I’m currently on a business trip in New York, nested within a personal trip to see my family in South Carolina.
I didn’t bring my driver’s license to the US because I had no plans to drive anywhere. And I left my passport at my parents’ house because I didn’t need it to travel to New York.
So when I got to the security checkpoint at the podunk airport in South Carolina, the only photo ID I had with me was… my gaijin card. (For the uninitiated, this is a Japanese alien registration card. Most of the data on it is printed in Japanese, except for name, nationality and birthplace, with really tiny English subtitles on the labels).
Here’s how it went:
ME: Hi there, how ya doin’? (hands over boarding pass and gaijin card, acting natural)
ID CHECKER LADY: (furrows brow) What is this?
ME: It’s, uh, a Japanese government issued ID.
ID CHECKER LADY: Huh? (stares at it some more) Don’t you have a driver’s license?
ME: Unfortunately no, I didn’t drive here. This is the only ID I have.
ID CHECKER LADY: Um…. (calls over to lady at neighboring checkpoint) Hey, what am I supposed to do with this?
ID CHECKER LADY 2: What is it?
ID CHECKER LADY: Should I send him back to ticketing to get the S’s? (Note to the uninitiated: They print “SSSS” on your boarding pass as a signal that you require “additional screening,” which includes a pat-down search, explosives swabbing and whatever else the TSA thinks is relevant.)
ID CHECKER LADY 2: I’m not sure.
ME: (noticing that the line is about 20 deep behind him) Ma’am, it’s issued by the government of Japan. Do you see the fine print in the corner there?
ID CHECKER LADY 2: (to Lady 1) It’s up to you.
ID CHECKER LADY: Do you have any other ID?
ME: Besides credit cards and my mileage card…
ID CHECKER LADY 2: Oh, that’s fine!
ME: Um, okay. (hands over mileage card, wondering how this is supposed to make things any more secure)
For what it’s worth, I have since used my gaijin card as ID with several different doormen in New York, and none have batted an eyelash. Maybe the South just has issues with “them weird squiggly Oriental pictures.”