Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Passport troubles

I thought I would share the adventure of getting my passport with all of my loyal fans. When we went through this process, I was not blogging, but it was blog worthy. is a bit long!

Matt and I were headed to Puerto Vallarta to hang out for a week in May of 2007. Because of the new regulations, I needed a passport and Matt needed to renew his. He was sad about renewing his because it meant that he didn't have all of the nifty stamps inside from his travels prior to this trip. However we both applied for our new passports in the first part of March being reassured that we did not have to apply for an expedited passport and that we would have plenty of time.

Applying was a bit of a trouble for me. In February, I called the post office near our house and was told that they had a camera on premises and confirmed what I needed to bring in. When I arrived at the post office I was told that the camera was broken... That would have been nice to know. I went back the following week after confirming that their camera was now fixed and working. When I arrived, I was greeted by the most pleasant post office worker in existence. I wish you could see my face and hear my tone of voice as I write is dripping with sarcasm. She informed me (after I waited in line for half an hour) that they were not taking any more passport applications that day. I was not sure exactly what this meant and she refused to elaborate. I asked if they were out and she replied that no, they had plenty, they just weren't taking any more that day. I sighed, ran through a few choice words in my head, and left determined to not try that post office any longer. I went to a different post office later that week where I actually did encounter a very pleasant lady who quickly and efficiently took care of my application and informed me I had made it in time that day for it to be sent off. I asked her if I needed to get the passport expedited as she said that I should be more than fine.

March and April pass with no sign of either Matt or my passport. We were leaving the third week in May so we started to get a little antsy. The week before we began trying to call the US passport service in order to find out where our elusive passports were. We were left in a tangled web of bureaucracy where no one actually tells you anything but merely transfers you around in circles. The Saturday before Matt and I were supposed to leave we both called and waited on hold for the entire day. We did not know that a cell phone would ever time out on a call. Apparently after 6 hours they do. We both waited until we were sure the offices were closed. At this point I was more than a little frantic. That semester had been tough, I was substitute teaching, bar tending/waiting tables, and taking 12 hours of graduate classes. Matt had stopped working in March to try to find a different job and we really needed the time away to recharge and spend time together. I broke down crying thinking that there was no solution.

We called the next day, Sunday hoping that we would get some news as to what we should do. We spoke with a real person who informed us that our passports were being processed in Charleston (why they were sent all the way to Charleston when there is a processing center in Houston, I am not sure) and that, if we were leaving on Wednesday that there was no way of our passports to get to us in time. He informed us that he could set an appointment for us in the Houston office to get them rushed and would still be able to go on our trip! I asked him what we needed for the next day. He let me know we needed new passport pictures, photo i.d., proof of our flight, and a check to pay for different processing. I asked him about all of the other information (birth certificate etc). He assured me that the necessary info was in what he called "our system". Matt and I gleefully went to Walgreen's for new photos and I cancelled my sub job for the next day.

We arrived in downtown Houston ready to get our passports taken care of. We parked in a pay lot and gave money to who we thought was the attendant. Later, the real attendant came and found us and told us we gave money to the wrong guy. Matt and I figured it was his fault for not being there when the lot was open, but I don't remember if we paid him again or not. We were called upstairs to get in line for the passports. Because we had an appointment we were able to head to the front of the line and did not have to wait long (we felt special skipping over all of those people). When we arrived at the window we gave the woman the things we were told to bring and smiled, happy that this would all soon be over... She asked us for our birth certificates... I informed her that she did not need them, because you have them in your "system". She informed me that there was no "system" and that she needed them to process our information. With all of the stress over the past few days, I immediately started crying at which point the woman began to yell at me for crying. We told her we did not know how to get a birth certificate as ours were in Charleston with our original applications. She let us know that we could go to the other side of downtown in order to get new ones (for a fee) and come back to the front of the line when we got back. We ran over there, paid for new parking, paid for new birth certificates, ran back to the passport office, paid for new parking (again), and skipped up to the front of the line at this point not really caring if we offended anyone. She accepted all of our information, gave us a number or ticket and told us to wait on the other side of the room for them to confirm and swear us to the passport. So we waited...and waited...and waited.

Finally, later that afternoon we were called up to answer three little questions and told to sit back down to wait for our passports to be printed. There were people there with suitcases watching the clock and realizing that their flight was leaving without them, looking back we were fortunate that we took care of things a day or two before. We had an appointment at about 3 that afternoon, so we had to leave as our passports were not going to be ready until later that day. I made sure that Matt could pick up my passport for me (so we wouldn't have to pay to park again) and we left for the appointment.

The appointment was embarrassing to say the least. We were going to see a job placement agency for Matt and for some reason they wanted to meet with the both of us. They told us information about Matt based on his testing and their perception of him and looked to me for confirmation that it was true. I half way told them it wasn't and they told me in a way that there was truth to their report. Then they informed the both of us that in order to work on his job placement we would have to spend over $1,000. The stress of the day and trying to find Matt a job and the embarrassment of not having that kind of money to spend and feeling put on the spot was just too much. I began crying again) and we left saying "we would let them know". Trying not to worry about it too much, we went back downtown to get our passports. They weren't ready yet, come back tomorrow! At this point I informed Matt that I could see why people pull guns on government agencies like this. Surely not all agencies are this bad...

Matt cancelled his sub job the next day and went down to grab our passports (paying to park again). Needless to say we definitely were ready to relax on the beach... We considered "billing" the state department for our troubles, but never followed through. Matt and I still feel it was one of the most stressful days of our lives...

All of this being said, I love my passport. I love my stamps and stickers that confirm all of the wonderful adventures I have had. Because I got my passport stamped in Israel, I will not be able to travel to Syria, Iran, and Lebanon any time soon, but I don't have that in my travel plans for the forseeable future anyways. We were disappointed that our journey into Scotland was not rewarded with a new stamp, but we will eventually get over it.

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