Passports and irrational loathing

My feelings about my job this morning were mostly the result of a big passport-related crisis (was it real? Was it imagined? Who can say?), which has now mostly passed. To cut a very, very boring and long story short, I had to have my passport renewed for travel later this year, so I sent it off to the US embassy in London via a loathsome courier service. By last night I was frantic, having not heard back from the courier service or the embassy about when I’d get it back. To be fair, I may not have allowed the recommended full four weeks for processing — but who does? Anyway, I fly on Sunday. So things were getting dicey.

IMG_0008(“FML, this is just too stressful,” Mr Turtle and Mr Frog seemed to say when we were all sitting together in the dining room this morning, anxiously waiting to hear back from the embassy. Except they didn’t, because they don’t need passports to travel. But they were supportive anyway.)

I grew up in various far-flung places, and quite a lot of my childhood was spent playing in and around the US Embassy in Beijing. In those days, you could queue up for US Citizen Services and Get Stuff Done There. I remember the lines. They weren’t long — the visa line was long, for sure, but the US Citizen Services area was usually clear, both in and outside the building. I have vague memories of having gone there once or twice with my mother. It was a nice place.

Up until fairly recently, you could make an on-the-day appointment at the US Embassy in London to add pages to your existing US passport (I did this about a year and a half ago), or apply for a new one. Now it’s all automated and must be done by courier — you can’t approach the embassy on foot anymore (unless you have an emergency appointment), and you can’t call them directly. If you dig deep enough on the US Embassy London website, you’ll get to a little page that lets you send an emergency email to the passport section, but it’s not easy to find. I know that the volume of requests must get exponentially higher every year, but really.

There’s a little phrase, “You’ll never work again” that occasionally gets sung (to the tune of the last phrase in “Advance Australia Fair”) by people in the classical music business when someone’s done something stupid, a sackable offence — like smart-mouthing a conductor or forgetting a passport. Or not allowing enough time to get a passport renewed. I won’t be singing it, not this time, because I’ll be at the embassy at 9.30am tomorrow picking up my passport (thanks to a kind person on the other end of that emergency email inbox who gave me an emergency appointment). I’ll probably be late for rehearsal, but at least I’ll be able to travel on Sunday.

This is the sort of thing that makes me yearn for a desk job.

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