When Ray and I got married, the folks at the Hawaii Dept. of Health told us it would take 120 days to process our marriage certificate. Ray didn’t have a problem with that because he didn’t really need the certificate for anything. However, I soon realized that if I was going to change my name with any kind of alacrity, I’d need that certificate sooner than later, so I coughed up the $10 expedition fee.
When I got the certificate, I changed all the usual things; I called up my credit cards to change them, I waited at the social security office for hours on end, and surprisingly, the DMV took the least amount of time and effort.
The only thing I had left to change was my passport, and since I figured I wasn’t leaving the country any time soon, I decided to mail my passport in, along with documentation of my name change, to the State Department for regular processing (10 weeks).
Of course, a week after I had mailed it all in, I got an offer to go to Italy. Go figure. So now that my passport is in the bowels of the State Department, it’s up to me to dive into its putrid maw and fish it out.
I went on the passport website, which says in no uncertain terms that they are very busy, so don’t bother calling the number they’ve provided, because you won’t get through. The best way to get in touch with them if you have a question, they say, is by email…but don’t be surprised if they don’t respond to your email for two days.
So first I emailed them, and, true to their word, they responded 2 days later, telling me that my best bet is to go in person to a passport agency. But oh, by the way, you can’t just walk in, you have to have an appointment, and they won’t give you an appointment unless you’re traveling within 2 weeks.
Oh yeah, and in order for you to get that appointment, you need to call that number that we’ve been warning you not to call because you won’t get through.
So I called the dreaded phone number, which is answered by a message full of dire warnings not to even bother hoping to speak with anyone, because everyone at the passport office is so overloaded, they can’t be bothered with your problems. After their 5-minute dissertation, they present you with the following options:
- Check on the status of your passport (which then refers you to the website, which in turn refers you back to the phone number of doom).
- Schedule an appointment; choosing this option takes you to an automated scheduling system. One would think that this would be the easiest option, since it doesn’t involve human interaction at all. However, this system clearly doesn’t have enough phone lines piping into it, since out of the almost 30 times I called, I only got through once. The other 29 times, I got a message saying that the scheduling system was overloaded with calls, and that I should please try again later. Then the automated system hung up on me.
- Contact customer service with a question. You mean, like, “How come your automated scheduling system doesn’t have the time of day to talk to me? Is anyone really working there? Why don’t you invest in more phone lines?” As one might expect, I could never get through to a real person. After choosing this option, another message plays, reminding me of how busy they are over there, and to expect long wait times. I hunker down for a long wait time on hold, and the damn system hangs up on me. Again.
I went to gethuman.com, my favorite resource for situations like this, so I could find a way to talk to a real person. I followed the directions, pressed the requisite numbers, and got the exact same customer service message I would have gotten if I had gone the regular route. And it hung up on me again.
Finally, at 11:47 PM, I finally got through to the automated scheduling system. I scheduled my appointment, listened to more warnings that they would not be able to see me unless I was leaving or needed a visa within 2 weeks, and got my confirmation number.
Just to make sure, I visited the web page devoted to the Philadelphia passport agency (there are only 8 of these across the country; thank goodness I didn’t have to travel 1,000 miles to go to one of these places). The web page said to make sure you arrive 15 minutes early for your appointment, and if you are more than 15 minutes late, you would have to go through the whole rigmarole again to get another appointment.
So I arrived not 15 minutes early, but 30 minutes early for my 9:30 appointment this morning. As I got to the building, I noticed that there was a long line of people queuing outside. I was informed that this was the line for passports.
“But I have an appointment,” I protested. Oh no, the security guard told me, they don’t work with the appointment system in Philadelphia. It’s first come, first served, and people usually start lining up at 8:30 in the morning.
So I got in line and just tried to stay thankful that it was a beautiful day to be standing outside. It certainly could have been worse.
Once inside and past the metal detector (which by the way, picked up my wedding ring set…not even airport metal detectors are that sensitive), I was directed to a line where they determined whether or not you needed a passport within 2 weeks. I passed the test (I told them I needed enough time for the Italian work visa to process), and I was given a number.
An hour and a half after I had arrived at the State Building, I left, my mission accomplished. No, I don’t have my passport in hand–not yet, anyway–but it will be express mailed to me, and I should have it in plenty of time.
Of course, once I get my passport, I still have to apply for a visa from the Italian Consulate. I’m sure that will be a barrel of fun.