Wednesday, July 18, 2007


I have had an expired passport for about a year and a half. At first, it didn't bother me much, because I couldn't afford to go anywhere anyway. Then little things started to get at me. I had a couple of offers to go away, where friends said they would pay my way, and I had to turn them down. I kept intending to renew it, but I had never done that when outside the USA, before. Looking into it, I learned I could renew by mail, through the US Embassy, here. The next barrier was money. I kept trying to build up enough room on my credit card to cover the charge, as you can't send cash when renewing by mail. It seemed that every time I cleared enough room on my card, I would run into a temporary shortfall and need to use my card again, to cover fuel to get to work.
Another obstacle was the photo. The Passport Service is very particular about the dimensions that the photo needs to be. Unfortunately, they are different than that required for British passports, so it's not as simple as going to a local shop offering passport photos. You need to find one who knows how to take ones which fit American standards. Then I caught a break. My artist friend, Jan, has a photo quality printer and photographic paper. She was able to take and print the photos for me, one afternoon.
Eventually, I was all set, then I found that I didn't have one of the forms I needed. As my printer isn't printing in black, at the moment, I got a close friend to print the form and mail it to me. More delay, but only a few days. Finally, I had, room on my credit card, forms...I got it all together and stopped by the post office, after work. I arranged the special delivery, there and back, paid the charges for that, then sent it all off. Job done? Oh no! There was a postal strike the next day! Then another one on the following Monday. Bloody unions! The Embassy advises it takes about fourteen working days. They send my application back to America, so the passport can be printed over there. That doesn't include public holidays, or postal strikes. I tried to be patient.
I figured it was due any day now. Then, yesterday, when I got home from work, I found a notice that they tried to deliver it, but as it was special delivery, someone needed to sign for it. Of course, I was at work, Nando was away in Italy, and who knows where Hitler's Nephew was, but no one signed for it. So, it went back to the main delivery post office in town, where it would remain until I picked it up. Problem. The post office closes at 5:30PM, weekdays. Now that I am on the bus, I don't usually get home until 5:35. What to do? I could wait till Saturday, but I had tentative plans to go away for the weekend. Besides, waiting isn't my style. I decided to ask the Manager at work to agree to me working for half my lunch break, then I could leave fifteen minutes earlier. By leaving that bit earlier, I could catch a bus from work that is forty-five minutes earlier, making it home in time to get to the post office. Simple enough plan. He'd just agreed to a similar arrangement, yesterday, so I could go to London for taping "the Friday Night Project." It should be no problem.
At work this morning, I asked the restaurant Manager, as a formality, if my fifteen for fifteen deal was okay. He said no. I must have looked funny, as I was caught completely off guard by that one. I asked him why, but he just started spouting some nonsense, accusing me of taking advantage and crap like that. Let's just say he was being awkward. I tried reasoning with him, explaining I needed to pick up my passport. He suggested I wait till Saturday. I explained that I was supposed to be going away this weekend, so Saturday wouldn't be any good. I didn't expressly clarify that my trip this weekend was entirely within the UK, so that I didn't need my passport for it. Let him think it was international, so that I did need it, straight away. He was not moved in the slightest. He almost seemed to take a perverse pleasure in messing up my plans. I gave him a sarcastic, "thanks a lot," and walked out of his office, having wasted enough time.
More determined than ever, I came up with a plan B. I worked through my entire lunch and tried to finish all my work before 3:30. If everything was finished, I could leave. It was the 3:30 bus I needed to catch. I felt so annoyed with the Manager and I threw that annoyance into my work. I worked like a bandit, racing against the clock. I ended up finishing everything except cleaning up my work area, by 3PM! I started looking for things to do, so he couldn't say, later, that I left something undone. Finding nothing, I helped Pritam with his work. He looked at me like I was nuts. Maybe he felt guilty, because he never helps me. I waited to be sure that the chefs didn't suddenly come up with something for me to do, at the last minute. All the chefs left early, at 3:10, so I started cleaning my work area. By 3:20, I was out the door, with ten minutes to spare.
Catching the earlier bus, as planned, I waited for my connecting bus, in Camberley. It seemed to take ages for one to come, but one eventually did. I fell asleep on the bus, as I usually do. Awaking with a start, I discovered we were in a traffic jam. Great! I looked at my watch. It was getting later and later. By the time we reached the end of the line, in Bracknell Town centre, it was 5:10PM. I had just twenty minutes left to get to the main delivery branch, which was in an industrial area, heading out of town, towards Reading. My original plan was to walk, as I didn't know if any buses went that way. I was worried that if I started walking, I might not make it there in twenty minutes. It might take thirty minutes to go that distance. Looking at the taxis in the taxi rank, I decided what the heck, I would spring for a cab to get there on time. I normally don't like the expense of taxis, but I figured I would only pay for one way. I could always walk back, as I wouldn't be in a rush then. This close to my goal, I wasn't letting anything stop me.
The taxi ended up costing me £4.80, but it got me there with ten minutes to spare. I joined a queue of people picking up stuff. When it was my turn, I handed the counter worker two cards. Not only was my passport there, but a box of DVDs I had ordered from Amazon, as well. I was able to pick up both on the same trip. The man seemed to take forever to bring me my stuff. I kept re-reading the signs which warned that postal workers should not be subjected to either verbal, or physical, abuse. As I waited for Mr. Slow, I chuckled to myself at the need for the signs. Maybe this guy was so used to striking, he'd forgotten how to work fast. He re-appeared with my box of DVDs, then disappeared again. More waiting. Finally, he returned with the special delivery package, containing my new passport. I signed for it, then made my way outside.
Once outside, in the sunshine, I immediately opened the package. I wanted to see it with my own eyes. There it brand new passport. No stamps in it. I put it in my pocket and started walking. Once again, I was free to travel to the ends of the Earth. For now, I was content just to make it back to my local residence. This was my third passport, since I got my first one, when I was 26. Many Americans never get passports. My mother, for example, has never had one, nor did her mother. In Britain, it's more common for most folks to have their passports. After all, France is closer to England than Washington, D.C. is to New York. While people in the States go to Florida for a little sunshine Brits tend to go to Spain. Things are starting to change in the States. Due to all this "war on terror," police state nonsense, Americans will now require passports when travelling between the USA and Canada, or Mexico. That didn't used to be the case, as common forms of ID used to be accepted. The new regulations are creating additional demand for US passports and I hear there is a huge backlog for first passports. Fortunately for me, I was only renewing, so I wasn't affected by the backlog.
When I reached the main road, I spotted a most welcome sight. Bus shelters! I ambled along to the nearest one, on the side of the road heading towards the town centre. The next bus would be along in ten minutes. I sat down and waited. Sod walking all the way. When it did come, I managed to use my weekly ticket to work to gain a free ride back to Bracknell's bus station, where I could connect with my usual bus home. Sometimes things do go my way. Now I need to save up some money for an international trip. It's been three years since my last trip abroad. That's way too long.

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