Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Got it

I so wanted to write yesterday about my fairly awesome weekend. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the whole never ending passport ordeal (which has now ended). I called first thing Monday morning--6:47 am to be exact. I was a bad citizen and could not hide my exasperation from the people to whom I spoke. No answers were forthcoming, no reassurances, no estimated time of arrival. More new and contradictory information was conveyed. I became agitated--I actually shook in frustration and cried (after I got off the phone). As calm as I have been about my romantic life, I'm that anxiety-ridden in this situation.

I had to get to work by nine so I could have my picture taken for the new IDs we're getting eventually. I could not bring myself to smile, I just looked dolefully at the camera. I swear, it's going to look like a mugshot. And not a glamorous one either.

I was going to wait until Wednesday to call Congresswoman Norton's office again, as I'd been previously instructed. Given how upset I was and how ill that boded for a productive day at work, I went ahead and called on Monday around noon. The staffer I spoke to listened patiently to my story and said, "Oh no, that won't do. I'm printing you a letter right now. You can come get it and go to the passport office tomorrow. Or...if you can come now, they're open until 4pm, and you can go today."

About a half hour after we spoke, I rode my bike to the National Press Building, where the district office is. I was handed a letter printed on congressional letterhead requesting that, "...my constituent be given all permissible assistance in the expedited issuance of a passport."

I rode my bike directly to the passport office on 19th St NW. I mistakenly stood in the line snaking outside the building for about half an hour. When I got near the door, I showed a guard the letter and he told me to use a different entrance and go to the second floor. Hey, who doesn't enjoy killing a little time standing in line?

Up on the second floor, I waited in an uncrowded room with a couple of guys who'd come from North Carolina just for the day to get passports issued. I felt privileged compared to them.

After sitting for about 45 minutes, I got a chance to talk to someone. I showed him the letter and was asked if I had all my documents so they could issue me a new passport. I was confused since I thought the letter just bought me expedited service to that office. I'd actually spent Sunday night rummaging around the house for my birth certificate and old (first) passport (the other one, the one I sent in for renewal, is somewhere in New Hampshire). Both items were sitting on the dining room table at home. A newly-filled out passport form was sitting at my desk at work, along with my proof of travel. That's how flustered I was--I didn't bring anything I needed.

The guy asked for all those things--my proof of citizenship, proof of travel dates, and a completed form. He told me, "Get that orange form and fill it out here at the counter while I help these other people." I did as he instructed.

When I finished he said, "You can come back in the morning or we can start processing this today."

I said, "I don't know. You tell me which will be faster." He looked blankly at me. I said, "Let's start today."

He said, "I need some pictures." I ran downstairs and randomly picked one of the three passport photo places in the same block as the office. I paid $15 for two pictures. For the second time that day I had mugshot-quality photos taken--these have a peculiar "deer in the headlights" quality about them. I'm not smiling and my eyes are so wide open you can see white clear around the irises.

Back upstairs, I handed the guy the photos. I filled in part of the form I'd missed. The guy found my information on the computer and filled in the proof of citizenship. He said, "All you need to do is fax a copy of your tickets or itinerary. If you can't fax it, you can bring it in tomorrow when you pick up the passport. We're issuing you a one-year passport. When you receive the full book [I think that's what he called it], mail this one back to us. You can come in tomorrow at 12:30 or later."

"Thank you so much."

I left not quite believing it was true. I decided to go back today at 3:30pm and I did exactly that. I went directly to the second floor, I stood in a short line for about five minutes and when I reached the counter, a woman handed me my passport. I verified the information in the passport was correct, signed my name and was on my way. I still didn't quite believe it.

And then a funny thing happened--I started to feel guilty. All those people standing in line in the hot sun in front of the building waiting for their appointments--I'd skipped in front of all of them. Why was my need so much greater than theirs? I expressed this feeling to TR when I returned to the the office. He shook his head and reminded me that I'd tried to make an appointment--that I'd pretty much tried everything I could--and was it my fault if I was smart enough to call the Congresswoman? I said, "There's really no accounting for how I'll feel." TR agreed.

I would like to point out, though, that I wasn't smart enough to know to call the Congresswoman. It was kind commenter, Laura, who mentioned it. Perhaps Pele did too. So, thanks to both of you for steering me in the right direction. Now I don't have to feel anxious until I get to the airport and start worrying about flying.

(Note: the passport has my picture on a page, not inside the front cover. The visa pages are covered with distracting drawings and (inspirational?) quotes. For example, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair." George Washington. That's the best one they could pick? The old passport had no quotes and no fancy drawings.)

Grateful for: my passport.

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