Request Permission to Sojourn

Now that we’ve slowed our travel pace quite a bit, I have more time to write about some aspects of ‘cruising life.’  No pictures in this installation, just a story about our nemesis: bureaucracy.

Living on a boat and cruising full-time in so many ways is a simpler life.   No house, no car, a minimalist lifestyle when it comes to possessions (except for spare parts and tools, but that’s a subject for another day). But we do still need to deal with taxes, registration, insurance, etc.  And it can get very complicated because this lifestyle doesn’t fit nicely into the boxes on a form.  Always being on the move, we become subject to laws of the different states we pass through.    Not having a permanent address always seems to make people’s hair catch on fire and computer screen icons go into spinning wheels of death when confronted by this concept. Many of you may recall our travails in renewing our drivers licenses in Minnesota when we started this adventure two years ago. We recently had the opportunity to experience the Florida bureaucracy.  Spoiler Alert: it’s not any better.

If you will have your non-Florida registered boat in the state for more than 90 consecutive days you are required to get something called a Sojourners Permit. 

Just the name ‘Sojourners Permit’ hints at romance and exotic adventure, doesn’t it?  Yeah, well, more like an adventure in bureaucracy.  Our understanding was that this is a simple application and $50 fee.  No one can tell us how it is actually enforced, if it is at all, nor how you would prove or disprove that you were under the 90 day limit.  But we don’t begrudge ponying up our share because we are, after all, benefiting from all sorts of state and county services even if at a micro level. So during our two week downtime in Clearwater over the holidays, we undertook doing our civic duty. 
We had to scheduled an appointment, because you can’t do it online and you absolutely positively cannot just walk in to an office; they must, at all costs, know you are coming or you will be denied the opportunity to give the state money.  Further, we both had to go in person because…oh hell, I don’t know why, we just did.  Just another speed bump in the process to make it harder for people to do what they have passed laws requiring you to do. 
Next point of interest is that this needed to be done at the County Tax office.  With the memory of our our drivers license Battle of the Bureaucracy still fresh and our loins girded for battle (what does that even mean???), on a sunny morning just before New Year’s we scootered the three miles to a strip mall, where the tax office was easily identified by the number of people just outside the entrance smoking and the actual Tax Collectors name in giant letters on the opaque tinted windows.  Apparently being elected  a Tax Collector is a big deal here in the state of no income tax.

The interior was what you would expect of a DMV, probably because it also apparently served as the DMV.  Outer side walls were lined with about 20 plexiglass-enclosed cubicles facing the middle, where rows of waiting room chairs were turned toward the empty back wall like there was about to be a school recital.  Décor was decidedly beige on beige, with the only touch of color some Xmas decorations on one of the long walls behind the cubicles.

“What are you trying to do here today?” was the receptionist’s muffled greeting through the plexiglass.  Trying to do???Now there’s  was a statement disguised as a question and packed with futility, sarcasm, and brutal honesty.   

“We need to get a Sojourners Permit for our boat.”

“Register a boat?”

“No,  just a Sojourners Permit.”

“What’s that?”  This didn’t bode well.

“Because we’re going to be in Florida for more than 90 days” replied Dave, taking out the Sojourners Permit form he had printed out.  The guy was already giving a dismissive wave even before Dave got the form up to the plexiglass. 

“Whatever.  Here.” Don’t think we’re going to be seeing this guy’s unsmiling face on the Customer Service Rep of the Quarter bulletin board. He handed us a strip of paper with ‘L68’ printed in low-ink-cartridge gray.  I guess the purpose of the appointment was to get a number, not actually be seen.    

We headed to a couple empty chairs in front of an electronic board high up on a center pillar listing the numbers being served, looking much like an airport departure screen. 

T31: window 3 
D15: window 14
L72: window 9

Wait – L72?  We were L68.  Did we miss our number already? It had been less than 15  seconds!  And it certainly didn’t look like there were 95 other L-people waiting. 

