The Great Passport Wait

As an adult, long-term passport holder, all I have to do to renew my passport is mail in the right forms, pictures, and payment. But as I was focused on my passport, I noticed Neil’s passport is about to expire, and it really might not be a bad idea to get Kelly her own passport, too. Unfortunately (though for good reason), new passports and children’s passports need to be processed in person, and both parents need to be there, with both valid I.D. and proof of parentage.

So this morning, our whole family decamped on the Meridian post office’s passport processing office. When we arrived, we pulled #97–and the number being served at the moment was #61. The room was nearly full, and with 3 or 4 agents needing at least 5 minutes to process each application, we were clearly in for a long wait. I told Peter to go to the office with the breakfast for the staff, and that I would call him when we were close to being served.

Right now is one of the worst possible times to need a new passport. Previously, if you wanted to travel to Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean, all you needed was a driver’s license, and your social security card (or American birth certificate.) Recently, that’s changed, so all travel, even within North America, requires a passport. It’s almost exactly the opposite of what the EU is doing these days.

For security and safety, I think the new regulations are a good idea. But it also means a lot of people who casually travelled between North American countries, for pleasure or business, now need a passport. As a result, travellers who never had had a passport before suddenly need to get one for the first time–which also means they have to appear in person at a passport office. If you need to go anywhere in the next three months, and you don’t have a valid passport, you’re going to have to pony up a hefty surcharge to get that passport in your hands before you need it.

Government offices do sometimes make an attempt to be cheerful, but they always fail. This one had an old VCR playing worn children’s movies as entertainment, but I think all the cellphones in the room interfered with it, often making the TV give off an annoying buzz. They also upped the services to include taking passport photos right at the office (for $12–about the same what other places charge for similar photos), which means people with ineligible photos don’t need to wait 2 hours to find out about, go someplace else, and come back to wait for another 2 hours. I ended up sitting in a corner with a bunch of other people who were all intently watching the board with the number being served on it, and we all rolled our eyes, when, as so often happened, someone would show up and plead service, saying they’d been sleeping or eating outside or simply spacing out, when their number had been called–20 numbers ago.

Peter and the kids returned with about 7 numbers to go. I cheered when our number was called, and ran up like I’d just won a big prize. The agent didn’t care, but at least we had our papers more or less in order, and by June, we’ll all be ready to be world travellers (again.)

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