Friday, April 14, 2017

License to Travel-Sorta

Photo by Jennifer E. Miller 2017

License to Travel-Sorta

Jennifer E. Miller

My drivers license requires a renewal this year, so I decided to post my experience and thoughts about documentation(s). I'll begin with the boring stuff and work my way into sarcasm with the possibility of embellishment--as always.

All sorts of new regulations when into play after 9/11. Some were quick to come about, while others slowly filtered their way in as time went on. One of the ways that have changed is government-issued identification. There are several choices now: regular drivers licence; enhanced drivers license; passport card; and passport. The uses and limitations are enough to make your head spin so I have conveniently compiled them below based on my own limited research. In other words, if you are considering one over the other, please do your homework for your own state or territory and travel needs.

Let's start with the regular drivers license. In Washington State, this will soon do nothing more than give you driving privileges. As you can see from the Department of Homeland Security's link, WA State Drivers Licenses will no longer be accepted for domestic air travel either June 6, 2017 or January 22, 2018; I can't figure out which is the correct deadline. Washington is one of those obscure states where obtaining your drivers license isn't "strict enough." From what I gather, it is not necessary to prove your American Citizenship in order to get a standard drivers license. Funny. When I applied for my learner's permit all those years ago I had to bring my birth certificate which would confirm my citizenship. As you can view in this link it there are many loop holes allowing foreigners to obtain driver's license which is out of compliance with the Dept of Homeland Security; at least that's my educated guess. Of course all this subject to change and if you are a Washington State resident, you are aware our governor is fond of suing the federal government over federally mandated regulations and laws. At some point, the extensions with expire. Be prepared.

Moving on. Washington State offers an enhanced driver's license (EDL). It serves as appropriate documentation to cross the border into Canada, Mexico, or areas of the Caribbean by land or sea only (Google Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative or WHTI). They have a microchip in them that stores the registered license number and speeds up the customs process. EDLs are also proof of American citizenship because it is necessary to supply your birth certificate, naturalization card, social security number, etc.

As far as I can tell, a passport card serves the same travel purpose as an EDL but doesn't grant driving privileges. The only countries it can be used are Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the Caribbean; again by land or sea travel only. Proof of American citizenship is needed to obtain one and, hence, carries proof of the card bearer's citizenship.

To fly to or from any country a traditional passport is key. It will also serve as proper ID for the TSA when traveling domestically is sufficient to cross the borders if driving or cruising as it, too, serves as proof of American citizenship. However, like the passport card, it does not include driving privileges.

So why explain all this? My standard WA State drivers license expires in about two months. I decided to opt for the enhanced one as my passport is expired. (I didn't know about the five year grace period to renew it.) I am going to need an EDL to travel domestically by air as of next year. I am unsure if I'd remember to grab my passport when simply traveling within the US. We have also talked about making a weekend trip to Canada; and a passport does take extra time than and EDL. By the way, kids under 16 only need their birth certificates to cross into Canada by land with their parents.

I will probably get a passport at some point anyway. Why? It is the most diverse piece of travel documentation available. It's accepted everywhere. And, as I recall applying for my passport previously, it is easier than obtaining an EDL?

Say what?

For a passport, I recall filling out a form, getting a photo, going to the courthouse with my birth certificate, possibly getting something notarized while there, mailing it off, and voila! the mailman delivered my passport. To obtain your Washington State EDL was a bit different, as I found out: gather current license and certified copy of my birth certificate; arrive at department of licensing five minutes prior to opening and be the 20th to 25th person waiting outside; wait for employee to unlock door; file inside to get in line number one. It's all uphill from here.

While waiting in line number one, I notice the employees behind the desks and immediately think of the movie Zootopia.

You think I'm joking, don't you?

Line number one, which is the line just to get your number cue was a fifteen minute wait. Patrons get a slip of paper and take a seat in the waiting area. When I walk up, the grouchy sloth behind the desk asks what I need today. I inform her I wish to renew and upgrade to an EDL.

"Birth certificate and drivers license please."

After I hand them to her, she clips a piece of paper to a clip board and tells me to fill it out.

"Ya don't need to call anyone for info; just fill it out to the best of your knowledge."

She hands me one last slip of paper with my cue number on it and tells me to sit down and listen for it to be called. There is a monitor screen that list the "now serving" numbers. I'll call this line number two.

I locate a seat in a rows of hard plastic chairs that are in desperate need of a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser scrubbing. The white tile floor is chipped in places and I realize it's probably the same seats and textiles decades ago when I waited to take my initial drivers test.

I notice the man seated behind me is mumbling various Tourettes curse words. Doing my best to ignore him, I begin filling out the form, which is surprisingly simple; basically the information on my birth certificate with a few extras like "have you ever had a license issued in another state or territory." I got hung up on the section asking for parents place of birth. I knew my mother's, but I could quite remember my father's. My birth certificate stated their places of birth with only the state, not the city. No matter, I thought. The grouchy lady in charge of line number one said there was no need to call anyone. I finish up and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

And watch all the people who were behind me in line number one get their numbers called before me.

