Terra Nomad

Every day is like survival. You're my lover, not my rival.

Friday, November 16, 2007

If you catch me at the border, I got visas in my name.

I am sorry this is so long.

The Passport drama lives on. As you may recall, back in May I had to go to a passport office in person to get one in time to leave the country. A few days later, UPS tried to deliver a passport to my house, but I was already on my trip so they returned the package to the Charleston office where my original application was processed. This all happened in mid-May.

Fast forward to early November, nearly six months later, and I get a letter in the mail with a return address of "US Government". They seem to think I received two passports, the one I got in Chicago and the one they mailed to me, and they'd like the one I got in Chicago back. They even go so far as to cite Federal statutes that say you can't have more than one valid passport and threaten that if I try to use the Chicago one I may be "detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Patrol." Remember, I never got the one they mailed to me, my Chicago one is the only one I have.

I call the number, that same evil number I had to call every day for two weeks in early May, and speak to the same woman who told me to mail them a letter to get my Birth Certificate back. She tells me I should mail them a letter to explain my situation. Why do you have a phone number, email addresses and a website if you are going to insist that every request is made in a letter? She also tells me that she can see that the original passport was returned to the Charleston office. I ask her why the people who sent me the letter can't see the same thing. She says, "Washington DC doesn't know it was returned." Okay, I guess computers haven't made it there yet.

On this letter from the Feds, there is actually a form that you can fill out to tell them that you only received one passport, so apparently this is not a rare occurrence. I fill out the form and mail it back, but I also include my own letter, which I copied to the State Department in an email. The only reply I got to the email was to please fill out the form and mail it in.

Shortly after getting this letter, I had a dream that I was actually in a Passport Office and I was yelling at some woman about what had happened. In the dream, I was was planning to take a short trip to Canada to make sure my passport was still valid. When I woke up, I realized that is actually a good idea.

Here is the letter I sent them:

Dear CLASP Unit,
My records indicate that I have only received one passport, the one numbered chicago#, from the Passport office in the Federal Building in Chicago. I had to go there to get my passport because the Charleston office did not send it to me within their promised time frame of ten weeks. After repeated phone calls advising that my travel date was fast approaching, I still got no assurance that my passport would even be in the mail by the date I was leaving. So, I went to get it in person.
Once I left on my trip, there were attempts to deliver an express mail package to my residence but they failed since I was not at home. According to the woman I spoke with yesterday at the phone number 877-487-2778, this package was returned to the Charleston office. I assume this package contained the passport number charleston#. If she can see this in her computer system, why can’t your office see the same thing?
Your letter indicates that my passport number chicago# is “in the process of being invalidated”. Please do not do this, but invalidate number charleston# instead. I never received that passport. It was returned to your Charleston office. If you insist on invalidating chicago#, I must insist that you send me charleston#. I paid my application fee, plus many other travel expenses to get to Chicago, so I deserve to have one valid passport.
I also request some kind of assurance that whatever passport you decide to keep valid will not cause me to “be detained by the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection” as your letter threatens, since I have done nothing wrong.

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Friday, June 08, 2007

Passport Saga - a whole new wrinkle

When I first submitted my application for a passport, I gave them a ceritified copy of my birth certificate. I got another one when I went in person to get my passport back on May 16th, and they gave me that copy the same day. Now I expected that the first copy would be sent back to me as soon as the Charleston office realized that my second application had been processed. Well, it is now 23 days later and I still don't have any mail from them. So, I sent an email on Monday and another on Wednesday and there has been no response from them. So, I call them today and wait in the queue that likes to hang up on you, using the 3,1,9 prompts. I actually get through to two different reps who hang up on me because their systems are not working. I finally get through to a rep who talks to me and I explain. She says that she's sure they won't hold on to my birth certificate and that I should send them a letter asking them to send it back to me. Um, why do I need to send a letter if she's sure they won't hold on to it? She also says she can't send them a message to send it back to me because her messages only ask them to expedite existing applications (and we all know how well those work). There is no time frame she can give me as to when I can expect my Birth Certificate back.

I really wish I had gotten the first FedEx package that might have contained both my Birth Certificate and my original Passport. Because then I could have put it through my own 10+ week "processing" before sending it back to them. I would have made a webpage for them to look at each day to see when they could expect to get it, except there would never be an actual date, just some nonsense about how they should get it within my promised timeframe.

Update: It came in the mail on the 9th. I think they need some better notes so they can actually tell you what is going on with your "account".

