Alan Clark

Ever heard the old saying, “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention?”

I felt that way recently when I realized the background noise I had been hearing about Tennessee’s “REAL ID” was, in fact, for real and about to become more of a reality. I just had not been paying attention.

My wife and a friend of hers had to get their driver’s licenses renewed not too long ago, and there was all this chatter about “the gold star on your driver’s license.”

“You’ve got to take all this information to the Driver Center,” said her friend, “and sign up for the gold star. It’s more than just renewing your license.”

I could not figure out what all the hullabaloo was about, so I filed it under I”LL DO THIS WHEN MY LICENSE IS DUE, like they were doing.

When reality struck, I suddenly realized that there was an Oct. 1, 2020, deadline, and that was when I put two and two together about news stories concerning backups at driver licensing centers in Tennessee. When I went online to the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security web site, it all got much clearer and opened my eyes to the need for me to get this done now rather than later.

In case you too are wondering, beginning October 1, 2020, you must have a REAL ID compliant credential, passport, or other TSA-approved alternative form of identification to board commercial flights within the United States, access federal buildings or enter nuclear power plants.

Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve been inside a nuclear power plant. It was back in the 80s, I believe, but accessing federal buildings and boarding commercial flights within the United States is a much more frequent occurrence for me, as it probably is for you.

According to the TDHS web site, “The REAL ID Act of 2005 established minimum security standards for license issuance and production. These standards provide an additional level of security to protect your identity.”

2005? You mean this has been around for 14 years now?

There’s a caveat, of course. Tennesseans are not required to obtain a REAL ID compliant license. The decision to get a REAL ID credential is completely up to you.

A REAL ID driver’s license or Identification credential is not required for any other reason than to allow you to continue to fly domestically within the United States and access certain federal facilities after October 1, 2020.

Ok, I know. This newspaper has published at least two warnings about this recently, and there is some publicity about it, but just like the broke man, I had not been paying attention.

Once I went online to learn the facts, I woke up. I found out that federal law requires that your first application for a REAL ID compliant credential be made in person. You can apply for a REAL ID compliant credential at a location listed below.

If you have already been issued a Tennessee driver license or ID, visit:

— One of the 44 full-service Driver Services Centers, like the one off of Highway 55 between Tullahoma and Manchester.

— Nashville-Downtown Express Center. Three words I don’t like here- Nashville (1.5 hours away on a good day), Express (nothing is express in Nashville. Have you noticed the traffic lately?), and Center (if it’s centralized, there is probably no place to park.)

— Participating County Clerk partners. Franklin County is not one of them.

That leaves the area’s Driver Services Center, so I loaded up my passport, driver’s license, Social Security card and two pieces of mail addressed to me at my home within the last four months to establish my residency, and gave up a morning to get ‘er done, no matter what the wait.

Upon arrival at about 10:35 a.m., I saw a room full of chairs with people in them…ALL of them; several people standing around a counter with six driver’s license examiners stations waiting on them, six or so people standing before a kiosk with tablets in one corner, folks coming in and out of an adjoining room marked for driver testing and a long line of citizens along the wall to my right.

Noticing the deer in the headlights look on my face, a friendly examiner directed me to the end of the long line on my right, and everyone in it smiled as I passed them.

After about 30 minutes in line, I finally arrived at the front and was called forward by a friendly examiner. I gave her my papers and told her I wanted the gold star on the license. After checking over them, she bundled them neatly with a big paper clip and directed me to “the first available kiosk” to request a duplicate license and to pay the $8 fee (in my case).

It took less than two minutes to accomplish this, but then I had to take a seat and wait for my name to be called.

I thought I had it made at this point. I even texted my wife and asked her what she wanted to do for lunch.

It was well before 11:30 a.m., so I considered myself lucky, but that is when four of the six examiners took a break for lunch, leaving two folks to answer the phone, process people who were there for their driver’s license, call up some of us by name to finish the REAL ID process, take photos of those who needed them, direct people coming through the door to the end of the line, and call them over when they were ready for the next person in line.

I’ve got to hand it to these examiners, who accomplished all of this with patience, courtesy, and even in some cases a sense of humor. Amazing! But, of course, it slowed down the entire proceedings tremendously.

Finally, about noon, I heard my name called, took my stuff to the counter, watched as the examiner made copies of everything, signed on the electronic pad and got my duplicate driver’s license, and was told I would receive my new license within 30 days. By 12:10 p.m., I was walking out the door. That’s an hour and a half.

So, let me summarize. If you’re going to do this, don’t show up near lunch or quitting time (5:00 p.m.). Better go now, because the closer we get to Oct. 1, the more people like me will be standing in line in front of you. Take all the required documents because you do not want to get turned away and have to come back a second time.

For more information, study the info on the Tennessee Department of Homeland Security website before you go, and take lots of patience with you.

The procrastinating Alan Clark’s editorials are available on his web site at alclarkvoice.com, in his book “You Oughtta Know, Vol One,” and on Apple Podcasts. Don’t delay in listening or reading them!