When I was a teen, I did what many children of a certain age did. I bought a fake ID in Times Square that would allow a kid, well below the drinking age, to enter the Metropole Cafe, buy a beer and watch women dance without their clothing. Times Square had not yet been turned into Disneyland at the time.
The ID was, in retrospect, pretty awful. It had a photo and some typed words that included my name and a phony date of birth that said I was old enough to be there. A few years later, when I was in high school and went with my buddies to the Tumble Inn to sample their finest Olde Frothingslosh, a police officer entered and demanded to see my ID.
I showed it to him. He studied it for a few seconds, then handed it back to me and said, “okay,” proving he was either a moron or didn’t care. Back then, everyone of drinking age had a driver’s license, and failing to show it to prove your age was pretty much conclusive proof you were lying.
I got my first driver’s license in 1975. It was primitive in comparison to licenses today, with neither image nor hologram, but just some typed words on some official paper stock. It included my height and weight, which was close enough to assure that its holder was the person named in it. For all they knew, I could have been Elvis.
Over time, things got fancier. We were required to go to the DMV to get pictures taken. Cards became cards rather than pieces of paper, and then cards with holograms as opposed to the fakes one could still buy in Times Square. But for someone who held his license from the old days, the worst of it was that we would turn in our old license to get our new one. The rest was mere annoyance, having to wait for our number to be called by some taciturn clerk whose job it was to make sure our picture would be awful.
An email(?) arrived from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles the other day informing me that my license was soon to expire. This usually signified that they wanted money, but since I wanted to drive and they owned the franchise, it was just another cost of being a New Yorker. But as I went to click on the internal link, I saw that the words were unfamiliar.
Since when were there “choices”? It was a driver’s license, for crying out loud. Ah, the good old days when that was all they were. Now, I was informed, I had to appear at the DMV where I hadn’t been in years since they were able to collect their money and send me a new license with my old picture and we all got what we wanted from each other. And not just appear, but bring with me my social security card, a bank statement or utility bill, my passport and, of course, my old license. Because all these years later, I might not be me?
The three choices came with explicit threats: The enhanced license would allow me to fly domestically, enter federal buildings and re-enter the United States from the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. The Real one would do all but re-enter the US from our neighboring countries. The Standard, however, would not allow me to fly within the United States. Because flying is a privilege. There is still the option to use a passport, but now a passport would be required for domestic flight.
My gut reaction was that this was some wet dream by Stephen Miller to thwart those states that gave driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, formerly known as illegal aliens as set forth in certain federal statutes. But it wasn’t, exactly, as the Real ID Act was enacted in 2005 in our zeal to find a solution, no matter how inapt, to terrorism. Extensions were given by the Department of Homeland Security, but DHS has “inexplicably” decided enough is enough, ending the neglect of this misbegotten 2005 law.
So in my frustration at having to gather my papers, including my social security card that my dear mother ordered for me when I was about five years of age, bearing the official legend that it was for social security and tax purposes only not to be used for identification, and which I signed in crayon at the time because I was only five years old, I twitted.
I’ve had a drivers license since 1975, but now NY says I need to bring my SS card, utility bill, passport and old license to get a new “real ID” if I want to fly domestically after 2020.
This isn’t about driving at all, is it?
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) November 3, 2018
Much to my surprise, my twit apparently touched a nerve. Some took the rhetorical question for real, and offered their “explanation” to me. Some used it to note their ironic concern that no identification was needed to vote, though they failed to consider that voting is a right, whereas driving and flying are privileges.
Some just bemoaned the trend toward government control over every aspect of our lives, as this Real ID Act was intended to create a national identification card, which was an understandable goal when the nation was in a frenzy over terrorists, willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for transitory safety. Some were all for it, because why shouldn’t law-abiding Americans please their government?
The Metropole Cafe is long gone, as are the fake ID shops in Times Square. Teens are more concerned about being called complicit in someone else’s offense than who won Olde Miss Frothingslosh. And no one wears a tie and jacket to fly anymore. Progress.