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Thursday, January 22, 2015

PASSPORT GAMES: MAY THE ODDS BE IN YOUR FAVOR

I
t is hard to believe that I have been an international traveler for almost ten years now.  My voyages started as a law school graduation gift from my travel pal and aunt named Lea.  We, (as in Lea, her son and I) traveled to her favorite city in the world, Paris.  

The deals back in 2005, were crazy good!  For only $399, you could get airfare and hotel (with breakfast and free wifi) for 5 days.  Nowadays, deals like that are rare but I do manage to stay on top of low international airfares with the daily newsletter from The Flight Deal.

If it weren't for my very thoughtful aunt's reminder that my passport was on the brink of expiration, I would have attempted to board my international flight only to be turned away.  Phew!  That was a close one but it was no easy feat.  It was like straight Hunger Games at the passport agency.   

Now that I've successfully made it through the passport renewal gauntlet alive (with only a few bumps from microaggressions), I thought I’d share some tips for the things they don't tell you or include on the government passport checklist.  If you plan on renewing or applying for your first passport, chances are you will unknowingly find yourself in the middle of a round of PASSPORT GAMES.  


Prepare for airport security

The Seattle Passport Agency, which is where I went to expedite the renewal of my passport is in a federal building.  Upon arrival, you will be subjected to T.S.A.-like (Transportation Security Administration) security procedures.  You will be asked to remove your shoes (yes, so wear socks even if it's summer time), belts, jewelry, watches, show identification and empty your pockets.  One thing you also must not do is make jokes.

The guard, in a very no-nonsense voice, told this woman to remove her child from the stroller.  The mother of the young toddler, jokingly told the guard that removal was probably not a good idea.  The guard stared at her blankly and waited for her to comply with his commands.  It was quite comical despite the guard thinking otherwise.

Leave courtesy at the door

Make your way through security and onto the elevator ASAP.  Don’t bother holding the elevator door for others, either.  I almost made that mistake with the mother and the stroller.  It's a trap.  The cute toddler is a distraction only meant to get in the way of completing the task of pulling a number.  I kept it pushing and hurriedly hit the button to close the elevator door.  Remember, this is a fierce competition to see who can get in and out the fastest with the passport prize.  This is another reason why you should take the early appointment if possible.  I know 8am seems early especially if you don’t live that close to your local passport agency but there will be less people to compete with.

Start times are to be determined...

Call ahead of time to make an appointment.  For renewals that need to be conducted in person, this is mandatory.  Unfortunately, you are really just making an appointment to pick a number to wait for this number to be called.  

The guy in front of me described it as the "privilege of waiting."  I thought that was hilarious but also annoying because he was right.  Arrive about 15 minutes before your appointment time so that you can at least be one of the first numbers called amongst all of the other competitors similarly situated appointment holders.  

I was about 1 of 3, people with a 10 o' clock "appointment."  I didn't make it back to the car until 11:23am.  In the previous post I mentioned that all I had to do was drop off documents.  That's it.  It.  Took.  Forever.    

Warning...hapless environment approaching...

Speaking of waiting…be sure to bring your own entertainment.  I had no idea that setting an appointment was futile and expected to be seen at my designated time.  I was so wrong and hence, ill-prepared but you don’t have to be.  Remember, someone is always watching your every move.  Therefore, you become the entertainment.  Just do your best to blend in and keep your head low and stuck between the pages of a good novel.   

Lacking a good book to read, I opted to engage in some “inner-taining.”  I whipped out my journal and started jotting down my observations.  What I saw inspired this post.  So, you see, efficiency and productivity can be had despite such a hapless environment. 
  

Pay the proper tribute

Feed that parking meter well.  You don't know how long the competition might last.  You don't want to risk parking penalties.  I am constantly surrendering my parking opportunities to Jesus.  You know He is always on time!  Case in point:  I paid for parking up until 11:25am.  Tell me why I made it back to the car at 11:23am!  Won't He do it?!

Another strategy involves taking the bus.  But see the above tip.  You may want to bring a few things for entertainment, just in case you get bored on that long bus ride or you want to send a strong message to other potential bus riders that you are not in the mood small talk.

Kids are greedy

Eat before you arrive.  All of the kids with their ample supply of Cheerios, fruit snacks and gold fish crackers will make you hungry.  Oh, and lest we not forget how kids enjoy staring you down while slowly chewing.  No matter how loud your stomach growls, they are simply impervious to the cries of a belly that forgot about breakfast.  They are not too keen on the whole sharing thing either.  Tread lightly.  

Conclusion

I wish there was a separate line, room, office, and/or building for those of us who just have a quick renewal.  So many people arrived without the proper documents and were consequently turned away, only to return another day.  Do not be that person.  You can be in and out by following the tips above.   I hope these tips are somewhat helpful.  Happy Passport Games and may the odds be in your favor!

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