Biting the Bullet: The Joys of Passport Renewal

passport stuffWith less than six months before my passport expires and only one page left for visas, I decide it’s time to bite the bullet and make an appointment to renew my passport. Incidentally, the phrase “bite the bullet” comes from war medicine (or lack thereof) when surgeons operating on soldiers without anesthetic would give them a soft lead bullet to bite down on to give them some release for the excruciating pain of undergoing an operation while conscious. So, that’s fun, and after spending all morning shuffling paperwork from one line to another, I was about ready to chow down on a lead bullet too.

In light of the fact that I’m leaving the country in less than two weeks, I’m eligible for an expedited passport renewal. Shelling out an extra sixty dollars and undergoing multiple trips to the passport agency aren’t high on my list of things I’d like to do, but since international travel without a passport is generally frowned upon, I call my local agency and make an appointment. 9:00 a.m. on a Monday morning. Making the appointment is painless enough. With a snazzy automated appointment generator, I didn’t even have to talk to anyone or spend any time on hold. Beginning to feel optimistic that this process might not be as painful as I’d anticipated, I scan through the list of required paperwork

Proof of upcoming travel
2 passport-sized photos
Old passport
Driver’s license or other form of government-issued ID.
Check or credit card
Of course, all tucked safely in my Pouchsafe 150 or my RFID blocking wallet

IMG_1166Rushing through the streets of San Francisco’s financial district at 8:30 a.m., I round the corner and nearly run into the last person standing in a long line winding its way around a formidable and bland-looking government building. Hopping on one foot and then the other, I survey everyone anxiously waiting for the doors to open. At exactly 9:00 a.m. the doors swing open and a crisply dressed guard steps out. A wry expression on his face, he barks out the rules as he holds one door open with a polished shoe reflecting the highrise buildings above it.

“If you have an appointment, line 1. No appointment, line 3. Do not use your cell phone, do not use your camera. Do not take photos of me. If you have any firearms or weapons of mass destruction, we ask that you not bring those inside.” We giggle nervously. He flashes a smile. “Alright, first group of you. Go.”

9:15 and I’m upstairs and feeling pretty good that I’ll be out of there before 10:00. Then I get to the front of the line and provide my appointment confirmation number. The woman behind the glass looks at my photos. “Those won’t work. There’s a FedEx business center down the street. Go there, get photos, come back.”

I knew it was all going too smoothly. I make my way toward the exit where a gentleman holds the door open for me and asks, “So what’d they send you back for?”

“Photos,” I reply.

“Yeah, me too.”

We hoof it out of the building and in search of the elusive FedEx office. After circling around, smart phones in hand, we dive into the FedEx center throwing hasty glances over our shoulders at the throngs of people trailing behind us who have also been sent to make copies, get photos, or track down their birth certificates.

When I finally make it to the copy machine, I make three copies of everything. Later I find a photocopy of a Crate & Barrel receipt. Guess I got a little overzealous. After getting my photos and copies, I race back to the passport office, strip down again (to go through security, you guys. I’m not generally in the habit of stripping down in government buildings), and resume my place in line for the second time this morning.

A stern looking man reviews my paperwork. I hold my breath. He stamps my documents vigorously, paperclips them together, hands me a number, and tells me to go sit down.200258868-001

“Will I get my old passport back?” I ask timidly.

He rolls his eyes. “Yes, you’ll get it back.”

I hang out for thirty minutes. Someone’s toddler starts going through my bag. I’m so bored I don’t even stop him. I just want to see what he’ll do. His mom catches him and apologizes profusely. I’m disappointed that she stopped the show.

Another twenty minutes pass. My number is called. I shell out $170 dollars and receive a slip of paper informing me that I can pick up my new passport in two days time. However, given that they’re only open Monday-Friday 9:00 a.m. -4:00 p.m., it will be a few days before I am able to take off from work and make it over there. Eventually, I do and I stand in line once more before receiving a blue envelope stuffed with my old, faithful passport and my brand new one. Since it didn’t cost anything extra, I opted for the one with 52 pages instead of the standard 28. I flip it open to find a terrible photo and an enormous eagle with a waving U.S. flag.

It kind of makes me want my old one back.

By Nikki Hodgson