Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Colossus of the SSA

Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" at the
base of the Statue of Liberty, New York City

 Emma Lazarus' famous poem, "The New Colossus," depicts the people coming to America to partake of her blessings in the 19th Century. The poem paints a portrait of the still-young  nation's population being infused with "...your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free..." 

Why those words sprung from my memory when I entered the local Social Security Administration Office this week, I'll never know--but the masses were there. Not huddled, but people were parked on chairs, on the floor, and standing around the interior perimeter wall of a large room with weak air flow and questionable sanitation. It was my first visit to a Social Security office in decades; I needed a replacement Social Security card for a job application.
I steeled myself.

Inside, there were easily 85 people waiting ahead of me. All with a number, and all but one of which matched a flickering screen at the front of the room with corresponding digits for those "now being served." Just inside the door, a computer demanded to know my business at the office before it would generate a service number for me. I drew "B-49." I could hear a voice on a loudspeaker looking for a number in the hundreds. It was going to be a long wait. I had a deadline.

After spending 90-minutes waiting for my number to be called, it was apparent this was not the day for me. A delivery driver called my cellphone to tell me he was one stop away from my house. It was time to go. Lesson number one: Don't plan on doing anything important in your life on the day you have set aside to pay homage to the Social Security colossus.

The following morning, I arose before dawn and plotted my day. I didn't have any obligations until noon (or so I thought), and so I drove back to the Social Security office, arriving well before its advertised opening time of 9am. There were easily 35-people already standing in line outside the office. They were huddled against the chilly dampness.

Sharply at 7:46:30, the line began to shuffle forward, and we entered the lobby of the office. It was a line to get in line. An armed guard stood in front of the number-generating computer. 


Imagine the late Michael Clarke Duncan from "The Green Mile," with an attitude and a taser on his hip. In a very loud and commanding tone, the guard told us to line up around the edge of the lobby, "in case I have to shoot you, I won't hit the wrong person," he tried to joke. The punchline fell flat.

This guy was supervising the entry of answers into the computer--helpful to some, but a hindrance to others. So this line to get in line moved more slowly than necessary.
"Is there anything efficient about government?" I thought to myself. 

 I was mindful of a speech by former President Ronald Reagan at his inauguration, "...government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”
Ronnie must've needed a replacement SS card at one time in his storied life.

It was three minutes before nine, and I had drawn a good number,
I thought, B-26.
I never was much good at bingo.
I checked my cell phone.
Colossus, the guard, warned against making phone calls. 

I checked emails, and saw that an appointment I had scheduled for after Noon had been moved earlier to 10am. There were a lot of numbers to call before mine would be announced. Begrudgingly, I walked out of the waiting room, and told Colossus I didn't have time to wait. Lesson Number Two: Never forget Lesson Number One.

I had decided I would return to the SS office in the afternoon and wait it out until the bitter end. They were either going to accept my application for a replacement card or arrest me, because I wasn't leaving without the receipt showing the card was ordered.
A job was at stake--mine.

I punched in the answers to the computer query while Colossus was ogling a younger woman walking past; I drew B-67. My string with Bingo would have been fatal, but the announcer was calling numbers in the low 30's. That's doable. 'To the bitter end,' I thought.

It was shortly before lunchtime--a period I would have expected the place to be packed. It was as sparse as I had seen, and I hoped the wait would be mercifully shorter than my two previous visits. After 38-minutes, numerous emails, Facebook posts, and other social media diversions, my number was called.
I entered the inner sanctum. 

A row of open, standup booths, five to a side, lined the hall.
I went to my assigned window, and presented my pre-completed application (no fool am I) and US Passport. Yes, I are a 'Merican.
The clerk tapped on a keyboard a few times, generated a receipt, and told me my card would be in the mail in a couple of weeks.
I was free to go.

I'm sure there's a formula to express the inverse correlation of time spent in waiting for something which really takes only seconds to accomplish, but that's lost on me. My future expectation will be, when I apply for what ever paltry sum owed me by the Social Security Administration, that process should take a little longer to complete. Perhaps I should also expect my wait in line to be inversely foreshortened? 

Which brings up Lesson Number Three:
Don't bet on it. It's the government.

1 comment:

Martha Martinez said...

Nicely done, my friend!