Pursuing passports at the post office | Two Decades of Kids and Counting | Sally Torbey | Palo Alto Online |


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By Sally Torbey

Pursuing passports at the post office

Uploaded: Aug 16, 2016

Last Monday found my husband, me, and our two teenage daughters at the post office renewing the girls’ passports. Because they are under 18 years of age, both my husband and I needed to be present. The passport office opens at 9 am. We arrived at 9:02 am to find a long line of people in the lobby outside the door to the passport office holding numbered sheets of paper. The employee in charge of passports waived us away saying we had arrived way too late, and we should come back earlier tomorrow. “How early?” we asked. “Early enough to be one of the first 20 people in line,” she said. We were advised that she hands out the 20 numbered sheets of paper each morning at 9 am, and only those 20 individuals who have a number may apply for a passport that day.

As we returned to our car we discussed the merits of discontinuing international travel until our youngest child turns 18 versus pitching a tent in front of the post office overnight to obtain two of those coveted numbered sheets of paper.

Fortunately for us, the passport lady intercepted us in the parking lot. She furtively slipped us sheets of paper #12 and #13. “Don’t tell anyone I gave you these!” she warned. Those two numbered sheets had been returned, but she defied the rules, and reissued them to us. We rejoiced that we need not pitch a tent after all!

We were instructed to return in an hour, which we did. There was still a long line of people standing in the lobby. They were standing because there were only two small benches on which to sit. We waited an hour as #8, #9 and #10 were served. Just one number to go! But then the door to the passport office clicked soundly shut as passport applicant #10 exited. Passport applicant #11 look perplexed. She knocked on the locked door with no response. Passport applicant #11 waited with us another 45 minutes. Our daughters and I passed the time informing naïve newly arriving passport applicants how one obtains the numbered sheets of paper required for applying. My husband was on his phone canceling business appointments (and fuming on Facebook). Eventually another post office employee informed us that the passport lady was at lunch but would be back in 5 minutes.

Three and a half hours after our arrival, we entered the passport office. The passport lady’s desk phone rang continuously. She initially ignored the phone while starting on our paperwork, but after about 15 minutes put down her pen and starting answering the phone instead. “No appointments”, she said to each caller. “Come early in the morning and get a number!” After a few of these calls she asked me if I’d like to start answering the phone for her, thus freeing her up to complete our paperwork, which I was happy to do, but unfortunately she was only joking. The other disruption was the periodic knocking on the door. We were no longer in the lobby to explain the numbering procedure, so the passport lady had to answer the door and explain the system to each new arrival. She finally did finish our applications, and then we waited another 10 minutes in the line at the counter to pay for the expedited service.

We were astounded and amazed when the new passports arrived in the mail today, a mere seven days after the applications were submitted! Who knew that getting passports renewed could be so quick and easy?

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