Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Get Me Out Of Here

The difficult situation I'm in started three months ago, when I naively believed the post office guy who told me that passport processing was running about 6-8 weeks, 10 at the outside. We had 13 weeks until we traveled, so that would give us three whole weeks extra. Surely that was plenty of time, I thought to myself, passing on spending an extra $100 per passport to expedite the application. Feel free to laugh at my stupidity, go ahead, I'll wait.

Done now? Good. I'd laugh too if all of my hope and optimism hadn't been drained out of me from the many weeks of waiting. I think the passport office is staffed by Dementors.

All of the information on the passport website says not to call and attempt to talk to a dementor, I mean, live person, until you are traveling within the next two weeks. Which led me to believe that two weeks would be plenty of time for them to get their act together and get me my passport. Ha! This might just inadvertently be the funniest blog entry I've ever written!

Two weeks ago, (on the 16th, a Monday) I called the office. Person #1 tells me that our passports are halfway through processing, she would send an email to the people working on it and change our applications to "expedite" status, request overnight delivery, and remind them of our travel date. I was told to call back in 48-72 hours to get the status. Darcey's passport was already expedited, so there was nothing they could do to speed that up.

I gave them 72 hours. On Thursday I called again. Ryan's and my passports were still in processing, but good news! Darcey's was being mailed and I was given a tracking number! One down, two to go. At least someone in the family could go on our trip!

I called again on Saturday. Person #3 is kind of a curmudgeon, and tells me that if I haven't gotten our passports within 3 days of our travel date, she can get me an appointment at a passport processing center, where they can make me a passport while I wait. If they have that kind of turn-around time, why exactly is it that they can't get mine done in the 12 weeks that they've had the applications? I'm not going to ask that, this poor person who is probably making $8.50 an hour dealing with panicky travelers like me doesn't need to get yelled at. She then tells me that my application is being processed in San Francisco, and I'd need to go there to get it. "But I'm in Utah," I said. "In that case, you can go to Denver," was her oh-so-helpful reply, but only if we have copies of our birth certificates or some other proof of U.S. citizenship. A love of baseball and apple pie is apparently not sufficient proof, so we've got nothing, since our birth certificates are being held hostage by the passport workers in San Francisco.

After talking to the passport office, I called the post office guy who originally sold us the bill of goods I'm now living with. At the time, he had given us a slip of paper with the due date of our passports (July 7) and the phone number of the passport office, which he circled and wrote the number 100 next to it. The "100," he tells us, is to signify the number of times I need to call that phone number before I bother him. I'm sure he didn't say bother, it was just implied. Well, at this point I figure we are as close to 100 as we need to be, so I call him. I explain that we are traveling on Friday, and what can he do to help? "You're traveling in a week? Boy, I wish you had given me two weeks, you've really tied my hands here!" This is the first time I actually get heated on the phone with anyone, as I tell him that he specifically said to call the other number 100 times and they would only help me within 2 weeks of my travel date, so how exactly was I supposed to give him two weeks? He was quiet for a minute and then told me to call him back on Tuesday, because naturally the San Francisco office is closed over the weekend and he has Monday off.

I get off the phone, look up plane ticket prices to SFO, and fortunately they are a bargain at only $600 each! Unfortunately, my dad calls just then and asks, "How's it goin'?" At which point I spewed all the venom I've been bottling up - apparently, I can be nice and polite to the moron who can't get my passport done in a quarter of a year, but can't control myself in talking to my dad, who actually loves me. He was sorry he asked.

On Sunday I called again. More good news! You know that passport of Darcey's that I was given a tracking number for? Strangely enough, when I looked up the tracking number, it didn't have a status for it. I assume the post office is as good at "tracking" as the passport office is at "passports." When I asked Person #4, who had just given me the "in processing" spiel, to look up Darcey's application, she said something along the lines of "Well, I don't know why you were given a tracking number, her application is still being processed." The phone in my hand proceeded to melt under the heat of the fire I was now breathing. I very politely finished the phone call before I exploded like Mount Vesuvius.

Darcey has now been waiting half of her life for a passport. I think, so have I. Is it this time consuming to determine if a 7 week old baby is a terrorist? How intensive does her background check need to be? Has she been flagged as an alien because she sleeps more than any human I've ever known?

