gwen (gwenix) wrote,

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After reading this article in the NYTimes, I felt I should post my own recent experience.

Just before I departed for California, I realized that I still hadn't found my passport after moving. I knew where it was when I lived up in The Colony, and I remember the day we packed it up to move down to the new place, probably in October. "We should put this someplace safe, because we might need it." Well, apparently the safe place was very safe, because I have no idea where that is.

So, jump back forward to my leaving for California. I knew we had to get the tickets for Mexico within the next few days, and since I was leaving for Cali in a few hours, I took the time to tear through my apartment (and upended all the cleaning I'd done for mr_sunyata's stay, sigh) to try to find it. No. Such. Luck.

At this point I figured I wasn't going to Mexico, so sad! But once in California, I called up the Passport line to see what could be done. Well, like the article detailed, I called and got hung up on, twice, instead of being taken to the appointment-making queue. I searched online, and discovered a few things, though:

1) There was a passport agency in San Francisco. I could just go there.
2) I absolutely had to go there with my tickets in hand proving I'd be going to Mexico within the next 15 days, and they would make sure I got one in time.
3) I should have an old passport or a birth certificate with me.

Fortunately for the last thing, while tearing apart my apartment, I *did* find my passport from when I was a kid, and had brought that with me. We got the Mexico tickets, and I printed out a copy of the intinerary (yes, no more official than printer paper from a pdf of the email!) And I went to the Passport Agency on Thursday, exactly 15 days before my departure from this country.

When I got there, the line was indeed long. I first had to go through an appointment-making line ("I tried calling, but kept getting hung up on." "Yes, I've heard of that happening.") Then I had to go through a number-getting line. The two of these probably took about half an hour.

While in line for these, I heard some woman complaining about being there for two hours already, and her number still hadn't come up. I was then told at the end of the second line that I should have two photos made, and that there was a "passport photo place next door in the express deli".

I got to the express deli, and it was, definitely, that. The "passport photo" place was the storeroom in the back. The old chinese man who apparently owned the deli in addition to being the photographer left me there a few minutes while he tended to something that needed attention, then came back with a point-and-shoot digital camera and had me stand against a makeshift neutral backdrop. I, at this point, was thinking of the waiting I was in for over the next 2 or more hours, so when he shot the picture, the look on my face was unbelievably dour despite a sort of sneer-like attempt at a smile plastered where my lips should have been.

"Do you want another?"
*shows me the camera*
"Holy cow! I look like a terrorist! Yes! Please let's do that again!"

So, he reshot while I made sure to think happy thoughts, and thus my face is much brighter in the final photo. Though, very sunburnt, but that's not his fault. Anyway, at this point I realized that I had a number, the wait was known to be at least 2 hours, so I might as well have a leisurely lunch at this little passport photo taking express deli. I completed the paperwork handed me at the last passport agency desk while eating.

About half an hour later, I went back to the passport agency with all my materials (photo, old passport, driver's license, paperwork, etc), and sat down in a chair to wait. I was much more relaxed at this point because I realized something over lunch: I was on vacation, so I had nowhere I really needed to be that day. I also had my book. So, I could easily just treat this expanse of waiting as time for relaxing and reading... which I did, and was much less frazzled for it.

Anyway, at the end of about an hour more (I don't think I was actually there for 2 hours total, but might have been... part of relaxing was just not paying attention to time), my number came up. I went to the assigned window, handed over my paperwork, made a few statements, and then the guy said,

"How long are you in the city?"
"Until Sunday."
"Is there anyone here who could pick up the passport for you?"
"Maybe, but, I'd rather not do that to any of my friends." (at this point, I figured it'd just be mailed out to me)
"OK, come back tomorrow between 11am and 4pm. Actually, come back after noon, the crowd has usually lessened by then, and you'll get through more quickly."
"Oh. Oh! You mean, I get the passport tomorrow?"
"That's right!"

So, yah. It was really that easy. The next day I biked up to the passport agency from the train station (I was supposed to meet up with a friend at 2pm in Palo Alto, so just made a quick trip in and out of SF), and got my passport in about 5 minutes from the time I entered the building. And, of course, I got to Mexico. It was a damn good thing I was on vacation where there was a passport agency!

So, the point of my long drawn out story is not just amusement for y'all, it's also useful notes I learned:

1) Even if you don't need a passport right now, get one. It's much less hassle than trying to get one expedited when you will need one.
2) If you do need a passport expedited, take a day off work and find the closest passport agency to camp out in.
3) If you have a passport application in, and are worried that it will not come in time for your trip, pester them. If you have to, take a day off work and go camp out in your local passport agency office. Frighteningly enough, you'll actually want to do this at the two-week mark, because then they'll put you at priority status.

What I really learned from this experience is that the passport offices really are trying very hard to accomodate everyone who has to travel; but they do need some help in getting it done because they're so inundated. You can help them by either, getting the passport you don't need yet (by the time you need it, you'll be adding to the strain of the system), or by pestering them about your needs to remind them of your status.
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