02 December, 2006

Bureaucracy, and an American Dream

So, you want to hear about FbL's interview adventure? Of course it was an adventure; it's always an adventure with FbL!

It's a good thing I left early, for two reasons: 1) There were two recent accidents on the freeway still affecting traffic; 2) That meant I arrived 30 minutes early.

Why would that matter, you ask? Because unlike the Marine Corps bases and the hospital base I've been frequenting, regular Naval Bases require special preparations. So I find myself stoopped at the entrance and redirected to the security office to get a day pass. At least I have half an hour to take care of that, right? [All you Navy types can kindly pick yourselves up off the floor and stop laughing now, okay? Thank you.]

FbL: I need to get a pass.

Sailor-Receptionist: You need a clearance.

FbL: A clearance?

Receptionist: The form inviting you. The people you're visiting should've sent us one.

FbL: Well, did they send you one?

Receptionist: How would I know? Call them.

I call them. They had not, and scramble to correct the mistake. Moments later they call and ask if the fax of the document went through.

FbL: They want to make sure you got the fax.

Receptionist: See that older man chatting with the officer over there? When he gets back to his desk he'll tell me if he got the fax and if there's anything for me to do.

FbL: (momentarily stunned, then quietly sitting down to wait, contemplating the fact that she's applying for a job where she needs to demonstrate she's not the average ignorant civilian, but she can't even get through the gate).

Twenty minutes later the older man and officer are still brainstorming (officer is not in unifrom and obviously on his day off). I call ahead and explain why things aren't moving. Five minutes later I get a call from the director. The master chief from the hiring board is sending a duty driver.

That was actually the bright spot of the day. The duty driver was a classic American success story. He knew I was headed for an interview and mentioned that he was going before a promotion board soon. Unbidden, he talked about how he liked his work and was looking forward to the pay increase of a promotion. He said that past promotions made him confident this time, too.

I needed to demonstrate only mild interest before the rest of his story poured forth. Five years ago he arrived in the U.S. from The Phillipines with $50 and the clothes on his back. Having grown up with the American military presence in The Phillipines, he decided to enlist in the Navy. He had lots of good things to say about the opportunities he'd had in the Navy and how it had improved his life. He said that he and his wife had worked very hard and they "already own three properties:" his home off the base, a rental place, and an "estate of 4.2 acres" in Arizona where his wife and children live.

I commented that while we have our problems, America is certainly the land of opportunity. "It's not easy, but if you work hard enough you can actually change your life. In other places there is no way to move up." He grinned and heartily agreed. I asked if it was true that the Phillipines had gotten very bad in the last few years. He said yes, and laid that at the feet of the local government, especially its mismanagement of base negotiations that allowed the closing of American military bases.

He had a particularly immigrant view of the base closing discussions. He said the Catholic church had urged Phillipinos to push for closing the bases because of the prostitution associated with them. His perspective was that he was a good Catholic, but prostitiution wasn't necessarily a bad thing because, "Some of the girls they fall in love and sailors marry them and then they can go to the U.S. and have a better life, too."

Now, I certainly wasn't going to dig very deep into that minefield of conversation, but I found his take on it absolutely fascinating and was once again reminded of how lucky Americans and American immigrants are to be here.

He was so friendly and polite that I thoroughly enjoyed myself and didn't even have time to get nervous before the interview.