Monday, January 3, 2011

"I'll just wait outside..."

Yeah it's cold - The view out my bedroom window.

An interesting quirk I noticed in my first few days here was that, at least for a while, the temperatures at home seemed to be matching the temperatures here. As an example, last Monday, it reached 24 degrees in Melbourne, and 24 degrees here in Michigan. Except here, it was 24 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s around -4 in that system Americans don’t use just in case it makes the sky fall in. Celsius, I think it’s called). And that was the daily maximum. At around lunchtime that day I emerged to see an electronic temperature gauge telling me it was 12˚F (-11˚C), but the sun was out, so the locals were more than happy to wander around in jeans and a light jumper. Maybe there’s something in the water. None of this has been particularly problematic to me so far, as over the past nine days I have become an exclusively indoor-dweller, my interactions with the elements being limited to dashing from the car to inside, or vice versa, usually rugged up in about six layers. Unfortunately for me, there’s always an exception to the rule, and my visit to the Dearborn Social Security Office was just that.

            An American Social Security number is basically a Tax File Number-cum-Welfare number (despite the fact welfare is practically non-existent)-cum-government identification tool, and unfortunately a requirement for all citizens, residents, and workers in the US. So, last Tuesday we traipsed to possibly the most awful building I’ve ever seen in my life to be scrutinised by yet another suspicious US government official, only to have our approval put on hold until our passport information is cleared by the omnipresent Department of Homeland Security. As with all bureaucracy, none of this would have been complete without an extended visit to the waiting room, a delightfully designed area obviously inspired by the waiting room-esque traditions of H.M. Prison Barwon and Broadmeadows Police Station. The company was even better: a husband and wife who took up four seats between them, dressed in grubby tracksuits and trucker’s hats, complaining about those “damn Arabs” who were invading their town, and their son, dressed for a trip to Da Hood on the way home. Given the crowded nature of the waiting room, my ride decided to use his time efficiently, run some errands, and be back by the time my interview was complete. Great idea, had the efficiency (or lack thereof) of the Social Security office lived up to expectations. However, I was lucky enough to be queue-jumped, and L
less than five minutes after my ride left, I was called to one of the endless windows for my interview. The officer was actually interested in my nationality (“You’re Australian!” she exclaimed, before coyly adding “mate”. “Sure am!” I replied, adding “darl” under my breath), and got through the interview before I could say “You guys could really do with a Centrelink around here”. Back in the waiting room, and my lift was yet to arrive. Much as I wanted to return to my pleasant company, my Australian brain decided “I’ll just wait outside”. For the most part of my nineteen years, this has been most desirable course of action for three reasons:
1.     Outside is not inside.
2.     Outside usually has fresh air and a reasonable smell.
3.     I can be easily seen and collected from outside, thus streamlining the process.
In Dearborn, Michigan, however, this was a big mistake.

            At the door, I was greeted by an icy blast of air. That initially didn’t bother me, as I was rugged up enough to be comfortable for a few minutes. Slowly, however, the -10˚C wind slowly started to permeate through my clothes. After five minutes, I started to shiver. At ten, I could see my breath freeze in the air. Within the next couple of minutes, the air temperature proved to be stronger than my body temperature, and the metal in my glasses began to cool. People in cars were staring, customers running from shop to shop found time to stop, point, laugh, and keep going. When I finally saw my ride pull up, I was considering dipping my hands (which were wearing thick gloves) in liquid nitrogen to warm them up. I got in to looks of disbelief.
“How long have you been waiting out there?” I was asked.
“About ten minutes.”
“Are you mad?”
“It would’ve been a good idea at home.”
“Yeah. Well you’re not in Australia anymore.”
As if I needed reminding.

My next chore was to set up my American bank account. The car dropped me off at the door. I got out and was on my way in, but before I could get inside, the driver’s side window wound down.
“If you’re finished before I get back, for God’s sake wait inside!”


  1. Great to see your writing style has evolved, Paddy. Enjoy the adventure!

  2. Heeheehee. Extremely well written, it's great reading.

  3. Darl made me laugh out loud which meant I had to share with the the family. They all enjoyed muchly, keep it up Patty-me-lad.