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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Italy Trip - Day One

Wednesday, May 16th

I was supposed to be flying to London at 11 AM today, laying over in Chicago and getting there about 6 AM London time on Thursday. Instead, my passport has not reached me in time so I flew into Chicago last night at about 11:30 PM. The Passport Agency gave me a 9 AM appointment at the closest Federal building (still a 6 hour drive away). I took the El downtown from O'Hare and got to my ($180) hotel around 1 AM. Wednesday morning I got up and went to the Kluczynski Federal Building in downtown Chicago. I felt lucky at this point that I had actually been to Chicago three times before, so I was familiar enough to get around the city.

The whole in-person appointment was rife with bureaucracy. First, a security line to get into the building and then you wander around the second floor to find the right room. There are a total of three separate rooms, all with lines and seating areas. The first one has a line, two seating areas and then another line where you wait "up against the wall" after your name has been called. From this room, I called United to cancel my flight and the woman actually said, "You were going to fly overseas and didn't have a passport?" I was not amused and told her a very short version of how it never came and I was actually in line to get it in person.

After you leave the first room, you go in an elevator and wait outside the second room. At this point, you are threatened by an armed guard that if you eat, drink or use your cell phone inside the second room, you will be physically removed from the building and will not get your passport. I never knew that Diet Coke was such a security threat! Inside the second room, there's another line for them to check that you do have an appointment, that all your documents are there and to give you a number. Then you sit and wait for your number to be called. While I was in the two lines for the second room, I commiserated with two other girls in line, both from Chicago. We all made fun of the pictures on the wall, which are of Bush, Cheney and Rice, all grinning/smirking at you. Those pictures seem to be in every room.

When my number was called, I went to the window and the woman behind it asks, "How are you?" Normally, I know that's a rhetorical question, especially from a stranger. But this time I answered, "Not well. I was supposed to leave today and instead I have to come here in person!" One of the girls I was talking to in line was at the next window and she thought that was funny that I gave the woman attitude. The woman helping me takes my stuff and does things behind the counter while the woman helping the girl tells her that she must have exact change for the $157 fee. I guess the State Department must not know how to make change. The girl only has two $100 bills, but luckily I have change for one of her hundreds. I am not charged again (thank God) and told to come back around 12 or 12:30 and go to the third room. At this point it is just after 10 AM.

So I have a couple of hours to kill in Chicago, which I would normally love, but I am a bit stressed out. I wandered around downtown seeing a Falun Gong protest, Grant Park, the outside of the Art Institute and a Tenant's Association rally. I go back into the building about 12:30 and wait in line for the third room. I hand in my receipt and sit down for what turns out to be nearly an hour wait. As I am waiting, people are constantly being told where to stand and where to sit and that they are in the wrong line. I hear many people in the room say they'd originally applied in February! At this point the day reaches it's most ridiculous point when one of the guards comes in and stands by the window to take a phone call. A PERSONAL phone call on his CELL PHONE! I laugh out loud at him. Finally my name is called and I actually have my passport in my hands.

I continue wandering around Chicago, getting lunch at the Corner Bakery, seeing the Cloud Gate again, shopping and walking over the river. I take the El out to Midway and get home by midnight.

Day Two

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Monday, April 16, 2007

T minus 30 Days

I leave exactly one month from today.

I bought the Moleskine City Notebook for Rome and I have been filling it with my schedule, flight times and hotel maps. Amazon's list price is $27.95, and they try to dazzle you by selling it at $16.95. In reality, you won't find it anywhere online for more than $20 and I got mine at Barnes and Noble for under $15. If you go to any of the cities the notebooks cover, I highly recommend them.

I used Google maps to print a small hybrid map showing the route from the nearest tube or subway stop to each of my hotels. My favorite is the one for my hotel in Florence, where you can see the Duomo from the air.

Instead of staying in Naples for two nights, I am going across the bay to Sorrento. From there I can take a boat to the Isle of Capri or a bus to Positano, or I can just veg out on the beach.

I have scheduled most of my days at least as far as the major things I want to do. My 2 days in London are very, very planned out and so is my only full day in Florence. In Florence, both the Uffuzi and Accademia tend to have long lines, so I will prebook my tickets to avoid them. I will also be visiting Santa Croce, to see the tombs of Galileo, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Fermi.

I am still waiting on my passport. It took 43 days after I applied for me to be able to track the application online, even though their site still says "up to 4 weeks" and some pages are even still saying the old 3 weeks. When you try to call, you are advised that they can only help people travelling within two weeks. So, I will be calling on May 2nd to expedite if I still don't have a delivery date. I should have just expedited when I applied.

The other thing that irks me about the passport process is that the site claims that some Minneapolis area post offices will take applications on weekends and that is not true. I have sent them 3 different emails asking them to correct the info, but they still haven't.

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