… said Joe as we prepared to enter the Passport building this morning at 8:10 a.m. We had been standing in line for almost three hours and the moment of truth had arrived.
[click on the photos to enlarge]
Joe and I met standing in line around the side of the building extending to the back, yesterday at about one in the afternoon. Understanding that we would never get called in at that time we planned to rendez-vous at 5:00 a.m. today and travel into the city together. That way as we stood in line we could watch each other’s place if we needed bathroom, stretching or coffee breaks. Joe was hoping to fly out to Italy this Friday, had applied in April and was experiencing the exact same telephonic hell I had been going through these past few weeks. We spoke the same language. We knew exactly what: "Your call is important to us, please stay on the line," meant, as well as: "Press 1; press 3; press 1; press 9; press 3; press 1." We had both arrived outside the Passport building yesterday on the off chance. We knew, or at least had been clearly told time and again, that we would not be allowed in without an appointment. We had both experienced the frustration of being unable to make an appointment on the automatic phone line we were directed to time and again. And so, at almost the exact same moment in time, he from his home outside Philadelphia, and me from mine, decided to take a chance and check out what was happening downtown, and what, if anything, we could do about our passport nightmare.
What a surprise! We heard people tell tales about finalizing an appointment after hours on the telephone, only to arrive at the Passport Office to be told that they were no longer honoring appointments. It was first come, first served. We were in luck! A hole in the system. An opening for hope. A new day would dawn.
And so it did. The day, I mean. Dawn. Today. I awoke at 3:45, prepared every piece of paperwork I have ever had: birth, marriage, naturalization certificates, new form, photographs, airline ticket … grabbed a bottle of water and my wallet, stuffed it all into a pack and headed out to meet my new found passport buddy for our 5:00 a.m. trip to bureaucracy-land. We pulled up outside the building at 5:25 a.m. and I jumped out to hold our spot. We were third in line. Joe drove off to find parking. And our day began.
8:15 a.m. outside the Passport Office, downtown Philadelphia, just before they called for the first twenty or so people to head in.
8:16 a.m. The front of the line, which started to form at 5:11 a.m. Can you pick out Joe? He is talking to our new friend, Al, waiting for his passport so he could travel to Greece. I am standing on a concrete slab/seat taking the pictures.
By 9:15 a.m. or so we were through: we had told our stories, had them verified with the data they pulled up on their computer screens, signed the new forms, delivered the photographs and even had a laugh or two with the agent. I was flawed! In fact I had actually got through to the person on the phone yesterday, and discovered that New Hampshire, four months later, was preparing to overnight my passport. Who would have thought? Who would have known? The Philadelphia agent told me that I might still receive the first passport, in which case, when I returned from my trip I will need to send back both passports so that they can choose which will be my final one. "But," she said with a smile, "Hopefully, I will be able to intercept it in time." She went on, "Come back at 11:30 or 11:45 and your passport will be ready at window number one." I stared at her. Could this be true? Tears filled my eyes and I stared and stared. She laughed, "Don’t cry, honey," she said, "Just have a great trip!"
Out into the sunshine we walked, Joe and I, almost in disbelief at how easy it all had been, not noticing that we had just stood for almost four hours in line, and forgetting the weeks of torturous phone calls. We stumbled into the nearest diner and had ourselves a fine breakfast. And then out we strolled to see a bit of the city, Penn’s Landing, and we even found our local Philadelphia "Ben Franklin" impersonator sitting near his courtyard chatting to children and telling them his stories.
Here is Joe, showing off the postcard Ben Franklin has just given him. Ben is sitting there behind him. One of the many things I like about my new passport pal Joe from Philly, is his ability to pose for a photograph.
We returned to the Passport office to find yet another line … a different line … a quicker and easier, tiny bit more relaxed line …
10:58: some people waiting for the finished product. Hot day.
11:45: We re-enter the passport office hallway. Tens of people sitting in rows and rows of chairs. Tired, hot, silently waiting people. Above on the board number 97 is lit up. Thank goodness we are not part of that side of the room. This time we are privileged. We get to stand in a short line on the left-hand side and are called one by one to receive it … you know it … you have guessed it …
12:00 noon today … the finished product in my hands:
Joe and I high-fived it and left the building.
The moral of my tale?
Find the hole in the system.
Or, at the very least, find Joe from Philly. For he turned the day into a fun and entertaining experience. His kindness and concern for others, constant reassurance that we would succeed in our endeavor, kept me laughing and smiling, even enjoying the long hours in the sun with hundreds of others.
And so, dear readers. I only have to pack and prepare, and I think I will sleep very well tonight. Thanks so much for all your support and encouragement through this surreal, bureaucratic or, as Frank calls it, Kafka story.
Hey, Natalie, Ernesto, Andy, and dear, dear Jean … here I come!
Update: The Saga continues …
Today, the second … or is it the first? … passport arrived Federal Express. So, now, when I return from my trip to England I can look forward to another day at the Passport Agency. For they have asked that I return both passports so that they may choose which one will be rightfully mine in the end! Of course, they recommended I mail in both passports … but I cannot imagine being too trusting of the system yet … in which case I probably will have to go downtown one bright and shining morning at 5:00 a.m. (this time, though, without Joe from Philly) and do it all again …
A year ago at Tamarika (final Tamarika entry): Am Back (Update)
A year ago at Mining Nuggets: Inclusion of strangers