Monday rolls around, and I talk to the most helpful person yet, and this time I'm not being sarcastic. Actually helpful, she tells me that Ryan's and my passports have about three steps left, the background check, something else, and quality control. I'm thinking at this point that "quality control" is a pretty stupid step, and can't we just skip that and move on to "mailing it"? Darcey's passport is about one step ahead of ours, and they should all be done either tonight or tomorrow. I thank Person #5 with actual sincerity, and feel like we've got some hope after all.

Tuesday's Dementor drains me of hope yet again. Person #6 is the most abrupt person I've dealt with yet, who tells me for the millionth time that the passports are still being processed, and would I like her to make an appointment for us in San Francisco? I ask if there is anything else she can do and she basically says no. I hang up before I have to start crying.

I called back the post office guy, who rivaled Dementor #6 in abruptness. "Hi," I said, "I talked to you last week and you told me to call you back on Tues..." He interrupts me, saying, "Who is this?" Like I'm some kind of telemarketer that just called him during dinner. I hadn't heard him because, strangely enough, I was finishing my sentence, so I said, "Excuse me?" and he said again, "Who is this?" I gave him my name and he said, "Didn't I call you already?" Yeah, right, you called already - I'm just calling again because I wanted to hear your lovely voice one more time. No, I know for a fact he never called me because the first time I called, on Saturday, he never even got so far as to ask me my name. But I humor him as he puts me on speakerphone and I hear him shuffling papers and saying to someone else, Didn't I call her? Eventually he takes my information and tells me he'll call San Francisco and see what he can do.

Nothing, as it turns out. San Francisco won't answer the phone. The entire city is in on the conspiracy against me leaving the country, so they all took their phones off the hook and now the entire city of San Francisco won't answer the phone. Helpful Post Office Guy tells me that he'll keep trying (fat chance) and that my best bet is to call my congressman.

I had emailed Congressman Chris Cannon's office on Sunday, but forgot to call on Monday like I had intended. So, motivated by Person #6's desire to give me an appointment, I call Cannon's office in Provo. Which naturally is closed because it is Pioneer Day. So I call his office in D.C. because it isn't Pioneer Day in the rest of the civilized world (as civilized as you could call our nation's capital). I was pleasantly surprised when someone actually answered the phone, despite it being 6:15 there. The person I talked to took my name and phone number and promised that someone would call me back in a few minutes who would be able to help me.

Here's the shocker - he did call back in a few minutes. A guy here in the Provo office, who most likely was called away from his Pioneer Day barbeque to deal with my passport issue. He took all of my information, and said that he or someone else would get back to me that night. He was heartened by the fact that our flight doesn't leave until 9 p.m. on Friday because it gives them a whole extra day to get my passport to me.

He called back while we were singing "Happy Birthday" to Brad (I could only find 7 candles, so we had to re-light three of them to be blown out a second time) but no one checked the message for hours. I took Brad to an Orem Owlz game, which was exactly the kind of relaxation I needed after such a stressful day. (An aside - I asked Brad at the game what he would like us to bring back from Malaysia for him. He said, maybe a shark's tooth necklace, or something from the flea store. Flea store? No, he said, he means flea circus. What?? I'm laughing because now I know what he's trying to say, and he says, You know, the flea place! Flea market I eventually tell him, trying not to cry I'm laughing so hard. He says, "Are you going to put this in your blog?" You betcha!)

I come home from the game to a message saying that they are aware of our travel date and it should be done by Wednesday morning and on it's way to us. This might be odd, but I felt like I could finally relax because someone else was worrying about this, too. Someone with some amount of power. He did, after all, manage to get San Francisco to answer the phones.

I'm planning on calling the passport office again this afternoon, hopefully they'll be able to confirm that it is on it's way. I'm not holding my breath. This is the same crackpot organization to which I had to spell "Malaysia" to two different employees, and had to tell a third that Malaysia is NOT in the Caribbean. Not exactly confidence-inspiring, plus it makes me wonder how we'll ever keep terrorists out of our country. Apparently, all they need to do is tell them Al-Qaida is an island in the Caribbean, or maybe in Mexico somewhere, and they are good to go. They can get in the country, but can I ever get out? We'll see.

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