Friday, February 21, 2014

Day 285 - Obtaining a Bartender's License

I have never obtained a bartender’s license. As one of the goals of my “I have never...” year, obtaining a bartender’s license has been a multi-step process that began last month with my enrollment in a responsible beverage server training course. Following my successful completion of the course, I had the state approval necessary to finalize the process of obtaining a license, but that required an application and a visit to Madison City Hall. As a result, I held onto my paperwork necessary to complete the process and kept my eyes open for a day that would permit me to become a licensed bartender.

Fortunately, a planned trip to the Northwoods scheduled to commence this afternoon gave me a perfect opportunity to act on my plan this morning. With my responsible beverage service certification in tow, I made the drive downtown as the rush of a starting workday eased into a midmorning quiet. The streets around me were so stark I was actually surprised by the stillness at the city’s heart as I parked my car and found my way into City Hall. In the empty space of the building’s lobby the only sound that accompanied my entrance was the closing of the heavy metal door at my back. There wasn’t a person in sight, and considering I had no idea where to go to complete my objective of obtaining a bartender’s license, it became abundantly clear the process wouldn’t be as easy as a simple stop at a local government building.

Given my lack of knowledge on the layout of City Hall, I took a few moments to review my paperwork for any indicator of where to complete the final phase of licensing process. Unsurprisingly, the paperwork I received from the state and the city made no mention of any such location outside of reminding me it was in the building surrounding me. With no directions and no room number to guide me, it quickly became clear I had no other choice but to search the building until I found the location I sought. In turn, I lifted my head from the papers in my hand and made an arbitrary decision to walk straight down the hall in front of me. I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew I wasn’t leaving City Hall until I had my bartender’s license in my hand.

A bit of wondering through the building eventually led me to and aged bulletin board with a seemingly endless list of office names and room numbers. Hopeful the board would give me some guidance in my search efforts, I poured over the information for a few minutes, reading each entry line by line in pursuit of the words “licensing” or “alcohol.” When that effort proved unsuccessful, I turned back toward the center of the hallway and noticed a second bulletin board on the opposite wall. Assuming it contained the same information as the board I had reviewed moments earlier, I randomly glanced at the room names and numbers listed behind the glass until my eyes fell on a welcomed sight. “Bartender licensing!” I said out loud as I read a small line of text in the upper left corner of the board, “107... Now we’re getting somewhere!”

Step 1... No problem
Reveling in the small victory that came with my discovery, I stepped back from the board smiling and looked down the hallway. My expression quickly faded as I realized none of the small plastic signs hanging over the doorways within sight contained the number 107. Although I finally had a room number to guide me, I still had no idea where in the building that room could be found. As a result, I continued wandering through the building, concentrating on the first floor in assumption room 107 could be found somewhere in its halls.

Thankfully, that assumption proved correct as I eventually found room 107 tucked into a corner at the intersection of two hallways near the center of the building. Realized I was making progress, I entered the room to find a woman sitting at a long counter dividing the room between a series of work desks and a designated customer space. With one other customer leaving the room, I approached the desk and set down my certification slip. Explaining my intentions to apply for a bartender’s license, the woman promptly handed me an application and directed me to fill it out at a nearby table. 

Minutes later, I returned to her with the paperwork completed and handed it to her with a smile. The woman silently grabbed the form and my certification paperwork from my hand and reviewed them carefully with a steady emotionless look on her face. Then, without saying a word she began typing on her computer, periodically glancing downward to gather information from my application. This continued for nearly five minutes as I stood before her wondering my role in the ongoing process. Doing my best to not look anxious by the awkwardness of the situation, I busied myself with some nearby pamphlets while the woman slowly typed away, glancing up at me periodically.

Wait... So I wait to give you my paperwork, and then you
give me paperwork to give to another department who gives
me paperwork to give to you to get my license? ...Makes sense.
Eventually breaking the silence, the woman explained the next step in the process. “OK, I have everything entered here. I’m going to print you an invoice. You are going to take that invoice down to room 101 where they will take your payment. Then, you bring the receipt back to me, and I can issue you the license.” The ridiculousness of the process she was explaining made me chuckle. “Ah, bureaucracy at its best!” I said in jest as the woman rose to obtain the invoice from a nearby printer. Unamused, she grabbed a single piece of paper from the printer and handed it to me. “There you go. I will see you in a bit,” she said, still devoid of any emotion.

The smile fading from my face, I thanked the woman for her help and walked back out into the nearby hallway. Luckily, my earlier exploration of the building took me passed rom 101, which made the next step in the process much easier than those that came before it. In a matter of minutes I had paid the invoice, obtained my receipt, and was back in the licensing office. Still vacant of any other customers, I approached the counter once more and greeted the woman with a smile. “Can I help you?” she asked looking over the top of her glasses. Surprised by her seeming lack of recollection from the interaction we had moments earlier, I cocked my head and responded, “Yeah, I’m the guy that was just in here a few minutes ago... You gave me an invoice and I paid it... I’m the one obtaining a bartender’s license...” The woman didn’t respond to my comment other than to take the receipt from my hand and begin typing at her computer once more. Rising again to return to her printer, she waited as a single piece of paper rolled into the printing tray, grabbed it, and returned to the counter. “There you go,” she deadpanned as she slid the document my direction, “That’s the one you need to display so hold onto it.”

Success! ...Now, what to do with it?

I looked down at the piece of paper and read the words “Operator License” scrawled across the top. Excited, I picked up the paper and looked it over to confirm everything was in place. In my hands was my first ever bartender’s license, and although it was a simple thing to obtain, the feeling of holding the paper in my hand gave me a sense of accomplishment. Happy to bring the experience to a close, I found my way back out to the city streets and climbed in my car. As I set the license on the passenger seat next to me, I looked it over once more and smiled. While I have no idea what I will do the license, I know having it opens up new doors for me in my efforts to volunteer, meet new people, and gain new experiences. We’ll see where things go from here, but I’m hopeful I’ll be able to put my new status as a licensed bartender to use in the near future.

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