Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Socially Secure

The SSN saga continues: today we went into the Social Security office in Walnut Creek to try to find out what's going on with my number.

The office is a little bit grim: bureaucratic decor and crowded. But the mood seems generally upbeat. There's an armed guard at the door to check bags, and presumably to step in if clients get a bit lairy; but he's cheerful, chirpy, and chatty.

The procedure is: answer the question "Are you carrying any weapons?" correctly. (Hint: "No.") Get your bag searched. Join the line for the reception window. Check in at reception: tell 'em your name and your problem. Sit and wait for your name to be called.

We sit and wait. And wait. I wish I'd brought a book and start people-watching instead. There's quite a mix here: retirees, kids, lots of immigrants.

One chap seems to be having trouble with the procedure; he has a wad of documents an inch thick, none of which seem to be exactly what he needs to be showing. He's sent to sit and wait, but keeps cutting back in at the reception window each time he finds a new document: "will this one do it?" The officer bears with him remarkably patiently, but on the fifth visit her patience finally snaps: "Sir, I've checked you in: that is all I can do. You will have to sit and wait for your name to be called." He's not happy; raises his voice; demands to see her supervisor. Fine, but he'll still have to sit and wait to be called. He moves aside to the next (vacant) window but next thing we know he's cut in at one of the service windows waving his documents.

By this time Melinda and I are rubbing our hands together in anticipation. What's going to happen now? The guard is called. "Sir, you're going to have to go sit down and wait to be called." And instantly he's docile and submissive; sits quietly; drama over.

After 90 minutes wait, I'm called. My passport and green card are checked — including some form of secret inspection of the green card with some equipment under the desk. (The green card is covered in holograms, watermarks, and other security features, including an area on the back which has the appearance of photographic film; my guess is that she's checking one of these out, but I've no idea which or how.) Much tapping on the computer. Aha: the Texas office did submit an SSN application for me, but "it hasn't been cleared". What does this mean? No idea; but the gist seems to be that it's wedged in the system. More tapping; I sign a sheet to say yes, I do want to apply for an SSN; and it's unwedged.

My card should arrive within two weeks. We'll see. But I do at least now have a receipt acknowledging my application and with the magic numbers on to look me up in the system should things go awry again.

I feel somewhat better, but I'm still frustrated: I want to be driving, damn it, but I can't apply for a license without an SSN. Patience, patience.


Can you not drive on your UK license for a spell? I guess that might be only for hire cars.
As a visitor, yes. But as a new resident, you have to get a CA licence within 10 days:

I did a lot of practicing in my 10 days grace, but I can't now drive until I apply for a licence, pass the written test, and get my permit.