I can’t remember exactly how far in advance the notice came, but I do recall putting it up so I could easily find it when I needed it. And like most people, I promptly forgot about it until a few days before the end of November. I needed to buy a new plate sticker but before I could, my SUV would have to pass the emission test. 

I’m not going to lie. The Service Engine Light (SEL) had been glowing red on my dashboard for months and because my truck was running so well, I had ignored that warning. I attributed the warning to something of a minor nature. My mechanic had wanted to look into what the problem was, but, as life would have it, giving my car up for hours to the shop is never an easy proposition. Every time I took the car to him, it was for an emergency repair. 

However, as dismissive as I had been about that light, the emission testing machine was a lot more persnickety — my truck failed the test. The paperwork I received gave me several options along with the demand that my vehicle be serviced. One of those options appealed to me. I could get a four-month plate sticker extension or I could get a seven-day one. I breathed a sigh of relief because I have been in job transition for most of 2017. I lost my last good job to a layoff this past February. Then to make matters worse, I had to have knee surgery. I had some crappy jobs in between and finally landed a position in August that paid a salary similar to the one I had been making. It was a struggle to get back on my feet, and even though I’m no longer a spring chicken, I was doing it. 

The day after I failed the exam, I went to the Secretary of State facility. Since the one on 95th and King Drive is nearest my job, it was my only option. I dreaded going to that facility because I had already experienced the long wait and slow lines at the city of Chicago office on 95th and Jeffrey. But to my surprise, the line wasn’t too long and soon I was being seen by a clerk who asked me what I wanted. I told her I wanted to buy the four-month plate extension. She keyed my information into the computer and then shook her head and told me that the four-month extension is valid only once for the life of my owning the car. One time? My truck is a 2003. It is 14 years old. It is no longer made and … the clerk cut me off. I had used the four-month extension already in the past and I was only eligible, according to the Secretary of State guidelines, for the seven-day one. Seven days! It was a Thursday and my paycheck was already obligated to the gas and light company bills. I had budgeted for the hundred-dollar plate sticker, but not for the possibility of a major car repair. I was caught where I didn’t want to be. 

So I purchased the seven-day piece of paper extension ($10) and as I walked to my car, I read the information and it was for a name and address in Calumet Park. Back inside I went and 40 minutes later, I had the one with my correct name and address. And one other thing about that stupid seven-day extension, it automatically makes day one the day you buy it. So I was technically double plated for Nov. 30, seeing as my plates expired at midnight and the extension I bought on Nov. 30 was only good through Dec. 6. 

I spent most of December finagling money and buying expensive parts to get that SEL to go off. The codes that my car’s computer gave out are generic. So you can fix one thing only to have other things continue to set the light off. 

The state would have gotten money from me from buying that extension. Instead, the state would rather hurt than help. I’m going to remember that at election time.