Bureaucracies of the world; episode two

Last week I went to the Social Security Administration office to request a reduction in my Medicare premium. I forgot to bring anything to read, so I entertained myself by making these notes:

Tuesday June 19th, 2012

10:39 – I take #45, the next number to be called, from the dispenser machine . There are two windows staffed by social security employees.  Both windows are occupied, with clients providing detailed descriptions of their requests and experiences.

10:49 – I am called to Window 1

11:52 – After explaining my request to the agent at Window 1 I sit down again and wait to be called for the next step in the process. I am awaiting entrance to a large room with a locked door, staffed by two security officers who are inside sitting on chairs and chatting. No one has entered or left the locked room since my arrival.

11:52 – The folks at Window 2 complete their explanation; Window 2 is now free.

11:54 – A man drops off a document at Window 1.

11:55 – The man who preceded me at Window 1, #44,  is called into the locked room by a large woman in a yellow dress.

11:55 – #46, a woman I happen to know, is called to W1.

11:58 – #46 is done at W1; I say hello as she is leaving and we chat about the complexities of Medicare and the health insurance system

12:00 – #47 is called to W1. I realize I am experiencing a social/economic/political/cultural phenomenon.

12:02 – The security guys continue chatting

12:03 – I notice W2 is now dark. I realize the person I heard leaving for lunch a few minutes ago must have been staffing W2. I worry that everyone will go to lunch and my wait will be longer.

12:07 –  A man with a cane leaves the locked room. I get the feeling there is little incentive to work quickly of efficiently, although all workers seem pleasant and polite.

12:07 – I notice through the window into the locked room that #44 is still seated at the desk of the woman  in the yellow dress.

12:09 – #47 leaves W1 and the office

12:10 – A person arrives, takes ticket #48, and is immediately called to W1.

12:11 – A woman arrives and takes ticket #49.

12:14 – Another worker walks by the window of the locked room with a folder (my folder?) in his hands. My hopes soar.

12:15 – A woman in blue passes by the window, heading in the direction of W1. Going to get my paperwork?

12:20 – The woman in blue calls my name; I enter the locked room and sit at her desk. She says her name is Ellen. She takes a few minutes to log into her computer while we share humorous comments about the unresponsiveness of systems.  She is pleasant and asks me a few questions. She goes to get come additional information and/or forms.

12:22 – I run out to feed the meter. Optimistic, I add 30 minutes.  I return, following two 30+ men dressed in khaki pants and golf like shirts, carrying lunch takeout.  They enter the large room via a combination lock door. The security agents let me reenter through the other door.

12:31 – As I await the Ellen’s return, I notice the security guard post is unoccupied. I think it is strange that both have left, but then notice that one is walking around in the waiting room. I continue to sit at the desk and wonder if I am being video recorded.

12:37 – Ellen returns. In a few more minutes we have completed the transaction – information provided, data entered, forms signed.

12:59 – I exit the locked room. I experience an awareness of gratitude for my good health and fortune, and leave the office with increased respect for the people working there.

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