Tuesday, April 17, 2012


I realize I'm a bit late to this rant, but in my defense it's about holding onto the past. Why shouldn't it start by delaying the complaint itself?

My son was born in 2003, my daughter in 2007. I can only assume that they will never know a world in which Sudafed can be purchased off the shelf. When I was growing up Sudafed, or pseudoephedrine, was ubiquitous. It was pretty much unmatched in combating sinus congestion. But that was before the war on methamphetamine escalated to the point that in 2005 this potential ingredient disappeared from store shelves. It was locked away behind pharmacy counters, and something else came out to take its place--phenylephrine. This placebo-like substance made its way into products like Sudafed PE and NyQuil, until we forgot what it was like to actually treat a stuffed nose.

Several years later, we somehow came back to our senses and realized that life was too short to throw money away on worthless drugs. We started standing in the 21st-century bread-lines and submitting to the humiliation of a body-cavity search so we could breathe again. (OK, some of that might be unconfirmed.) But it wasn't free air we were breathing--it hung heavy with the stench of government oppression. Even then, I didn't wake up to what was going on. My wife did most of the shopping and kindly spared me the details of just how far she had to go . . .

Until last night. Wanting to make sure I had a decent supply for my first day back to work after a bad cold, I walked across the street to our neighborhood pharmacy. I thought I knew what I was in for. I went to the shelf, found the card that matched the product I wanted, walked up to the counter, averted my eyes, and silently handed the card to the official. I held my breath. They didn't have the size box that matched my card, but they did have a larger one available. A sigh of relief. I'm going to make it through this. Then . . . "Can I see your ID?"

I realize that in places like Imperial Russia it used to be commonplace that you couldn't travel anywhere without the proper papers. But this is America, where I don't even need ID to vote. As far as that goes, I can't recall showing ID any other time I've used the pharmacy. I can pick up prescriptions for someone else with just their name and birthdate, but apparently not a $5 box of generic, four-hour Sudafed. Well, I wasn't driving, so I didn't have my driver's license, and I wasn't going to work, so I didn't have my employee badge. I was going to the store, so I had $19 cash and one credit card.

But I knew I had to play their game, so I turned around and walked back home. I figured they were assuming a driver's license. You get one so you can operate a large, exploding machine at high speeds, and apparently that's something we're all expected to want to do. So it becomes almost synonymous with "ID," and naturally everyone thinks you'll have it all the time anyway. But I don't go to the store with a hunting license pinned to my jacket, and I don't flash my employee badge at the Post Office, and I don't carry a driver's license to walk across the street. Since they didn't specify, I grabbed my passport (paid for it--may as well get some use out of it), employee badge, and yes--my driver's license.

I realize the pharmacy employees are just doing their job. And it's not even the pharmacy that makes up the rules--they're as much under the thumb of government as their customers. I didn't want to make life extraordinarily difficult for them--just make a statement, that there's more than one way to play their game. So I showed my passport. Apparently they can just scan a driver's license (the default ID), but despite the various options for scanning a passport, they're stuck manually keying the information. I felt kind of bad putting the tech through that, but he needs to learn. This is how the revolution starts, and my passport won't be the last he sees. Still, I did wince just a little bit when at the end he asked for my address, and I offered him my driver's license. (I didn't realize that the address could be given without formal verification--it was actually handwritten in my passport.) He politely explained that in the future it would be easier just to use my driver's license.

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