I needed a simple Work History form from the Social Security Office. Going by my very unpleasant trek to the local Social Security office, I am forced to conclude that the Nanny State everyone has feared since “1984” has actually arrived.
Actually, I went first to the Social Security Government web site at http://www.ssa.gov/ . Although there is a lot of information on the web site, it doesn’t always tell you anything. The Work History they mentioned was not the one I needed. Others went by number, which I did not know. Finally I called the number provided. The voice recognition system did not recognize my voice. Because the robotic woman could not make heads nor tails out of my speech patterns, she took me the circuitous route. But that didn’t work either, because the labyrinth of choices gave no second chances, and I really didn’t know whether or not the form I needed was SA570 or not.
Giving up, I drove to the nearby Social Security office. This office is a tiny building on an extremely busy road. I managed to get in okay, and even navigated the rather sharp turns in to the tiny parking lot in front of the building. By a sheer miracle I snagged a spot by the building. But most of the Social Security clientele were forced to go quite a distance behind the building to park, then left to hike back up to the building in the hot Florida sun. Now, keep in mind that at the Social Security office you will often find disabled people, or old and frail people, and there was no protection from the weather. But I was fortunate to be able to go directly inside.
Inside the small, packed Social Security office, I approached a touch computer screen with a list of poorly explained choices. I knew the answer to “English or Spanish?” But after that it was a guessing game. I hesitated, but finally chose the one I hoped was correct. Instantly there was a click, and a whir, and a paper ticket printed out. I was number L615 in Social Security Bingo. I sat down in a sea of people, all plopped in front of a t.v. like two-year-olds at a cheap day care.
Blessedly, the tv was tuned to the news about the Chilean miners that had been rescued. Furthermore, it was muted, with the audio streaming as text. In English. So much for those who had chosen Spanish. I was too far away to see the words clearly, so I began chatting with the pleasant young man next to me. Periodically a disembodied, indistinct voice would call out a letter-number combo and mention which window to approach. But although only five windows were visible, some were called to windows numbered up to eleven. I asked the kind young man where the other windows were and he indicated a small hall behind us. Halfway down, a miniscule sign said “Windows 6-11” with an arrow.
At least those windows were private. Windows 1 – 5 were situated around the perimeter of the crowded room. On our side was chair placed in front of a Plexiglas window with a round hole and a slot to pass papers through. The person who was able to distinguish that their number had been called went and sat in the little chair and yelled their business through the little hole. Kind of like at prison. Only with less privacy.
After awhile I began worrying that I had made the wrong choice and decided to go back up and get a different ticket. That way if I ever actually got called up to a window, discovered I had the wrong ticket, and was sent back to the bingo machine to try my luck again, I would have a head start on the competition. I approached the machine, read my choices carefully and made my choice. The click, the whir, the ticket – and a security guard yelling across the room, “Hey! You can only have ONE TICKET!!!”
“I don’t know which one to choose. That’s why I hesitated the first time,” I said, as I started toward the angry security guard. She had been sequestered behind her desk the bulk of the time I’d been there, hall monitor to the unruly masses. But now I’d broken a rule and must be punished.
“What do you want?” she barked suspiciously.
“A work history print out,” I said, holding out my tickets appealingly.
“Well then you need that one,” she snapped, snatching the other one out of my hand, crumpling it up and throwing it away, all while glaring at me.
“Thank you,” I quietly replied, and headed back to my seat. As I turned to sit down I realized she’d jumped up and followed me. She towered over me, arms folded, glare firmly pinning me to the chair. I took out my note pad and began writing exactly what had happened. She was looking down at my note pad, but luckily I have really dreadful handwriting and she was foiled in her attempts to read my anarchy.
When I finished writing, I put away my notepad, and gazed at my intimidator. After a moment, I thanked her again for helping me, and she glared disapprovingly without a word. “This is ridiculous,” I thought. “I’m 49 years old, and I did not break any laws whatsoever.” I pleasantly inquired of her whether the form I needed would cost me anything. She thawed imperceptibly and mumbled something that I chose to believe was “No, it’s free.” Then after ten minutes or so, she slowly wandered toward the television, then ambled back to her desk.
Ten minutes more and my number was called. A detached, but efficient, man provided me fairly quickly with a work history printout and I was free to go. I smiled and nodded at the security guard on the way out. She glared.
Security is not a bad thing in and of itself. But when the very people that are charged with protecting us, consider us the threat, then the Nanny State we’ve all been warned about is perilously close to reality, as I learned recently on a trip to the Social Security Office.
Source: Personal trip to the local Social Security Office