A Large Order Of Bureaucracy Please, Hold The Common Sense

quote-bureaucracy“Yes sir, how can I help you today?” the clerk at the tax collector’s office pleasantly asked as I stepped up to the counter when my number was called.

“I’d like to update my driver’s license to reflect that I now live on my boat,” I said.

“May I see your license, please?” the clerk asked with a frown. Studying it for a moment, she asked, “Is this no longer a good address for you?”

“No, we sold that house last December and don’t live there anymore. We live on our boat now,” I replied.

The clerk’s frown deepened, “I’m afraid we can’t use your boat as your legal address. You’ll have to provide a physical address.”

“We have a Post Office box up the street, can I use that?”

“No sir, you have to provide a physical address. You can’t use a Post Office box.”

“Well the Post Office gave me a street address to use when I need packages delivered, can I use that?” I asked. It’s a service the Post Office provides and I have had success in giving this address in other situations where a PO box wasn’t acceptable.

“And what is that address?” she asked. I gave it to her.

“No sir, that’s still the Post Office, and that can’t be your physical address.”

“Well I don’t have one then. We get our mail at the Post Office box, and we live on our boat. Meanwhile I need to get this license changed since I don’t live at that address anymore.”

The clerk thought for a minute. “Where do you keep your boat, sir?”

“At the marina down the street,”

“Ah, well, you’ll have to list the marina as your address. Have them provide you with a letter on their letterhead stating that you reside there and then we’ll change your license to that address.”

“Why would I want to do that?” I asked.

“Excuse me, sir?” she asked, startled.

“I don’t live at the marina. I live on my boat. It just happens to be parked at that marina at the moment. I might change marinas tomorrow. Or I might go anchor in Big Lagoon and stay there for a while. And I’m not going to come in here and pay you $32 to change the address on my license every time I decide to move to a different marina.”

“Excuse me sir, I need to talk to my supervisor,” she said, and left. Five minutes later, she was back. “If you won’t list the marina as your residence, then you’ll have to use a friend’s or relative’s address, someplace where you can receive mail. That’s what we commonly do for homeless people.”

“What’s your address?” I asked with a smile. Unfortunately, she wasn’t amused by my comment.

“You can’t use my address,” she said sternly. “It will have to be a friend or relative.”

“So if I just give you somebody’s address, you’ll be happy and give me a license?”

“No sir, you’ll have to prove that you live there.”

“And how would I do that, since I don’t?”

“You’ll have to bring in two utility bills or other official mail delivered to you at that address. Then you can sign a self-certification stating that that is your physical address.”

“Look, this is ridiculous,” I said. “I’m not going to sign a form that says I live somewhere I don’t. I had no problem changing my voter’s registration,” I added, pulling my voter’s card from my wallet. “They said they see this all the time, and made the county courthouse my address. So how about we use that?” I stated.

“Sir, you can’t use the courthouse as your address.”

“Why not? The Supervisor of Elections is fine with it.”

“Sir, we need a physical address so that if the state of Florida needs to find you, there’s a door they can knock on and the person who answers will know where you are.”

I just stared at her for a moment. “Are you serious?” I said. “If I gave you a letter from the marina so that you can check your little box, you’d give me a license. But if I’m off sailing around, I guarantee you if you went knocking on the marina office door looking for me, they wouldn’t have a clue where I was.”

Nothing pisses off a bureaucrat more than undermining their petty rules with logic. I could see in her face that I was now the enemy. Turning to her computer, she started typing furiously.

“Sir, I’m preparing a letter of instruction stating that you have two options. You can either provide a letter from your marina stating that you reside there, or you can provide the address of a friend or relative to use as your physical address.” With that, she printed out the document which stated exactly that, along with an additional page outlining the applicable laws governing the address requirements for issuing licenses.

This was my third visit to the tax collector’s office over two months. Each time I had left empty handed. I was stuck in administrative hell. I was in violation of the law, because it states that you have 30 days to change your license to reflect a new address. But I was unwilling to lie about where I lived so that a clerk could check a box on a form. I was on a mission, and I was determined to prevail.

Three times the outcome had been the same. But this time, they made an error fatal to their cause. It was the mistake of inadvertently imparting knowledge, with which I was empowered. I’d often stated in my dealings with the tax collector’s office, “This is Florida, surely I can’t be the only person in the entire state who lives on a boat.” As it turns out, the answer was right there in the additional page of applicable law they had provided, something I had never before been given. It said (I paraphrase):

For persons dwelling in a vehicle or vessel, the applicant must provide a copy of the vehicle or vessel’s state registration to establish residency, and then complete an address self-certification claiming the vehicle or vessel as their legal residence. The listed address will then be the vehicle or vessel’s registration number, along with the city and zip code where the vehicle or vessel is normally kept.

It took me two and a half months and four trips to the tax collector’s office (three of them frustratingly fruitless), but I am now the proud holder of a newly issued Florida driver’s license. My address is listed as Eagle Too’s USCG documentation number, Pensacola, Florida 32501. Since I had finally cleared the path, Rhonda was able to get her license issued in just one trip.

In retrospect, my biggest mistake was in assuming that the clerks at the tax collector’s office knew what they were talking about. But through patience and determination, we ultimately prevailed. And the best part is that if for some reason the state of Florida ever does decide to try and track me down, my address isn’t going to lead to a door to knock on, which suits me just fine. 🙂

6 thoughts on “A Large Order Of Bureaucracy Please, Hold The Common Sense

  1. Keith

    Robert, sounds very similar in my dealings with my local Post Office. I’m suspecting that these job positions have a pre-requisite mandated prior to any consideration of filling an employment position. In other words, “would you like fries with that”?

    1. Robert Post author

      I just couldn’t understand how this could possibly be the first time they’d ever seen a case of someone claiming their boat as their domicile. It’s like it was totally irregular and unheard of.I’d understand if I lived in Nebraska or something. But it’s Florida for Pete’s sake. I mean, come on!

    1. Robert Post author

      Thanks, Nic. I find I have a lot more patience for dealing with such things now that I’m retired and don’t have work stress anymore 🙂

  2. Matt

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! This would have been me in a few months as I’ll be going through the same thing.


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