I’m reeling. Absolutely astonished. My worldview has been shaken to its core.
I wanted to write about this over the weekend, but held off, afraid that the release of the first part of this story onto the internets might result in a round-the-clock patrol being stationed outside my condo, just waiting for me to leave. I mean, it’s not like the Claremont PD is too busy to stake out scofflaws such as myself. In any case, I’m glad I waited until the resolution to post, because I never would have expected the story to turn out this way.
So Friday, as I’m jetting off to Portland, I had a pretty harried arrival at the airport. The long-term parking lot was full, so I had to speed around to the daily lot to park, and then I had to check in at an unfamiliar kiosk, which wasn’t that big a deal, but I just felt all stressed and all. And so by the time I got into the first security line, the one downstairs in front of the escalator, where they check boarding passes and IDs, I was already a little keyed up.
So when the small south Asian lady said “your driver’s license is expired,” I immediately argued back. “No it isn’t,” I insisted. So she showed me the date: 08-23-06, not 08-23-08, as I’d thought. I received no renewal notice from the DMV. I’ve been driving with an expired license for two months. And, in fact, I’ve flown on that expired license at least once. I don’t have my passport with me, and I don’t have my social security card. So I had to go back to the ticket counter, get approved by the desk agent, and submit to a very thorough secondary screening. (Which, as a slight digression, involved my bags being thoroughly unpacked and checked and swiped for bomb dust. And — as if things weren’t already going well enough — the first swipe of the interior lining of my suitcase set off the alarm on the bomb dust machine. I kid you not. It was, however, a false positive, and so after some steely glares and even more thorough examination, I was allowed to go on.)
On the way home, in Portland, I fessed up to my expired driver’s license at the ticket counter, and the agent there set me up for the secondary screening again, which was, if anything, even more thorough than that in Ontario. But the most astonishing part was its efficiency. I was traveling with a colleague from ITS, and when I presented my “SSSS” boarding pass to the checker, she directed me into lane eight for my special screening. I had my very own team of two TSA agents, who put me through a puffer, which I’d never experienced before, and so I felt momentarily like I’d walked into a science fiction movie. (Of course, recent reports suggest that the puffer isn’t all that reliable, but it sure felt convincing.) After the puffer, the regular x-ray and metal detector, and after that, the swipings for bomb dust. Every single article in both my suitcase and my pink bag was swiped and checked (and this time everything came up clean). And as one of the two members of the TSA team finished with an article — shoes, laptop, laptop case, pink bag, suitcase — they handed it to me so that I could put myself back together.
The most amazing part is that I was done, redressed, repacked, and waiting for my colleague when she finished with the regular security process.
In any case, I’m flying out again on Thursday, headed to Austin for Flow, and would rather not go through such checks again, so this morning I tucked my passport into my bag, just in case. But I also had to take care of the driving part of the driver’s license, and after a phone call to the DMV yesterday, it became clear that the only way that I could get it taken care of was to actually go to the DMV. And without an appointment, at that; the only available appointments were during my classes. So I gritted my teeth and went out there this morning, first thing, right after they opened. I brought a magazine, just in case.
And I never even got a chance to pull the magazine out of my bag. I was literally — not exaggerating in the least — in and out, including checking in, filling out the form, waiting for a window, and getting the whole vision-check-thumb-print-picture-shebang taken care of, in ten minutes.
My driver’s license will arrive in the mail sometime in the next 60 days; in the meantime I have my old license, a printout that represents my renewed license, and a slightly bewildered new respect for the ways that large-scale bureaucracies really are learning some lessons about customer service.