Monday, March 12, 2012

The fix

We've made to England, but by the skin of our teeth this time. It will certainly be one trip we'll never forget - thanks to my inattention to one important detail.

On Thursday night before our trip, Paul and I had planned to pack once the kids were asleep. I was putting together snacks in the kitchen when Paul came down the stairs with the passports. "Look at this," he told me with an anxious expression. "This isn't your most recent passport, is it?" My stomach sank when I looked in the book and saw an expiration date of August 2011 - 7 months earlier. I felt my face flush.

"Just give me 20 minutes," I told Paul. "I'll fix this." I sat down at the computer and punched "passport in 24 hours" into Google. A few phone calls later, I had an appointment in Philadelphia at 10 a.m. the next morning. "It's up to the discretion of the agent whether they give you a passport or not," the woman from the U.S. Passport Agency told me.

Paul finished packing for the next two weeks, with added supplies for an extra day on the road loaded into the car. We fell into bed around midnight on Thursday night feeling restless and a bit anxious. A short four hours later, we stuck the kids in the car and headed south for Pennsylvania.

Luckily, everything went exactly as planned. The drive took a little less than four hours, the kids were very well behaved, and I arrived at the passport agency at 9:45 a.m. There was even a photographer right next to the agency, who snapped my photo and printed it in a few short minutes. Paul took the kids to a coffee shop across the street. Another anxious half-hour of waiting (with dozens of other people in the exact same situation!) and I was told my passport would be ready in four hours.

We spent the time strolling around the city. Aaron spent the first hour in socks-only riding in the stroller because we did not pack a single pair of shoes for him. But we scored him a nice pair of sneakers, had a delicious lunch in Chinatown, and saw the Liberty bell. When we returned to the passport office, my passport was waiting for me. Whew!

We loaded back into the car and drove the two hours north to Newark, exactly on schedule. We stayed in an airport hotel where we swam, ate sandwiches, and watched Calliou until bedtime. Disaster averted.

I will say, I was extremely impressed with the customer service provided by the federal government. I was able to book a next-day appointment at 9 p.m. at night, they accommodated by last-minute request (and those of dozens of other people), and all with professionalism. Even though the experience was stressful, it made me feel good about my tax dollars at work.

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