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By Ron Scopelliti
I have no identity. At least not in the modern, up-to-date, federally-certified sense. I ran into this sudden identity crisis when I got my driver’s license renewal form, and it offered me the chance to make my license a “REAL ID” federal identification card. Just after that, Walter “Bud” Craddock from the state DMV started periodically showing up in my Facebook feed to explain the ins, outs, and what-have-yous of the REAL ID.
My identity crisis came when I realized that I probably don’t have all the paperwork needed to obtain a REAL ID. I lost my birth certificate and my Social Security card years ago, and my passport’s expired, so it’s probably going to be a major hassle getting all that stuff lined up. And it looks like I might not even need a REAL ID, if I get my passport renewed. But there are a couple of things that still bother me about the REAL ID.
First off, why is the name in all caps? Don’t the feds realize how rude that is? From the earliest days of Internet bulletin boards, there’s been a constant rule trying to maintain civility on the web: Don’t type in all caps. It’s always been interpreted as “yelling,” and has been responsible for starting numerous “flame wars.” In the old days, inadvertently hitting your caps lock key was enough to get you all sorts of grief from BBS users. Did our government not read the FAQ?
Then again, maybe it’s a conscious choice. Maybe using the typography of internet bullies is the government exerting their authority as the ultimate “moderators.” Maybe it’s their way of telling us, in the parlance of the early Internet, “You’ve been pwned!”
Then again, I might be reading too much into it because of my recent Netflix viewing. I’ve been watching a lot of Cold War-era movies, and the thought of a federal ID really brings to mind visions of Checkpoint Charlie in the once-divided city of Berlin.
My latest viewing was “The Third Man,” with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. It’s set in post-war Vienna when the city was divided into sectors like Berlin, and people are always being asked for their papers. As a child of the Cold War, I grew up with that image of ominous-looking guys in leather trench coats manning checkpoints and asking people for their papers, eying them with suspicion, and reluctantly letting them through. But you never knew what was really waiting for them on the other side of the checkpoint.
If we get started with all this all-caps federal ID business, is that the road we’ll be heading down in America? What it’s going to look like when I try to cross the Newport Bridge? Will there be a stern woman who looks like Lotte Lenya in “From Russia with Love” requesting my papers, comparing my photo to my face, and asking me if I have any clam cakes or overpriced sweatshirts to declare? Will she attack me with a poisoned knife in the toe of her shoe if I’m caught smuggling out a ceramic replica of the Breakers?
The last time I had that sort of “dystopian America” vision was when I covered the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. It was the first political convention after the 9/11 attacks, and the security was a bit extreme. After a six-month process to get press credentials, I traveled to an unrecognizable version of Boston where the Southeast Expressway was closed to traffic, and the streets and subways were patrolled by police and military equipped with body armor and assault rifles.
Getting onto the convention grounds required me to navigate a maze of barricades culminating in a checkpoint where I had to present my credentials, then point my camera at the ground and take a picture to prove it wasn’t a gun or bomb, issued from Q along with an exploding can of deodorant and a missile launching cigarette.
But I respected the need for security back then as I do now, so I’ll eventually give in and get my REAL ID. The thing is, the whole business of paperwork and birth certificates seems hopelessly out of date. Why not go all the way and plant a chip in my arm? At least it will be harder to lose than my birth certificate was.