Fishing License

In Illinois, when you are dependent on a temporary visa like a Work Visa (H1-B), you’ll be issued a Temporary Visitors Drivers License. On that Temporary Drivers License there is a remark: “Not valid for identification” and it is presumably to prevent dependents (as I am) of a Work Visa holder (as my wife is) from getting legal work, which I am not supposed to get (since I got no work permission for the duration of the visa). One might want to discuss this from several angles if this is a reasonable practice, but as a visa holder you are not in a position to change anything about that for the duration of the visa.

Now to that temporary drivers licence. I must assume that (outside of Chicago) I am the only moron running around with such a thing as the following endearing little story will illustrate. It is just one of many many incidents but may stand exemplary for the fun I have executing the simplest tasks in rural America. My drivers license looks exactly like everyone elses except for that remark and the experation date which concur with the end of my visa, and the title bar background is blue instead of red and has the abbreviation TVDL which stands for Temporary Visitors Drivers License (is there such a thing as a permanent visitor?).

Every now and then I get into trouble because of that since of course this remark arouses questions when I buy alcohol for instance. I always have to discuss with the sales clerk why it is not necessary to identify me but just to prove my age (I’m old enough btw., but what am I telling you! Today I watched a cashier in a supermarket asking a 90-something, who could barely hear anything, asking him very loud for his birthday. He said it was recently, last week or so. That was fine with her and she punched in a fantasy date). But I got used to that and therefore I carry my international drivers license as an additional weight of bureaucratic importance with me which, alas, seldom works. But anyway. Buying beer leaves me at least in the position to leave and buy it elsewhere if the local mental disposition is too restrained to see the prove of age with all of those documents, apart from my appearance, you know. I could carry my passport around with me, but I’m afraid I can’t do that. You see, it is the most valuable and important document I have as a foreigner in the United States, and for that reason it is stored away in a save place.

But I misread my fortune cookie in Charlston, Illinois, wich said: “Go for new opportunities. Now is the best time.”  I thought I would go for fishing fun. Actually we where on a vacation trip in eastern Illinois. So I took my six year old son and we walked straight into the local Walmart wich was apparantly the only place in town to sell fishing licenses. So much for slimming down government. The clerk asked me if I had a fishing license from the previous year. I didn’t. Then he asked me for my drivers license and I could see dark clouds arising on his forehead when he scrutinized my license after I gave it to him. After a while he said he could not use it because it said Not valid for identification. I grabbed my international drivers license and gave it to him with the words that he could prove my identity with that. He didn’t agree and asked me if I had other identifications with me like my passport. Coincidentally I had my laptop with me where I have stored copies of all my legal documents including my passport and visa and I offered him I could show him those on screen. He looked at it and said he must check with the shift manager. After arrival the shift manager said it would be the simplest thing to call the DMV and ask them about the validity of my drivers license. They called the DMV and they asked in return to fax that thing over. I was beginning to wonder why the issuing department of my drivers license wasn’t able to immediatly give the Walmart clerk a satisfactory answer about it. I mean, there is a number on it, right? What is that number for?
Meanwhile my son was beginning to throw precious fishing equipment off the shelves because at that point 15 minutes had elapsed and everyone with a kid knows that is an eternity in a department store waiting for something (herewith I refuse officially to call Walmart a supermarket).
The clerk told the DMV guy to immediatly call him back at his desk when the fax arrived and then hung up and went away with the shift manager. 10 minutes later I was busy yelling at my son to stop examining fishing equipment by watching it falling to the ground. I explained to him: you break it, you buy it, but secretly I was hoping he’d break something just for the sake of it because the whole thing began to get on my nerves. Then the telephone rang. No clerk at his desk. The phone rang for 2 minutes, still no clerk. The son kept examining fishing equipment by pulling precious fishing poles out of their holding devices. The phone rang again. 20 minutes now. Still no clerk on his desk. I stopped to reprimand the son; I didn’t care anymore about anything because this was rediculous.

After 30 minutes the clerk came back and in tow with him a group of 7 people. There was the shift manager who kept reassuring me that he was very sorry for all this trouble, then the department manager and the general manager of Walmart. With them there was another guy who said he is the security manager and a police officer and another police officer who declared he is the sheriff of Coles county and they were here by chance because of a pledge drive for the police on the parking lot. Then there was another guy who was grinning all the time but said nothing. He was wearing a yellow polo shirt but that was the most substantial thing to be said about him. I guess he was just there for the fun which would without a doubt unfold itself soon. The sheriff showed me my drivers license and asked me if this was my drivers license. I agreed, of course. My son simultaniously begun to ask me questions about complicated and shiny fishing equipment and I hissed at him in German to put that stuff back where he found it. That must have triggered something with the sheriff because now he explained to me that he was investigating here something, namely if this was a case of forgery. Now consider this: would I fake a drivers license and make it in a way which surely would cause me trouble by the faintest scrutiny of a Walmart clerk? With a 6-year-old in tow? To get a fishing license? My goodness.

