Jason and I have been in Los Angeles, CA for the last 9 days. It was a great trip, if inconveniently timed. It seems like we have an awful lot to do between now and for-real leaving which we couldn’t do from LA. There was one thing we had to do from LA, which was send in our passports. We have to have special no-fee government passports because we will be government employees. To get these passports, you send in our civilian passport with a form and the Peace Corps makes it happen. Theoretically, it should be super easy.
Here is the reality check. If your passport is a) misspelled, b) damaged because you put it through the washing machine or c) lost, you can’t do it that way. Jason’s was all three. Instead, there is another form. The form has to be signed by a Clerk of the Court or a Passport Agent. It asks questions like what city were your parents born in and any other names you’ve used or your parents have used. Since I was originally filling out the paperwork, these were rather difficult questions. I handed the sheet off to Jason to deal with. He made an error on it and then we needed a new sheet, which we didn’t have. We got to LA with no special passport form, no mode of transportation more efficient than our feet and a deadline to deal with this.
Luckily we had a free morning/afternoon on Tuesday. Jason and I went out for a walk. The post office which was about 5 blocks away was listed as handling passports. I guess they do handle passports, but the woman who was supposed to handle them was less than helpful. In fact, she was completely useless and rather obstructionist. Apparently according to the US postal systems operating procedure, once the forms have been certified, they are supposed to mail them. Our instructions specifically state that we are supposed to mail them high priority in a certain envelope. She wouldn’t certify the forms and give them back. She called the CA passport authority while I called the Peace Corps travel agent. She came back and told us that the state of CA had no exceptions for this. I had her talk to the travel agent. When she gave the phone back to me the agent said, “Get out of there. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.” We left.
We looked up other post offices and found one across the street from the hotel. We walked back there. It was a post office express and doesn’t handle passports. We looked up another one. It was another half a mile past the first one. We walked there. We waited in line to see an agent who promptly told us to go wait for this specific agent. We waited for him. He looked at the papers, asked us a few questions and decided that because it was outside of his protocol, he wanted to wait until his supervisor was in. We waited for her to appear. Then we waited for her to finish whatever else she had to do before she could see us.
By the time we were done talking to her, she’d looked up regulations in the operating manual, taken new passport photos and we’d spent another half an hour or so waiting for all this. She was at least willing to listen to us and work with us. We got the forms signed and certified and mailed via overnight mail to where they needed to go. Hopefully they got there.
This has reinforced my dislike of bureaucracy and standard operating procedures as well as unhelpful people. I also find it ridiculous that the Peace Corps has such a problematic system to get these passports. We can’t be the only people to have this problem. Either way, the problem is solved and we are on to other things like packing up the books and sorting out clothes.