PennDOT treats Penguin with kid gloves

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You know the Department of Motor Vehicles drill. You took a half day off work to renew your driver's license during business hours. Inside the DMV office, dozens of fellow would-be motorists with glazed expressions sprawl in rows of hard plastic chairs, their bored and cranky children squalling the misery felt by all. And there's no telling how long you will wait.

Unless you are Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, or a "celebrity" of equal fame and disruption potential, that is.

In that case, as Mr. Crosby demonstrated to amazed patrons of the Duncan Manor DMV office in McCandless Friday morning, you get to skip to the front of the line, taking care of business in minutes while mere mortals -- including fans -- wait as they must.

Some of those fans said Friday they don't mind their hero enjoying the state's policy of preferential treatment for celebrities, which is meant to keep disruption to a minimum. But others said the double standard sends the wrong message that a famous person is more important than the average human.

"I disapprove," said 46-year-old Susan Campbell of Cranberry, who later in the day spent an hour and half at the center off McKnight Road and waited in line twice to help her 20-year-old daughter, Jessica, renew her license before heading off to college. "He should have to sit and wait with everyone else."

But that would be so disruptive, said her other daughter, Stephanie. After all, people waiting with Mr. Crosby would text pictures to their friends and his fans would overrun the DMV in no time, she said.

"If I knew he was going to be there, I'd be down there in five seconds," said Stephanie Campbell, 22.

And that's what the police are for -- to keep order, her mother answered.

A spokeswoman for the Penguins confirmed that Mr. Crosby, who turned 26 on Aug. 7, renewed his driver's license on Friday.

And state officials said that rather than contain the fan chaos surrounding Mr. Crosby and other celebrities, they want to keep it from starting at all.

As a result, supervisors of DMV offices throughout the state decide whether and when to let famous people -- whose presence might actually make customers' wait time longer -- go to the head of the line, said Jan McKnight, a spokeswoman for the motor vehicles department. The decision is based on how much potential the celebrity has to create a furor that causes delays for everyone, she said.

"If they walk in and the place goes crazy with fans, we would just move them in and out," she said. "It's a matter of keeping control and keeping disruptions to a minimum."

Representatives of celebrity customers, she said, also can schedule an appointment for them to handle their DMV business with a local office's manager at a specific time.

But is that fair to all the non-famous people who sometimes have to go through great inconvenience and endure long wait times to obtain or renew a driver's license?

"They would be perfectly within their right to complain, but if that person was in line longer, that wouldn't make it better for them," Ms. McKnight said. "We have to keep things moving."

Paula Miles of Gibsonia, who was at the Duncan Manor office to help her 15-year-old obtain her learner's permit, agreed.

"I think, with his popularity, he's going to get inundated and it's going to be totally disruptive if he's not taken," said Ms. Miles, 52. "I'd rather have that than have a mob scene."

But the policy rubbed Sherry Davis of West View and her 16-year-old son, Jacob, the wrong way.

"He's another person like everyone else," said Jacob, who had just earned his driver's license.

"He probably should have waited," said Ms. Davis, 43.

By not waiting with the rest of the applicants, Mr. Crosby missed a chance to let fans get to know him and to encourage their respect for him as a person, Ms. Campbell said. When her daughter, Stephanie, was young, for instance, NHL hockey pro Wayne Gretzky broke away from signing autographs at a golf tournament to spend a few minutes talking to the girl and getting his picture taken with her, she said.

It was the kind of gentlemanly behavior that won their family's admiration.

"Those are the people fans learn to love and encourage their children to follow -- the ones that take the time to talk and be themselves," Ms. Campbell said. "It depends on what kind of character you want to show, and it depends on how you want people to talk about you."

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Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: aschaarsmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1719.


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