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July 1, 2005
Arden Hills, Minn. — Friday morning at the drivers examination office in Arden Hills, a line of about half a dozen cars waited patiently at the drive-through window.
There weren't many cars in the parking lots and it didn't look like anyone was inside the building, but the cars still waited -- some of them for about 20 minutes. Once people figured out why the office wasn't open, they couldn't believe it.
"It is shut down? No way," said two people waiting in one car.
Xia and Lee Yang admitted they haven't been paying attention to the news, but now they say they may have a reason to.
"We gotta write a letter to our government. This is messed up," they said.
Other people did pay attention, but it didn't help. Ethan Norman, 15, of Forest Lake, was hoping to get his driver's permit after 10 days in driver's school. The school assured him the testing center would be open Friday. Norman was disappointed.
"I got up and I started studying for a little bit after I ate breakfast. And I was kind of hoping I could pass so I could drive a little bit this weekend up north. I came down here and they're closed. That made me mad," said Norman.
Others said they had appointments here that they made two weeks ago and never heard they were cancelled.
The head of the Department of Pubic Safety says it did what they could to tell people. Its Web site lists the services they do and don't offer.
Basically, if you already have a license you can get services, but if you want your first permit or license you're out of luck. But the department didn't individually call people with appointments to cancel them.
"I think probably a number of people didn't believe that we were going to shut down," said Michael Campion, commissioner of Public Safety.
Asked what he could do for the people who couldn't get licenses, Campion didn't have much to offer.
"Nothing. It's one of the byproducts of the partial shutdown of state government. There are all kinds of people frustrated. Not that I don't have sympathy for them. They're one of the results of what occurred last night. I don't know what we can do for them."
Campion stressed the fact that this is unchartered territory for his department, since the government has never shut down before. Campion says they tried to anticipate all of the potential problems, and acknowledged they probably missed some details. And he says they'll probably miss more.
Drivers can still renew licenses and vehicle tabs at stations operated by county and city governments, but state Driver and Vehicle Services offices that offer road tests are closed for the duration of the shutdown. The station in the Twin Cities suburb of Arden Hills was dark Friday, prompting some confusion among residents.
"It's pretty disappointing for Minnesota," said Julie Wroblewski, 22, of St. Paul, who arrived with a friend who had hoped to take her driving test. "We have always been known for our progressive politics. We've always been known as a state that works."
Another visible sign of the shutdown is the barricades blocking access to most of the rest areas along Minnesota's highways.
The Big Chief Truck and Auto Plaza on Interstate 94 near Fergus Falls was hit with a crush of travelers Friday because the nearby state rest stop was barricaded.
Larry Reid, of Waupaca, Wisconsin, and his family were headed to Montana and stopped at the Big Chief to walk their dog. At midday, the parking lot was full of cars and trucks, with some people eating picnic lunches at their cars or standing up beneath a couple of shade trees.
"We can't get to North Dakota fast enough," Reid said. "The sad part is that Minnesota used to be so good with these services, but they have let everything go to hell."
Down the street from the Capitol in St. Paul, the Department of Transportation headquarters felt like a school building on the first day of summer vacation. Footsteps echoed through empty corridors. A lone security guard whiled away the time behind a steel mesh grate at the reception desk, where someone had scrawled "DFL's fault" across a newspaper with a shutdown headline.
Even the flagpole in front of the building was bare - no American flag, no state flag.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)