My family is more or less fostering a teenage girl. "Jane" is 18 and has been with us for nearly three years. Her family situation is difficult, and her school is nearby, so she lives with us most of the time. She's a great kid — makes good grades and works after school at a Midtown restaurant. She wanted to open a bank account, and the bank teller told her she would need a state-issued photo ID to administer it.
"No problem," I said. "Just look up what you need, and I'll take you to get one." She needed a birth certificate and two other forms of identification. We got her birth certificate, a statement from her bank, and her social security card.
Next step: Go to a Tennessee Drivers License Service Center. There are two in Memphis: one on Summer Avenue, almost in Bartlett; the other on East Shelby Drive. There is also one in Millington. There are none in the center city. These three centers serve the one million people of Shelby County.
We opted for the Summer Avenue center, a 25-minute drive from Midtown. We got there at 12:15 p.m. The line was out the door. The security guard said he thought it might be an hour-and-a-half wait.
After 20 minutes, we got inside. Then the line didn't move. Word came down that some staff was on lunch break til 2 p.m., and things might pick up after that. I started thinking that maybe one of the other service centers might not have as long a line. I went outside to call the Millington center. After 10 minutes on hold, a woman answered. I asked her how long the line was in Millington. She said that all Drivers License Service Center calls are answered by the same phone bank. "Where are you?" I asked. "I'm in the Summer Avenue center," she said.
Back inside, there was still no movement in the line. By 2:30 p.m., my calves were cramping. Jane told me to go to the car and she would text me when she got close. I went to my car and opened the Oxford American's double CD set from its music issue. Fifty songs, all from Tennessee. The good news: It's a great collection. The bad news: I listened to 44 songs before I heard from Jane, who texted me that she was next in line — at 4 p.m.
"It's $12.50," she texted, minutes later.
I went in, indignant. Voter IDs are supposed to be free. When I said as much to the clerk, she said, "Do you think all these people are here because we're giving away free stuff?"
I took a deep breath. "The state-issued voter ID is free. Why are you charging her $12.50?"
"Oh, she didn't say it was a voter ID. I have to do different paperwork for that."
"You know what?" I said. "Here's $12.50. Have a great day."
It was nearly 5 p.m. when we got home. Next time some idiot tells you getting a photo ID is easy and not an impediment to voting, you tell 'em to call me.