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Letter From Matinicus

Got a license for that?

By Eva Murray
Illustration by Ted Walsh
By Eva Murray I have spent a great deal of time and money on training to be credentialed, certified, ticketed, authorized, and anointed to do various things, just so that I can walk around feeling like I deserve my share of the world’s oxygen. Let me tell you, it’s a problem. It’s getting expensive. My kids say it started back when the Feds put up chain link fences around various transportation facilities after 9-11. Those fences accomplished little except to tick off people like me who used to toss empty Dunkin Donuts cups in the dumpsters that inevitably are now behind these fences. Usually these sections of fencing either end unceremoniously in the bushes, or they can be wiggled around or scaled somehow. Once when I was waiting in Rockland for the ferry back to Matinicus, I visited aboard the island outreach vessel Sunbeam, which happened to be tied up near the ferry terminal. After a pleasant evening grilling burgers with the captain and the engineer I found myself on the wrong side of a locked fence. I got out, but it wasn’t easy. All that bushwhacking and hand-over-hand climbing to get around fences seems so undignified. You can’t tell me I am not authorized, I told myself. I’ll just get my Transportation Worker Identification Credential card. Then I’ll be allowed behind those fences. That’s fine, except that they don’t exactly hand those out for free to anyone who asks. In addition to shelling out a considerable number of greenbacks and navigating a convoluted federal website—just getting the password to apply was a process akin to starting medical school—I had to visit a mysterious little office in a sketchy Portland neighborhood and get fingerprinted, yet again. Holding a Transportation Worker Identification Credential presumably means you have been background checked with sufficient scrutiny to allow you to loiter around waterfronts (and that is, of course, my day job, being a writer). It will also get you through an airport. By way of experiment I once offered it to the TSA guys instead of my driver’s license. They squinted and made faces like they were being forced to eat Brussels sprouts, but they did eventually accept it.
Having been fingerprinted more than anybody else I know who has never been arrested, I cannot help but wonder what sort of racket this might be.
Did I say fingerprinted “yet again?” That’s another thing. You might think the whole purpose of fingerprinting people is to provide some sort of reliable nationwide database. But evidently no two agencies can agree on what constitutes “reliable.” Having been fingerprinted more than anybody else I know who has never been arrested, I cannot help but wonder what sort of racket this might be. After passing the exam for a Hazardous Materials Endorsement on my driver’s license (needed because my household is this island’s propane dealership), I was informed that once again I would have to be fingerprinted. Unlike when I was fingerprinted as a schoolteacher, the old-fashioned ink-on-paper style would not do. Instead I had to appear at an office in Portland. There my fingerprints were taken by computer scanner, which matched them to the application I had filled out online, but something had been mysteriously adjusted in the ether. The screen indicated that I was a citizen of someplace called Aland Island. That’s Aland with a little circle over the first “A,” as one sometimes sees in Swedish. I’d never heard of the place. When I looked it up, I decided that this tiny autonomous Nordic archipelago wouldn’t be a bad place to call home. Still, the technology intended to prevent random Scandinavian terrorists from driving 100-pound cylinders of propane around small Maine islands was failing us. The technician asked me for my passport. I felt overcharged for my trouble. Thinking back, it may not have been the chain link fences, the dumpsters, or September 11 at all that set me on the search for credentials. It may have all started with Betsy and the bucket truck. About a decade ago our little municipality was using a rusty old power company bucket truck as a town snowplow. It needed to go to the mechanic in Rockland and get repaired—or maybe that was when we had the plow installed. At any rate, there was some question about who had time to drive it off the state ferry on the mainland and over to the garage. As an island truck, it was sans muffler and a few other minor paperwork formalities, although I guess it did have municipal plates, which supposedly will cover a multitude of sins. “I’ll do it,” I offered, always happy for an excuse to drive a truck. “You can’t drive it in Rockland,” exclaimed Betsy, who was on the Board of Selectmen at the time. “You’ll get arrested!” “Well!” said I, highly indignant. “I’ll fix that!” So I went and got my commercial driver’s license. To take my road test, I borrowed a 37-foot moving van from Rolf at the moving company. Now I owe Rolf ginger ice cream for life. I do have a couple of neighbors who are even worse afflicted than I in the licensing department. Somebody around here once suggested that my friend Robin and I had enough credentials in our pockets for a card game: “I bid one teaching certification and a ham radio license.” “Hah! I’ll see your bet and raise you a National Registry Paramedic!” “Oh yeah? Well, my Notary Public beats your State of New Hampshire Board of Pesticide Control certification!” “No it doesn’t, you cheater, and besides, that lobster license you put down is expired!” “Yeah? Well that National Ski Patrol ticket doesn’t beat my Class B license.” “Of course it does! Everybody knows that! Are you going to play by the rules? Shut up and deal!” It was easier in the old days. My husband Paul says the guys he used to hang around with kept one of each color of hardhat behind the seat of their pickups. Whenever there was something interesting that they wanted to check out, say the inside of a hydroelectric dam, or a serious derailment, or anything involving dynamite, they’d watch a while to see which color hardhat the bosses or the engineers were wearing, select the correct lid, and blend right in. Easy. I suppose you can’t do that anymore. Authorized personnel only. Eva Murray lives year-round on Matinicus Island. Her latest book, Island Schoolhouse: One Room for All (Tilbury House), was published in September 2012.