No-one can do anything practically in the States without a Social Security number. It's your credit, identification and general acceptance by society all rolled into one. If you don't have one, you are automatically on the fringe.
I've been booking different utilities in preparation for moving into our apartment soon (which hasn't yet been approved by the apartment manager - we're getting slightly scared), and everyone is charging us extra-exorbitant fees and "extra" deposits because we don't have ours yet. We had to wait a while for AIPT to organise this from their end as well. And it still takes several weeks to have the number itself processed and turned into a piece of paper we can use.
Today we went to the Social Security office, got our bags checked for illegal weapons by the policeman there, took a number and sat down. Brendan got his number, along with a number of tourist recommendations by the friendly clerk. And then I discovered because of my visa type, I had to have my work permit before I can get a social security number. Which takes three months. At least. GRRRRRRR.
Send me ideas on what I should write my book on while I'm here. Three months feels like forever.