I'm getting pretty used to all this moving junk. I should be used to it by now. I've done enough of it in the almost 30 years I've been in the newspaper business.

For those of you not nearly as experienced in these things, always remember that the devil's always in the details -- as they say. The 1,500-mile trek pulling a U-Haul, wrong turns and late night spills of hot coffee along the way aren't half as challenging as the nuances involved in re inventing your life from place to place. I've spent more time trying to wrangle a telephone connection from a bored operator at the other end of the country or hooking up the gas than I ever needed to get in my car and drive between widely spaced points on the map. Why is it that to get a telephone in Dubuque, Iowa, it's necessary to talk to a woman someplace in Phoenix, Ariz.? Then they want the promise of your first born or letters of reference from your fifth-grade nun to get long-distance service.

Consider all the hoops they make you jump through for a library card in some of these locations.

''Mr. Stiles, do you happen to have any identification with your local address?'' asked the sweet faced young lady behind the counter at the Olivia Fellin Memorial Library in Gallup, N.M.

''Ma'am, I just moved into town three days ago,'' I try to explain, hoping that the conversation isn't headed where I'm just certain it is. ''Well then, maybe you have some mail or something with your local address and name on it?'' she continues, determined to follow procedure and not in the least bit interested in trying to fit her rules to my particular predicament.

''Actually, no one has had time to write me as yet,'' I say, trying to keep my cool. ''I've only been in town for a couple of days, like I tried to explain.

''In fact,'' I can feel myself starting to lose it, ''if someone would have written me on the day I left Indiana, which they couldn't have because I didn't have an address as yet, the letter wouldn't have had time to get here, lady.''

''Then I'm afraid that you'll have to wait until you have some sort of printed proof that you are indeed a resident of Gallup,'' she concludes, slamming the trap shut and looking more than just a little pleased with herself. ''We have very strict rules about loaning books to people who are not residents of Gallup proper.''

''Gallup proper!'' I repeat to myself not trying to make this any worse than it already is. ''I've been here less than a week and I haven't found anything 'proper' yet.''

It's already too late. So I decide to toss all caution to the wind and go with my first instinct, which is the direct approach. ''Ma'am, if I was already getting mail at my new address, I'd be at home perusing that and not in the least bit concerned about trying to obtain reading material from your precious supply.'' I settled for a quickie video membership at the corner convenience story to occupy my time until I could arrange for cable TV. My whole life, I've had this thing about rules, regulations and the stuffed-shirt people who always seem so smug standing behind them. See, those are the things that really keep me awake at night. It must be something to do with me and libraries. I can't remember for sure, but I'd almost be willing to betcha that I was scheduled to get my first library card the day after the old Galesburg Carnegie structure burned.

Take, applying for a driver's license, for instance. I reacquainted myself with the humiliation associated with that particular process here recently. I had to switch my license over from New Mexico -- the last place I had to suffer the outrageous slings, arrows and ''please take a number and a seat'' of overworked and disgruntled bureaucratic employees.

''Would you prefer a written exam or one administered on computer,'' the uniformed lady behind the desk at the driver's license bureau said with a wide grin.

''Test?'' I say with what I'm certain was a startled look on my face. ''Why in the world do I have to take a test?''

I realize I'm doing a very bad job of hiding my terror. I know that you should never let 'em see you sweat but anything was preferable to taking one of those license exams.

''Yes, sir, we require a test for those transferring out-of-state licenses,'' she says in a surprisingly reassuring voice. It doesn't work. I'm not in the least bit reassured. ''What is the minimum visibility at which you should turn on your headlights in bad weather?'' asks the computer. Then it offered three equally mysterious distances ''A. 100 feet,'' ''B. 300 feet,'' or ''C. 500 feet.'' I go for the safest answer, which I'm just certain is ''500 feet.'' At the very least I should be given a little extra credit for the added cushion of safety.

I once took a number in New Mexico -- No. 238, I believe -- only to look up and discover the number 125 flashing on the ''Now being served'' sign. ''There must be some mistake,'' I said after trying for almost 20 minutes to get the attention of one of the attendants who must be specially trained in visual avoidance techniques.

''I've got No. 238 and you're only up to 125, according to the big board,'' I frown.

''There aren't that many people in the building,'' I report, just sure I've uncovered some sort of bureaucratic snafu. ''You know, you're right,'' answered the guy, and then he proceeded to change the number to ''Now serving No. 123.''

Despite the fact that the minimum visibility for turning on one's lights is 300 feet and I've no doubt mangled a few other of the state's highway laws, I managed to pass the test, just barely.

I just hope it's the last damn time I've gotta do all this.

Uploaded to The Zephyr Online May 16, 2000

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