Today I spent nine (9) (no, that’s not a typo) hours in line to apply for a passport.
What happened was, since the U.S. changed the rules to say everyone’s gotta have a passport, a lot of Americans and Canadians who were used to going back and forth between the countries suddenly needed passports, and the systems are buckling under the strain. (Hmm... I wonder if Mexico’s is as well?)
My passport’s good till July, but I’m traveling a whole bunch and don’t have much time here in Vancouver. Last Monday, April 3rd, was the start of two no-international-travel weeks. I’d heard about the line-ups but had no idea, so I went down there after lunch and got in front of a human being by 3:30. She sent me away because I was applying for an expedited passport but hadn’t brought documents to prove I was traveling. When I told people this story they were astounded, saying the only way to be sure of getting in on any given day was to be waiting at 6AM when the building doors opened.
I had the paperwork by Tuesday noon and went back downtown but the security guys advised against joining the line, saying I’d never get in that day. Wednesday I was in Calgary and Thursday I was real busy. Friday and Monday were government holidays. This morning, the cab picked me up at 5:50 AM.
I was lucky; arriving at 6:07 meant that I got to wait until 11:39, when I actually got into the passport room, inside out of the cold. I brought a folding chair and that turned out to have been smart. I did a bunch of back email and some slides for talks; when the battery got low, I read all of This is Your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin (going to have to write about that book) and the first hundred pages of Caesar: Life of a Colossus by Adrian Goldsworthy.
Then I was at the front of the line and got the precious number that they’ll eventually call; mine was in the needs-a-passport-fast sequence, and at 1PM we were advised that it’d be a couple more hours, go get lunch. I did, and when I came back, someone had screwed up, my number had been called long since. They apologized and fixed me up and I was out of there a couple of minutes after three.
While this was unpleasant, it could have been worse. The people in line were pretty wonderful: mutually supportive, watching and sometimes carrying each others’ stuff while they went to get meals and coffee, feed meters, hit the can, whatever. The people at the passport office, when you get to talk to them, were competent and pleasant.
The people I really felt sorry for were the security guards who had to herd the people around and manage the line-up. They were a bunch of geezers who were trying hard to stay courteous but had to deal with people who hadn’t known or whose lives were being seriously fucked up by all this, some of who got seriously bent out of shape.
Presumably, the backlog will eventually get itself under control.