with economic and cultural deprivation struck me as ironic and -- OK, I'll confess -- mildly amusing. To me, the whole thing sounded like a Bill Murray movie. Of course, my quip could have been read as a comment on the relative stupidity of the two clucks charged in the case; they were from Maryland. Sorry you didn't appreciate either point, Richard. But I'm glad you spoke up when something bothered you. Y'all come back now, hear?

Paper trail

In all the angst over rising juvenile drug use -- especially marijuana -- how come nobody gets on convenience stores for selling cigarette papers over the counter? Kids buy them all the time.

Law-abiding cabbie

Being a cabbie is no joy ride. We've heard all kinds of stories over the years, the most recent being the one about a drunk who kept spitting at the back of a driver's head on the way to East Baltimore. Why was he doing this? Because the cabbie refused to run red lights and stop signs, as is the custom now.

Pub Date: 8/28/96

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