Sending out an SOS to the SOS

I like Jesse White, the Illinois Secretary of State (SOS); his incredible Tumblers are a real sight to see.

Honestly, Jesse White and I are not exactly friends, nor even acquaintances. I have shaken his hand, however, after which he listened to me read a poem and gave me a tour of his office – as big as a high school gym but smelling a lot better – in Springfield’s state capitol building.

Well, not just me. I had earned third place for the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award in the Illinois Emerging Writers competition. When I entered, I didn’t read the fine print, didn’t realize it was for poets who hadn’t published a first book of poetry, which I hadn’t at the time. But most poets publish their first books before they’re 65. A couple of young whippersnappers took first and second place – deservedly so. I showed up if, for nothing else, to show there might be a modicum of creative verve left after a hip replacement and turning gray.

After the poetry reading, Jesse invited us and our entourages across the street for a tour. A narrow labyrinthian hall adorned with photos of famous people smiling next to him led into a high-ceilinged, high-windowed room with Brobdingnagian furniture, including a desk as large as a national monument.

Jesse offered up stories, histories, candies and souvenirs. Admittedly, it may not be hard to impress poets, those oddballs who believe their passion to spill out words is more important than pursuing money or status, but Jesse put on a full-court press to make us feel welcome.

For that memorable, delightful afternoon, I thank the SOS.

When our family recently moved from downtown Geneva to Campton Hills, my driver’s license needed the new address. I figured I’d be sent a new card after a quick call to the SOS’s office, giving them the correct answer to a security question such as, “In which kitchen drawer do you keep your cheese knives?” I listened to eight options, none of them a change-of-address prompt, so I opted for a human being.

“Hello, this is Margaret Thatcher [not her real name]. Start with your question.”

That took me back, as I was ready to offer my name, how I got into writing, and reasons I liked “The Crown.” Instead, I complied, and Margaret connected me to eight more options, these more interesting.

“If you are from out of state and have a DUI conviction but cannot make your court date and would like to proceed directly to prison without a trial, press 6.” Like that. Cool stuff.

Pressing the number to speak to a representative, I listened instead to music coming from Oscar the Grouch’s garbage can as a tornado touched down.

Ten or 15 minutes later, familiar ring tones promised a live person. Then silence. Then “Beep … beep … beep” and a dial tone. Disconnected.

Suburbanite reader, you can’t imagine the blue language an educated, well-mannered person is capable of. Or, if you’ve dealt with similar government efficiency, of course you can.

I called back and eventually discovered I needed to come in person to a DMV facility. Really? In 2021 with the delta variant still hovering? They require two proof-of-address changes. Naturally, that would be mailed bills paid online and immediately ripped up and thrown out, or ads addressed to “Current Resident,” which isn’t my name.

Not yet, anyway.

• Rick Holinger’s book of poetry, “North of Crivitz,” and his collection of humorous essays about life in the Fox Valley, “Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences,” are available through local bookstores or Contact him at