The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation: Sheer genius

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This is the post during which you find out about my criminal record.  I've tried to hide it for too long.  Now it looks like it is all coming back to haunt me.  And I'd rather you heard about it from my keyboard.

At the age of nineteen, way back in 1992, I purchased a beer in a Philadelphia bar.

No, I hear you cry, it cannot be true!  I know, readers.  You are hurt.  You are shocked.  You never thought I could be capable of such depravity.  Well, frankly, I didn't either.  Little did I suspect when I bundled off to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall of 1990 that I had stumbled into a den of iniquity where underaged drinking sometimes took place.

I cannot excuse it.  I allowed myself to be led astray.  Yes, one sultry July evening, I allowed myself to be persuaded--by a malefactor or malefactors who shall remain nameless--to enter one Murphy's Tavern on 45th and Spruce and purchase, to quench my thirst, a Rolling Rock.

Not that! Nay, never that!  Believe me, your wailing and gnashing of teeth wounds me as deeply as it wounds you.  In my defense, I can only say that I had no idea PBR was going to win the hipster coolness wars.

While consuming my one (1) beer, I was apprehended by agents of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.  They called my parents, fined me, and made me attend a class on the horrors of underaged drinking (did you realize that drinking can lead to uncontrollable vomiting?)  It was during that class, with the errors of my ways now readily apparent, that I made a pledge to myself to quit underaged drinking with all due speed.  And on January 29th, 1994, I honored that pledge.

I thought I had put all this behind me.  Indeed, I was so informed, when I completed my State of Pennsylvania Mandatory Alcohol Education Class; provided I didn't reoffend, they said, the record would be expunged.  We might consider the matter closed, and never speak of it again.  With time, and perhaps a name change and a relocation to a town across the country, I might hope to live down my shame and become a contributing member of society once again.

Alas, they never told the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that it was over.  And thus, it is not over.  I went to apply for a District of Columbia driver's license this morning, only to be informed that I cannot, because the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania wants to suspend my driver's license.

The problem, you see, is that at the time of my conviction, I did not have a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Driver's License.  Indeed, I had no driver's license at all, being one of those benighted city people who get their first driver's license at the age of 23.  The laws of the State of Pennsylvania, however, say that the Department of Transportation is entitled to suspend the driver's license of anyone arrested for underaged drinking.  And the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Transportation is, apparently, determined to exercise this privilege.  Thus, the spectacle of a 35 year old woman being informed that she is about to have her driver's license suspended for underaged drinking.

To add insult to injury, I am expected to fill out a form and, at my own expense, mail it to the DOT in order to commence this suspension.

This would be funny and mildly annoying if it were not for the fact that until they clear the suspension, I cannot get a DC driver's license, because states are required to scan for violations from other states before they issue a new license.  (No word on how I got one out of the State of New York).  And until I get a DC driver's license, I cannot register the car I just bought.  The DMV here, after much wrangling, gave me temporary tags, but it looks like I'm going to have to garage the thing for three months unless the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania relents.  Which, at this time, they show no evidence of doing.

Now for the painless segue from idiotic bureaucratic snafu to moral:  this just goes to show why ironclad bureaucratic rules are such a bad idea.  The federal law is meant to protect dangerous drivers whose licenses have been suspended from getting a license in another state--an excellent program.  It is not, or so I mote, intended to allow the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to suspend my license for an underaged drinking conviction that took place 16 years ago.  Indeed, I don't think that even the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania law was intended to do something so moronic--it isn't as if I deliberately (or even accidentally) failed to comply; I simply didn't have a driver's license for them to confiscate.  Since I didn't get one until I was well over the legal drinking age, I'm pretty sure that a moment's consideration would lead any reasonable bureaucrat to dismiss this idiocy.

But of course, we don't have reasonable bureaucrats.  We have rules.  Rules that Must Be Followed No Matter What.  Neither Pennsylvania nor DC can, apparently, do anything at all to prevent the Wheels of Justice from punishing me for a long-past transgression that did not even involve a motor vehicle.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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