A computer generated female voice  — probably Siri and Alexa’s grandmother — announced each new ‘now serving’ number as it scrolled up on the LCD screen. 

T9.  L74.  D26.  L79. I had an odd feeling someone would jump up any second and yell “you sunk my battleship!” 

L54.   At least now we were on the right side of L68.  We held our breath to see which way it was going to go. 

L84.  I contemplated going back to Mr. Customer Service to ask for a new number.

DL62.  Yes!  Come on baby, keep it coming!

Then L68 popped up on the screen – Bingo!!!  We were headed for the designated window before Granny Siri could announce us. 

Our clerk was a friendly young woman who gave us a warm greeting, a good start.  Sitting down across the plexiglass, I noticed a row of ‘The Office’ figurines lining her cubicle.  Hmmm — omen,  inspiration, or  statement? 

“We need a sojourners permit for our boat,” said Dave as he pushed the completed form along with required boat ownership documentation through the  slot. 

“What’s that?”  she asked. Well, at  least they’re consistent.

Dave pulled out the corresponding explanation he had the foresight to print from the website and pushed it across.  She read it for a moment, then turned to her computer.  She requested both our IDs, and I handed over my military ID because Minnesota is one of the few states on the naughty list that doesn’t automatically have the enhanced ID and thus I figured the military ID was a safer bet.  Wrong. She handed it back and asked if I had a driver’s license.    I didn’t even want to venture to guess what would have happened if I’d said I didn’t drive.  So I handed over my unenhanced and thus purportedly more easily faked Minnesota license.     

More stuff on the computer before saying she needed to go check with her supervisor and disappeared.  So we waited.  I watched a worker taking down a large vinyl sticker Xmas tree on the wall.  Dave and I both started checking email on our phones.  The woman moved on to dismember Santa while he still sat in his sleigh.  Dave and I surmised that our clerk and her supervisor were Googling ‘sojourners permit Florida’.  Dasher and Dancer were put out to storage bin pasture.  I moved on to Solitaire. 

Finally she returned and with a smile announced success after about 15 minutes.  We gave her our credit card and she handed us the necessary sticker and paperwork, telling us that they use birthdays for renewals so this would be good until Dave’s birthday in October.  I asked why we couldn’t use my birthday instead which is December, since we were both required to sign the form and had to go into the tax collector’s office to get the permit. Her expression told me she hadn’t considered that. Then she started looking a bit like her head might explode if she had to go back and redo everything and nicely said no, and I was thinking my head might explode so just let it go much to Dave’s relief. 

In the end, we spent less than an hour there total, which really wasn’t bad,  and turns out to be exactly how long it takes for a person to dismantle Xmas.  (I’m 90% sure these two facts are not related.)  It cost closer to $200, with the explanation being that it was $50 in addition to the usual registration plus fees and taxes, which really didn’t make sense as why would we need a sojourners permit if we were now registered?  But it was too hard to try to figure out, so we gathered our helmets and marched past  Mr. Cantankerous at the reception desk and out the door.  

We came.  We tried.  We triumphed. 

Now we’re gonna go sojourn.


5 thoughts on “Request Permission to Sojourn”

  1. State Income Tax Adverse

    What!?! You think getting a Florida driver’s license is any easier. Helped a friend jump the hoops to get a learner’s permit, in Spanish, because it was faster than waiting for an appointment in English. Fast forward two years later on his 21st birthday to get his official driver’s license… Discover my friend had already been issued a driver’s license, NOT the permit, two years ago. We took photos of this card and posted it on social media, etc, just never noticed

    Anyway, thanks again to all the tourists paying taxes in Florida so we don’t have an income tax

  2. Guessing you two may be only a few of the honest folks who actually apply for that permit. After all that, I hope you are really enjoying your FL sojourn!

  3. Even you can take a really messed up state permit process and make the misery fun! Happy sojourning!

Comments are closed.