The sheriff put a very earnest look onto his face and said that he must ask me what he’ll ask me now because it is required by law. He asked if I had any weapons on me. At that moment, my mind was swinging around three main pillars:

1. In some kind of astonished wonderment: wow, this is the real America, like, in television;

2. My son, who had his hands on a box full of tiny lead balls, threatening to roll them all over Walmart;

3. Is a Leatherman tool a weapon?

And then I remembered that I had a Swiss army knife (3 inch blade) with me and I answered: Yes, a Swiss army knife. I said that because the Swiss have managed to resist invasion for a thousand years only with those army knifes and bycicles. That had to be some kind of a bad-ass weapon, right?

All those guys who where at that moment standing in a semi circle around me and my son with the box of tiny lead balls in his hands where gasping silently and simultaniously took a step back as I put my hand into my jeans pocket and pulled out — slowly! — the swiss army knife and put it on the counter in front of the Walmart clerk. Then I grabbed the Leatherman tool from my belt and put it there too. People all around the store where watching in expectant rapture.

Then for a few seconds nothing happened. Everybody was looking at this miserable little heap of bad-ass weapons as the men of ordnance where taxing its potential harm. Its modest potential in regards of a killing spree somehow seemed to relax the police guys a little because now they could clearly see that their 9mm guns would be a considerable advantage to a little Swiss army knife and a Leatherman tool and they would leave the Walmart tonight most likely unharmed.

It relaxed the sheriff so much that he pulled out his cell phone and called the DMV to check my drivers license. After he explained thoroughly how it looked and what it said on it (“Yeah its got a blue field with TVDL on it! And there’s a number on it too!”) as if he had never seen a drivers license before and the blue color in the title bar was questioning its complete and utter function. Then he spelled the license number. After a few seconds they obviously explained to him that everything was fine. It was that simple! It is a mystery to me to this day why the Walmart clerk was not able to do this in the first place.

After a lot of “Sorry, but we have to do this” and “We are required to!” from every direction everyone left. The sheriff  told me as he left that he had never seen such a license before and therefore couldn’t possibly know what it is. I was silently wondering how that was possible in a college town like Charlston with its thousands of abroad students each year. He waved goodbye with the happily remark what a fine day this was now that everybody had learned something new. Yes indeed. So far this little piece of knowledge had consumed just a little bit under an hour of our preciuos fishing experience.

Anyway. Now it was the Walmart clerk and me again. He finally and super nice got into action. He punched in my information and then suddenly stopped, asking me: What’s your social security number? I answered: I don’t have one. (You see, as a visa depentend you don’t get a social security number to make sure you don’t obtain surreptitiously government money or get secretivly into work).

The clerk: “Oh-oh.”

It was time to pull out my secret weapon, again. And this time I hoped it would count. My laptop. I explained to him extensivly why I don’t have a social security number, pulled on screen the document which said why and finally asked him if we could try it with my ITIN number. ITIN has become my last resort in a lot of ways. It is an abbreviation for Individual Taxpayer Identification Number and I have to have it because I need to pay taxes and the system must assign me a number to process me somehow. He asked me to show him the document and thanks to my nerdiness I had it on the computer too. After a thoroughly scrutiny he punched in the numbers and then in somber voice asked me if I am a resident of Illinois. Yes indeed I am, I said, that’s why I have an Illinois drivers license, haven’t I? Oh, no no no no no. And then we indulged ourselves in a lengthy discussion what makes me an Illinois resident, even a temporarily one, having an Illinois drivers license, paying Illinois property taxes, beeing here all those years and beeing issued an Illinois ITIN and so forth. This was important, because as an Illinois resident I would pay far less for my fishing license than an out of state resident (wich state would that be? Germany?) He assured me countless times that all he wanted was the best for me and save me some money. Save money, live better.

And I believed him at that moment. Because we had something in common: All we both wanted — no! the three of us if you allow me to include my son who was perilously crouching under a shelf full of tool boxes — was: to leave. With a fishing license. Please. Maybe: Save time, live better? Almost two hours now. My son was now silently whining (trembling lips, dogs eyes and all that). We were hungry and exhausted.

So in the long end we got it. A tiny printout, which did not quite look as important as the effort it demanded to get. I would have liked to be rewarded with a certificate with golden trimming and an old-fashioned sealing with the mayors bold sign beneath it. But anyway. I shoved it into my wallet, grabbed my sons hand and we left. On our way to the car I was brooding over the peculiarity why it is so expected to put something into the system (money, effort, sweat, tears) but so hard to get in return something out of it (fishing licenses, work permissions, general appreciation). Wich goes – by the way – for every country I have lived in so far.

The only thing my mind came up with was a picture: a slot machine.