There was no line at the inspection station on Friday, just before noon, when I pulled Henry the 1990 Ford up to one of four marked corrals in the the hangar-like structure in Secaucus. Maybe this is because New Jersey no longer does safety inspections, and only checks the emissions.
The changes in inspection rules are due to budget cuts. I laughed when I heard, because it was lucky for me to not have to worry about a safety inspection. But my laughter only lasted a minute. Is it a good thing that no one has to get their car checked out anymore?
Of course not. And anyway, my car would pass the safety check. It already passed that each year in Virginia. The emissions are what I was worried about. My sister lives in a rural area and Henry hadn't had his emissions checked since 2003 in Manhattan.
I'd had my mechanic do something called a "CCC kit" a few years ago, which I assume is something to do with carbon-cleaning and not the Civilian Conservation Corps.
A man in a uniform motioned me into a lane. I pulled up and showed my registration and license.
"Any chance this car has a bar code?" He grinned and I shrugged. He pulled open the driver's side door and looked at its side.
"It does!" He pointed his bar-code reader at the door and Henry registered. He was in the system. The inspector motioned me out of the car and into a pedestrian lane.
I shifted nervously from foot to foot for about 10 minutes. My car was passed along the lane, from station to station. At the last station, an inspector waved me over. He needed my key for the fuel cap.
Which took me a second to work out. New Jersey doesn't let us pump our own gas. What was second nature to me in Virginia and Ohio is something I've forgotten how to do in NJ.
"So how are we doing?" I asked.
He shrugged. "Don't know until it's done." He pointed to a computer screen. "That'll tell us."
Then, "You passed."
"Maybe it's because my car is originally from California," I thought.
The inspector looked at me funny.
"That makes no sense."
I reddened. "No, I mean... I bought the car in L.A. They have the toughest emissions standards in the country, so..."
"Oh, I get it. Well, it's got to be better than New Jersey. Everything is better than New Jersey. New Jersey is the 50th worst state in the country."
I wasn't quite sure how to respond to this.
"Uh, come on, 50th? What about 48th or 49th?"
He looked away. "Been here 15 years and now they cut safety inspections. Laid off, just like that."
"And no safety? What about my kid? Someone's brakes fail cuz there's no safety inspection?"
I nodded. He certainly had a point. I have no idea why they don't just charge for safety inspections, like in Virginia.
He shrugged. Henry and I drove away, legal but subdued.
We'd passed. But it would be a few hours before I quit feeling blue about the inspection process.