In strange Florida, where gay adoption is illegal and a closeted governor likes the rancid orange Kool-Aid of Anita Bryant, I began my odyssey at the Fort Lauderdale driver license office on Powerline Road, a part of town so desolate that its streets are simply named after features that have no choice but to traverse it. Mailtruck, Watermain, Sewerpipe.
On my wedding day, my wise lesbian lawyer had executed a “Certificate of Name Change”, knowing that our marriage certificate would not be recognized as valid in states like Florida. I made fifty copies.
In mid morning and armed with both documents, I approached the failed strip mall that contained this office. A line stretched around the corner of the building. The waiting began on an unshaded sidewalk. In this overheated line, people displayed their most distempered behavior, until we were allowed, six at a time, inside where numbers were issued and there is more waiting. After hours of this, some folks gave up and left with dramatic expressions of rage. When my number rose as the afternoon sun declined through the dirty Venetian blinds, I presented my documents and my request to a grim-faced lady at station 9 who scorned the marriage certificate and ran her fingers over the Certificate of Name Change. Feeling no raised seal, she said “I need more than this. I need a certified copy.”
I was willing to take the blame for thinking I should have known this, and left the building without a new license.
A month later I returned, armed with a certified copy.
I waited (this time with my laptop until the batteries expired) and then I presented my brilliance to equally grim-faced station 4. “Where is everything else? You need proof of identity and residence and here, read this.” A checklist was peeled off a block and shoved at me. My exasperated demand to know why this had not been given to me originally went unanswered. I was, however promised that if I returned that afternoon, I’d be put at the head of the line. I quickly went home and gathered passport, birth certificate, utility bills, Social Security card and other items that might conceivably be required but were not listed, such as a framed picture of my husband in case when my number came up, I’d be assigned to that obvious queen behind station 6.
On my way back to Powerline Road, a large white Ford truck driven by an unlicensed kid attempted a U turn and crashed into the driver-side door of my little Smartcar. Police, paramedics, towtrucks and insurance people occupied me for the rest of the day.
I returned two days later to Powerline Road where another grim-faced lady looked at my stuff and actually attempted to process the change. “This is being declined. You need to get your Social changed first. The system won’t let us do anything until that change is in it.” By this date, I had been online at the Florida DMV site, derisively laughing at the inaccuracies it presents, and I knew that this requirement had never been presented there. “How on earth was I supposed to know that? Why didn’t anyone tell me?” She shrugged. ”It’s new. They changed it in December. Our computers are linked.” I offered that one would think that six months would be long enough for someone to have updated the website. Her paused-chewing gum look at me over the top of her glasses said it all.
The trip to the Social Security Office on nearby Commercial Boulevard was a breeze. I think I could have showed them only my frequent customer punch card from the gay coffee shop in Wilton Manors and been given any name imaginable. During the brief wait, a hunky officer did a funny stand-up routine about identity theft that can happen when a stranger with a cell phone takes a picture of your driver license while you are holding it. He beamed as we applauded. I was informed that my new Social Security info would be online and linked to the DMV within 48 hours. It was.
I returned to Powerline Road armed with a satchel of paper and a special “preference” slip that a sympathetic employee had given me on my last visit. I avoided the line and had to wait inside for only one hour before I got to Station 7. (Yes, Catholics, this office is very similar in design to the dreadful Stations of the Cross that depict in graphic detail the mocking, torturing and crucifixion of Jesus.)
Despite the fact that on a previous visit I had been told not to show them my marriage license because it was invalid, this lady asked to see it and I gave it to her. She rose from her chair with that document and my Name Change Certificate and conferred with a supervisor who then came around to my side of the counter and declared that neither document was adequate or valid. That is when I decided to throw the fit that had been marinating within me for several weeks. I delivered the fit loud enough for the five rows of one hundred seated and testy customers to enjoy. I included the fact of the car crash. I got an applause bigger than that of the officer at the Social Security Office. The supervisor went off to make a phone call to someone with authority in Tallahassee, leaving me to stew. She returned proclaiming my Name Change Certificate to be valid. She actually smiled as if I would be joyful at this news, in the way that returning Hobbits get teary-eyed at the sight of the Shire. When she saw that I wasn’t playing along, she brought me to Station 11, shoved someone aside and instructed the lady behind the counter to issue me a new license. And she did. As God is my witness, I will never return to Powerline Road.
The next day, I went to the auto tag office on Federal Highway. I had called ahead to see what would be required to change the name on my car registration. “Just your license and registration” said a lady’s voice.
After taking a number and waiting in the restless throng, I was informed that I also needed to bring the car’s title. A very helpful lady named Ellen Mary said that she didn’t know who had answered the phone and had given me misinformation. I scanned the staff and fixed a hateful eye on the suspect. Ellen Mary told me to ask for her by name when I returned. She’d help me right away. She had reviewed my marriage information. I wondered if perhaps she was lesbian or trans. I wasn’t getting that vibe but the amazing size and color of her roller coaster hairdo made me certain that her hairdresser is probably named Randy and that she was going the distance with me for love of him.
I returned with the title and garnered hate from the crowd that did not see me take a number before I stood at Ellen Mary’s station. Some voiced protest. I faced the mob and instructed them that I had been waiting since before they were born, and that I had a number and that I had their numbers as well, so they should just chill. (I’ve learned that in these circumstances, it is best to behave as if one were a character in a hospital or police TV drama series. People understand that script and just pray that they don’t find themselves in the episode in which a lunatic sprays the room with bullets.)
Ellen Mary started to process my request while I told her the saga of my times on Powerline. She stopped to confer with the lady at the next station about the possibility that my certificates might not be valid. The other lady shrugged. Ellen Mary returned to her screen and then stopped. “Where is your insurance card? We’ll need to see that as well.” My look of shock was enough for her. She knew she had not specified this at my earlier visit. She placed on the counter a form. “Here. Fill this in for me. Just put in the name of your insurance and where it asks for the policy number just make it up.” I did this, and then she added “Just don’t do anything stupid.”
“That horse, Ellen Mary, left the barn when I decided to change my name.”