My foot taps impatiently. I purse my lips. I wring my fingers.

I'm beginning to understand the source of the man's Tourette's Syndrome.

When I feel as though I'm about to burst, my magic number is finally called. Relieved, I walk to the desk and hand a new woman my clipboard of information. I take a vision test, then she clicks her computer mouse and rapid-fire types something on her keyboard. She ho-hums and finally asks me to supply my social security number. I recite it and stand there as she continues to type her way toward carpul tunnel syndrome.

Finally, she ceases, places my clipboard with my precious documents on a counter behind and says, "It's a two part process to get your enhanced driver's license. Someone will call you to conduct an interview. Have a seat."

"Again," I added.

"Hm?" she is puzzled.

"Well a two part process would mean our meeting here is the second part. I already sat down after waiting in that line." I point to grouchy lady's line which is now wrapped around the perimeter of the room.

"I don't understand. Have a seat and wait for your name to be called, please."

She buzzes the next cue number as I return to my hard plastic chair. I glance at my watch and wished I hadn't; over forty five minutes already.

To occupy my time, I people watch. I see my birth certificate being passed around from person to person at the front counter, where I just walked from. It gets set down next to someone who takes a sip coffee from his tumbler and spills it on himself. None of that better be on my documents! He rises from his seat, goes into a back room, and comes out with a paper towel to clean up his tumbler. There has got to be the equivalent of an elementary school population crammed into this place and the employees are at their workstation washing dishes.

After a fair amount of time, the man calls me by name this time. I'm finally out of line number three.

"So you're here to get an enhanced drivers license, huh?"

"That's the form I filled out," I said sarcastically.

Blank stare with a frown.

I'm convinced that in order for someone to get a job at the DOL (or DMV for that matter), a prerequisite skill is to possess zero personality skills. What do these people do in their off time? Practice their scowl? Perhaps I should have "enhanced" my arrival at this guy's counter by moon-walking my way up. Sheesh.

"Yes, sir. I'd like an enhanced drivers license, please," I said. I matched my bland tone to his, hoping this would lighten his mood. As unreal as it sounded, it worked.

"Great! I can help you with that," he says more cheerfully. I spotted a thin smile, but, it's DOL so I'm sure none of my readers will believe me.

Line number three guy puts on his reading glasses and types a few things into his computer. He certainly isn't rapid-fire typist like line number two woman. Like many men, he types using his two index fingers. I silently roll my eyes because the wait process would go much faster if he could up his words per minute from twelve and a half to forty five simply by learning to type properly.

Soon he looks down at my application and over the top of his glasses at the computer screen and grimaces.

"Hmm," he begins. "I see here, you wrote your mother's place of birth but your father's place of birth is missing."

"I am unsure of the city. It's city A, B, or C."*

Line guy number three gives me a questioning stare down.

"How come you know where your mother was born and not your father?"

"I know the region he was born in, but I have simply forgotten which city. The lady over there," I point to grouch-puss at line number one, "said I didn't need to contact anyone to get the info; just fill it out to the best of my knowledge. I can make some calls if you prefer."

"No no. This is fine, we don't need it."

Then why did you drill me about it?

Line number three guy verifies a few more things, makes sure I understand I can't fly internationally with my EDL, then has me sign a final form. He punches a hole in my old drivers license, invalidating it, and returns my documents to me.

"Have a seat. Your name will be called when its your turn to snap a photo."

Again?! I think. The phrase "have a seat" is going to put a sour taste in my mouth from now on.

Line number four means back in the chair. There are enough people in this place creating body heat that the fan kicks on. A gentle whir spins from the drop ceiling's vent.

I take a quick snooze and wake up to someone shouting my name. I leap to my feet and head up to the counter.

"Ready for your photo?" Line number four woman asks.

Rubbing my eyes awake I say, "Sure."

Line number four woman has me sign electronically, prints my temporary EDL, and says I'll get my physical license in the mail. But they are running behind and to expect at least three to four weeks. Sigh. That would create line number five. I've spend a few hours at DOL, what's a few more weeks?

When I get home I warn my husband of the ordeal to get an EDL. He assures me he has all the documentation so he run down to get his own. I sit at the table drinking some calming herbal tea as he sifts through the important papers in the safe. Next I hear, "Jen! I can't find my birth certificate!"

We are in for a trip to the Department of Health. The thought of waiting through another government agency line is too much. I slam my head on the table in defeat.

The End

*Trying not divulge too much personal info on here. I didn't actually say "city A, B, or C," but rather the actual city names. Surely my readers can understand that.

Copyright 2017 Jennifer E. Miller

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