All I want is a Social Security card...

All I want is a Social Security card...

I drove to Grand Forks last week, early on Wednesday afternoon, because I've finally decided that, years after losing my Social Security, I should get a new card.

I completed my application ahead of time, printed it out, grabbed my birth certificate and drove to downtown Grand Forks.

Now that I really think about it, I believe my eyes actually came across a sign on the glass doors of the big building that indicated the SSA office hours were 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays.

But I don't think my brain properly processed the information. I don't think my brain figured such minuscule hours of operation at such an important government agency were even possible.

A middle-aged guy held the elevator for me in the lobby, since the SSA office is located on the third floor, and, boy, was he a chatty one. He needed to sign up for Medicare, he said.

A second or so later, as the man proceeded to fill every second of our short time together with details of his various ailments and other predicaments, my eyes glanced toward the top of the elevator door to see how close we were getting to the third floor. It was there I saw another sign listing the SSA office's hours of operation.

Unlike a moment earlier on the sidewalk outside, my brain was unable to block out this piece of data. The Social Security Administration office – in other words, the absolute go-to office for those who need a whole bevy of essential government services that they pay for every single day through their taxes – was open from only 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Listed on its own line at the bottom of the sign were Wednesday's hours of operation, 9 a.m. to noon.

I realized it was indeed Wednesday and it was well past noon. But as part of some type of subconscious defense mechanism, I glanced at my watch just to make absolutely certain that, had I decided to make my trip to the SSA office on the other four days of the work week that it's open more than three hours, I would have arrived about 30 minutes before closing time, presumably enough time to apply for a new Social Security card. But as things stood, I was hopelessly late in my arrival.

The guy next to me, who was – no lie – rambling on about some government offices having bullet-proof glass on their doors and others having regular class that a person could shatter using any number of hand-held or thrown objects, remained blissfully ignorant of the situation unfolding before us.

The elevator stopped, the doors opened, and the guy strolled to the double doors across the hall and tried to open them. It was clear they were locked, but he kept jiggling on them, first by grasping one handle, then by grasping the other handle, and then by grabbing both handles with both hands.

Obviously, he hadn't seen the sign I had seen above the elevator door, and if I hadn't seen it, I might still have been there yanking on the doors when the next morning's government-employed early bird showed up to open for the day at 9:12 a.m.

"They're closed," I said, pointing to another sign on the wall to the left of the doors.

He glanced at the sign. "But it's 2:30," he said.

I gestured to the sign again and alerted him to the especially non-marathon shift put in by the SSA workers on Wednesdays.

"Son of a..." the guy said, which resulted in a cliffhanger of sorts for me, as I wondered if he was more of a "son of a gun" kind of guy, or the kind of guy who, in that particular situation, was more apt to use the more colorful conclusion to the phrase.

To be clear, these aren't government shutdown hours. The signs detailing the hours of operation were not scotch-taped to the wall and scribbled in Sharpie marker. These were etched plaques fastened with bolts. The guy and I got back in the elevator and headed back down to the lobby. He kept right on talking, mostly about how important it was for him to get his Medicare paperwork turned in. Walking outside onto the sidewalk, I wished him luck and we went our separate ways.

As I chuckled to myself and silently fumed while walking back to my vehicle, I wondered, is this government efficiency or inefficiency in action? If I can't get all of the government services I need online – another sign on the SSA office wall promoted the joys of visiting their website – then shouldn't the SSA office be a place a citizen could pop into during the normal work day?

Or maybe this is what the tea partiers and other right-wingers want when they demand an ultra-lean, bloat-free government that doesn't interfere with the lives of freedom-loving Americans.

But, trouble is, when you're government isn't there for you, that interferes with your life, too.