I decided to dress up the morning we signed up for Medicare. This was an occasion and seemed on par with choosing your best shirt, suit and shoes before getting laid out in a pine box. You want to look your best in big moments and signing up for Medicare qualifies.
Medicare? It’s still hard to believe. Look at me. I am a specimen and Sue doesn’t look half-bad either. Many times people think she’s my daughter, which is good for her but not so good for me.
I wasn’t dreading the Medicare experience especially after Brian, our friend and Medicare adviser, told us that if we wanted to go the PPO route (the more expensive option), we could choose our own doctors.
You mean when my knee, hip, stomach, shoulder or whatever random thing goes south, I can go straight to the knee, hip or stomach doctor?
“You can chart your medical care,” Brian said.
That made me feel like a doctor — some people already call me Dr. Benham, deference that I appreciate. Now, I can say, “Herb, Dr. Benham recommends that you go see Dr. Hamilton, the noted orthopedic surgeon.” Dr. Hamilton is a colleague of mine and we have great respect for one another.
I can wear a gown. Order my X-rays. Slap on the latex gloves and have everybody in the room snap to attention.
“I recommend you go to the Social Security office on Haley and that you get there early,” Brian advised.
This sounded like inside information. Sort of like going to the DMV in Shafter.
“Early” wasn’t early enough because even though we arrived at 8:40, 20 minutes before the office opened, there was a line with 20 people in front of us. Some of the people brought chairs, others leaned on their canes. After standing in line for 10 minutes, I wished I could borrow one of those canes without having somebody topple over, hit their head and have to go on disability.
The Social Security office, like the DMV, accomplishes two things: First, you may feel better about yourself when you size up the competition, although your competition may feel the same way about their competition.
Secondly, you come away with a better idea of who lives here. This will either make you feel as if you are part of the common clay of humanity or make you wish you made more money so you could move to the beach.
Our common destiny outweighs whatever advantages you imagine you have. They are getting older and so are you. In the end, we tie.
The friendly woman in front of us had recently moved to Kernville from Alaska because two of her daughters are pregnant. Her husband is a long-haul trucker who owns his own truck and, until recently, she had traveled with him. One of her daughters works at Ewings on the Kern in Kernville. I was proud that I knew enough about trucking that when she said he was a trucker, I asked, “Long haul or short haul.”
Two armed guards stood at the entrance of the office, one of whom gave a speech about not bringing in food, knives, guns, swords or cannons. I don’t want to get shot because I didn’t want to get shot but I really didn’t want a hole in my attractive blue-checked shirt.
Sue had slipped a yogurt in her purse in case it took awhile to get through the line. Yogurt-shamed, she walked back to the car and put the vanilla-flavored contraband inside.
Finally, it was 9 a.m., the doors swung open and the female guard began ushering in people in small groups, the male guard having gone inside to check purses, coats and bags. He was especially vigilant about people who might be smuggling in yogurt.
Fifteen minutes later, we had taken a number and were inside the building, which was new and had comfortable metal chairs.
Sue had brought a book, “Where the Crawdads Sing.” I brought nothing, thinking I might be entertained by the colorful cast of characters but that didn’t last long and soon I was just another loser chasing texts and emails on my phone.
Our number was called on the overhead monitor within 20 minutes. The 40-ish, dark-haired clerk with two kids (he showed us their pictures), asked for our driver's licenses.
He was crisp, professional and about to go through the teenage years with his children. I decided to be quiet. We were done before 10 a.m.
It felt like we should celebrate but it was early for a drink, although now that we’re on Medicare, why not? This was another signpost, one more on the road. A road on which Dr. Benham and his much younger wife are happy to be.