We followed the green arrows till we found a building marked, "Tax Assessor." A line wound out the door and down the sidewalk.
"Oh, God!" was my immediate reaction. "This must be the place!"
It was eighty-five degrees in south Florida, and I'd forgotten a visor. Charley wore the Red Sox hat he kept in the trunk of his car, which I wouldn't be caught dead in because it made my long face look emaciated. He carried a brief case and I carried a tote. Inside were the documents we needed to renew our drivers' licenses - Social Security, current licenses, passports or birth certificates, bills showing our residential address. True to form, Charley had thrown in at least six extra documents.
"How long did you wait?" he asked someone leaving the building.
"'Bout three hours," was the muffled answer. Charley shook his head.
Every ten minutes we moved six feet. For naive reasons, we believed that when we crossed the threshold, we would attain nirvana, or at least air-conditioning. Within an hour we got inside, only to discover to our horror that the line snaked around stanchions. It was like a game - if you reach the goal in front of you (the door), you may proceed to the next goal (two desks up front). Charley doesn't do well with games, unless they are on a field or a court. He began mumbling.
It was not a good sign.
Behind each desk, an employee checked documents. If you handed the correct documents to her as requested, she rewarded you with a "GO" (a lettered number). If not, you got a "GO HOME."
A disruption arose up front. "Why doesn't the name on your Social Security card match the name on your passport?" the clerk asked a diminutive woman in stiletto heels and heavy mascara. How the woman had stood in line in those heels I couldn't imagine, but she did have well-developed calves. She tried to explain in broken English, until her daughter intervened.
"See, miss, my mama, she de-vorce in Honduras. She was Senora Raul Giacomo, BIG man in Honduras. Now she Alicia Colon again!"
"Then she'll have to show me the divorce papers to prove she divorced legally."
"No! No hay posible! My mama luckee to get de-vorce from that Son-of-Bitch! She no go back there for paper. No, no! He keel her!" The clerk rolled her eyes, repeated her request for divorce paper, and denied "GO."
At the other desk, a deep female voice demanded our attention. A woman of immense girth with a flaming orange scarf wound a foot high on her head bellowed, "I's an A-MER-'kin! Kin't you tell by lookin' at me? I's not starvin' like no African! I was bawn here! What cit'zen papers I suppose' to hav'?"
"A passport or your birth certificate."
"I ain't got no passpor'! I don't go NOwhere. I's an A-MER-'kin and I ain't got no need to go NOwhere! Birth certif''kit? I ain't got none! I was bawn at my house. My mamee's DEAD! How kin I bring her here?"
Another "NO GO."
By the time we moved to the front of the line, Charley's head was shaking, his lips were pursed, and his foot was tapping. I knew what that meant. He had found a way to rectify the ungodly wait. "All they have to do here," he said to everyone within two rows, "is have an employee go up and down the line, naming the documents we need. Half the line would disappear!"
"Please, God, don't let the clerk hear him," I prayed.
We lucked out and went to the far desk. I think the clerk was so happy that we had everything in order that she passed a thin smile our way. I guess she hadn't heard Charley. We received E226 and E227 and thanked her profusely.
The lettered numbers allowed us to proceed toward the next goal (the sitting area at the front of the room). Of course, all the chairs were taken, so we stood on the side of the aisle. A loudspeaker and a monitor announced the lucky letter and number of the person who could proceed to a specified ticket counter. We heard "J14" called, followed by "W175," in random sequence. Apparently those who had made appointments six months ago were on the fast track. Charley went to the men's room.
We ended up at counters next to each other, twenty minutes after we'd passed "GO." E226 and E227 had followed H11 and H13. "You should try showing 'Desperate Housewives' on that screen," Charley said to the woman who would be granting his license.
"Then we'd really have a riot," she quipped.
He attempted to engage her again. "Is there a secret to getting out of here in less than three hours? We just got postcards to come in for renewals, but we couldn't get an appointment before we leave for the summer."
The clerk shook her head, mimicking Charley's earlier action. "With no appointment, you'd have to wait till all you 'Snowbirds' leave. The beginning of the month is always lightest, at noontime."
"Well, I have a simpler solution for you," he began.
When I heard that, I jammed my documents and receipt in my tote and grabbed his sleeve. "Thank you both very much," I said to our clerks, wheeling Charley toward the exit. "See you in eight years!"
- Delray Beach, FL, Westport, MA, United States
- Undergraduate degree, Colby College; MA in teaching, Columbia Teacher's College; former high school English teacher in three states; former owner of interior design co. with advanced degree from R.I. School of Design. Published first book in 2009 titled, MINOR LEAGUE MOM: A MOTHER'S JOURNEY THROUGH THE RED SOX FARM TEAMS. Her humorous manuscript titled ELDERLY PARENTS WITH ALL THEIR MARBLES: A SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE KIDS was published in June, 2014. In 2015 A SURVIVAL GUIDE won a gold medal in the self-help category at the Florida Authors & Publishers Association conference. See website By CLICKING HERE.