Homeland Security Foils a Fifty-ish Blonde

By David Sundelson Special to the Planet
Friday January 16, 2004

It all started when my wife Lisa tried to renew her California driver’s license. Easy, you think? Read on. 

Lisa didn’t receive the DMV renewal form in the mail, so she made an appointment at her friendly local office. She arrived on time, waited in the wrong line for a few minutes and in the right line for an hour, and approached the window at last, thinking that the ordeal was almost over.  

In fact, it had barely begun.  

“You can’t renew your license,” said the friendly clerk. “The name on your license is different from the name on your social security number.” 

My wife explained. Her married name—our name—is on her driver’s license. However, 30 years ago or so, she was married to someone else, so she obtained her social security number in that name.  

She asked the clerk why this was a problem now, after years of trouble-free renewals of her driver’s license.  

“Things are different now. September 11.” 

All she had to do to renew her license was to bring in a copy of her divorce decree from her first marriage and her marriage certificate from her second marriage. 

Unfortunately, she doesn’t have either document. 

In that case, the clerk said, she should call Social Security. They would tell her the next step. 

After an hour or so on hold, she finally got someone from the Social Security office on the phone.  

Write to the California Department of Vital Records, he said, enclosing a check for each document, and they would send her what she needed. She wrote as directed. A month later, she received a packet from Vital Records. Ah, she thought, no more driving without a license. No more heart-in-mouth whenever she sees a police cruiser. 

Wrong again. “You should know that our processing time can take up to 2-3 years,” the Department’s letter informed her—not weeks, not months; years. The letter also pointed out that she could get copies of the required documents much faster from the courts that issued them.  

Both the divorce decree and the subsequent marriage certificate were issued in Los Angeles. I’m a lawyer, and I’m used to dealing with court clerks, so I offered to take over the job. I started by calling the family law section of the Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance. It only took 20 minutes or so of busy signals before I got through, but the news was discouraging. Because the divorce was in 1982 or ‘83 (Lisa wasn’t even sure of the year), the files were no longer active. I would have to call Archives. 

No sweat, I thought, I can do that. It took me 90 minutes or so of determined re-dialing, but I finally got someone in Archives to answer the phone. Yes, he said, they had the records of the divorce. What was the case number? My heart sank. I didn’t know the case number. 

The clerk chuckled. (I tried to chuckle too.) “That’s OK. You’ll have to call the Index Department. They can get it for you. Then you call back here. I’ll give you their phone number.” 

He actually gave me two numbers. The first told me I had reached a number that had been disconnected, and I’ve been calling the second number ever since (I keep pressing the re-dial button as I write this). Every time, I get a busy signal. Every 10 calls or so, just to tease me, I get a ring. It rings, and it rings, and it rings some more. Then it changes to a busy signal again.  

And there the matter stands. Lisa is out just now, driving to Berkeley Bowl without a license. I am at my desk, pressing the redial button. At least we have the consolation of knowing that barriers are in place to foil the would-be terrorists among us—especially 50-ish blondes. We may be frustrated, but we feel ever so much safer.