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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Re-birth, New York City style...

More about my Tuesday in New York.

After a bit of a rest and reading, I took off on my major errand for the day -- to get a copy of my birth certificate.

I was dreading having to do this, but the fact is I have misplaced my passport and cannot find my birth certificate among the piles of papers and boxes that I call my office. (More than likely the passport will eventually be found right next to the birth certificate....)

Looking up the relevant information on the web, I saw that I had many options (internet, fax, mail-in, etc.) for obtaining the copy -- most involving $30 plus handling stuff and two weeks or more; or $45-60 for expedited processing which would take a week. Lots of options, and a good deal of work downloading and filling out forms, scanning other documents related to proving who I am, etc.

But then I saw one option that said "walk in service", and when I read the details it all seemed so simple. As someone born in a borough of the City of New York (I was born in Brooklyn, officially Kings County) after 1910 all I had to do was go to 125 Worth Street, Room 133, pay $15, show my driver's license, and voila, I'd have a copy of my birth certificate.

And of course I imagined that the reality would be a lot worse. I would go there, stand on a long line, fill out lots of forms, wait hours to get to the right window where they would take my money and tell me to come back in a few hours or tomorrow to pick up the official copy....

Oh, me of little faith -- oh, me who teaches about this stuff, and tries to explain to students (with fingers crossed) that bureaucracy is really getting better, and that all that BS about inefficiency and incompetence is just myth (if you think I am kidding, read what I write in chapter 12 of the American Government textbook....).

Well, I guess I had it coming -- it really was a smooth and efficient process. In fact, the biggest problem I had was figuring out how to get to 125 Worth Street (despite good directions from a knowledgeable source).

The web site for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (the keeper of such records for the City) did recommend the best hours to be early morning and between 3 and 4:30 in the afternoon, so I timed my errand to reach the office at 3 (I always factor in getting lost...). I was already convinced things were not going to go well when I got to the front door of 125 Worth Street and saw a sign that said this was not a public entrance -- and I should enter from the side street. "Here we go," I thought, and proceeded to take the Centre Street entrance which, as it turns out, put me two or three steps from Room 133 once I got passed the security check point. Peering into the room I saw a line and, once again, thought things were not going to go smoothly.

First hurdle is a women sitting at a desk who asked what kind of business you had there (they deal with marriage certificates, newborn birth certificates, name change documentation, etc.). She handed me a form which was pretty simple -- name, mother's maiden name, father's name, place of birth, etc. Hmmm - all too simple.

Then I get on the line which was not quite as long as it seemed from the doorway. Three or four of six windows were handling folks, and so it did not take long to move up. Surely, I thought, this is probably just the first stop -- hand in the form and go to room 1334, I thought; pay your $15 there and and go somewhere else to wait, or come back later, or....whatever.

And so I get to the window, hand over my form, show my Massachusetts driver's license, hand over $15 when requested, watch as the women behind the window scribbles some things on the form (and on the money as well -- that was strange), and waited for the other shoe to drop.

But what she did was reach under the shelf to her side where a printer had been working its magic and -- voila, indeed! -- a really quite official looking copy of my birth certificate was slipped into my hands along with an envelop to put it in and a receipt. That's it.... Next!

The transaction at the window took no more than three minutes, tops! And when you calculate another ten minutes (tops!) waiting on line... Well, all I can say is that I was impressed, and bravo to the folks at Room 133 at 125 Worth Street near City Hall.

But before I get to carried away I remember that I now to deal with the ten weeks (that is the rumor) it takes to get my new passport....


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