Friday morning found me walking up desolate and weed-edged Rosemead Blvd. in El Monte toward the complex of federal buildings tucked next to the freeway, across from the outdoor mall anchored by a giant Target. I had to fix some errors that had cropped up in my mom’s benefits, so that she wouldn’t lose all that lovely health care she’s getting now and make my financial burdens even worse than they already are.
Knowing the drill, I put all the stuff from my pockets into my backpack, especially the coins, and then sent it through the x-ray machine; that way when I passed through the metal detector I only had to remove my hat, my glasses, and my phone. And my belt. Have I mentioned I’ve lost 60 pounds? Luckily my shorts did not slide off. The security guard was jovial enough to joke around, so that was fun.
Having been there before, I managed to pass by the info desk this time and go to the next help person further inside. She sent me to a line that I thought was wrong, where the guy quickly told me to go back to her for a number and enter the waiting area where I’d been before and knew I was heading. Luckily that didn’t take long, especially when I saw so few people there, including no one at the no-number line; it got pretty full by the time I left. And the guy with the baby was there with someone already being served, so it was hardly a wait before I was sitting down on one side of the giant circular desk in the middle of the room holding five workers.
It felt similar to the DMV, though not as harried.
And then the worker I got, a pleasant Hispanic gentleman in his forties in glasses and tie—the only downside was the Raiders lanyard holding his ID—proceeded to take care of everything I needed, glancing between the paperwork I’d gotten in the mail and his computer. It felt like it went by so quickly, even though it was a solid half hour, and part of that was when he was searching for his staple remover. (I realized what he wanted without him saying, which surprised him tremendously. When he asked how I knew, I told him, “They don’t call me Sherlock for nothing!”)
It was such a pleasant experience—I felt like I’d made a new friend—that I stayed to fill out a survey card, giving Ernest as high praise as I could come up with on the spot. And even though the supervisor was helping someone else, when she saw me holding the yellow card she took it with a smile and a genuine thank you.
I’d budgeted two to three hours, depending when I got there, for the experience, and much like my times at the DMV, I was out quickly. As always I gazed longingly at the ice cream factory across the street, which I blame for the brain fart I had at not boarding the bus pulling to a stop in front of me, which would have left me in the same place I needed to go, and instead walking half a mile in already-warm temperatures to the other bus stop. On the other hand, that heat and sweat, along with the feelings of triumph and relief, led me to drop into the Carl’s Jr. and get my first Oreo milkshake in years.
So props to one government employee who doesn’t fit the cliché. . .