Saturday, June 25, 2005


I went to the Social Security office yesterday to register for Medicare. You’re supposed to do that 3 months before you turn 65…That was quite an experience. From the outside, the office appears to be quite pleasant, nice architectural lines and a good color scheme. But inside…the first thing you see is a “Take a number” machine. Directly beyond that is a large waiting room with precisely placed rows of those uncomfortable stacking chairs, the kind you haul out when unexpected company shows up. The chairs are all facing one direction so it appears as if there were a class being held in the room and the teacher has stepped out for a minute. At the back of this “classroom” there sits a security guard at his own special desk with a video monitor showing the room. I’m not sure why he can’t simply look at the room by looking up from the monitor? But he looks very officious and after awhile I think that’s a good thing. On one wall, there are a few posters extolling the virtues of SSI in both English and Spanish. On the long wall that runs parallel to the seats there are three window opening, appropriately labeled 1, 2 and 3. Each window has 2 chairs placed in front of it and people are sitting on them and talking to someone on the other side of the window.

With my number (14) firmly in hand, we sit on 2 available chairs and begin our wait. Surprisingly, it only takes a minute or two. My number is called and we go window number 2, where my name and Social Security number are taken and I tell the clerk what it is that I want to do. I’m told to take a seat and I will be called again, this time by name and not number.

Now the waiting begins in earnest. People come and go and I realize that the first visit to the window was simply to find out what you wanted. You will be served whenever it’s convenient for someone, somewhere beyond the windows. And I also notice that the mood of those waiting is not entirely pleasant. Most of the people are visibly angry and that’s when I’m glad the security guard is present. I also notice that being called to window doesn’t seem to make people less angry, which is what I was hoping for.

Finally, I am called and we go to window #1. Here, a very pleasant young lady asks me once again as to my business and she also wants my name and number. Plus my driver’s license. I explain that since it is recommended by the Social Security Administration that I register for Medicare 3 months before I’m 65, I had decided to do that very thing. Did I want to register for retirement as well? I told her that I was going to wait until March, when I would be eligible for full benefits. Oh, oh! Now she was puzzled and told me that since she was “new here” that she would have to ask someone about the legality of my request.

Oh, oh…now I’m worried. During all of this waiting time, I had been observing her and the other clerks and it was obvious that she was the one that the rest of the clerks depended on for answers. I had assumed that she was the most senior of the clerks. Wrong! The real senior clerk soon appeared and reassured her that I was doing the right thing. And I could have an appointment to register for Medicare. An appointment? As it turns out, I will have a telephone appointment next week and then I will send them the appropriate documents by mail. All of that waiting and it turns out that the process will be handled by a telephone call. Ah! Government…you gotta love it!

As for the security guard, he was still intently looking at the room by looking at the monitor. And this thought comes to me...if some violence were to take place in the room, would he recognize it or would he assume it was just something on TV?

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