I hate being proactive. Because I do it so rarely, I’m just not very good at it. Planning ahead for once, I decided to have blank pages added to my passport before I left for Central America. Now I’m stuck in limbo, hoping I’ll get it back.
Eighteen months ago, I left home with a shiny new 24-page passport and though I’ve only visited a total of 7 countries, it now only has 2 blank pages left. I did a lot of border hopping in SE Asia to extend my stay in one country or the other and each crossing required a visa that filled up an entire page. Obviously, I’ll need more so I thought it’d be smart to add pages here in Austin rather than deal with it in, say, Guatemala.
Adding pages normally takes 4-6 weeks (expedited service is 2-3 weeks) and since I’m making a quick trip to Korea for my brother’s wedding in two weeks, this obviously wouldn’t work — I’d have to use a passport service. The Man wants $142 for this service (which was free just a year ago) and the passport service charges $110 for a 5-10 day turnaround. I hated spending the extra money but really didn’t have an option so I trudged down to their office with my passport, printed itinerary and checkbook in hand.
Everything looked good until I handed the passport over. Raul, the owner, looked at it and said something along the lines of “ewwwww…” followed by “It’s a little beat-up. What happened to it?”
“Honestly, a year of traveling in Asia during the summer is what happened.” I carry it in a money belt holster-style under my left arm and well… Asia gets hot. There have been times when I could literally wring sweat out of the pouch.
“I got caught in the rain a couple of times,” I offered, not wanting to admit that the pages he was so casually leafing through had been soaked in my armpit sweat on multiple occasions. (Hey, if the roles were reversed, I certainly wouldn’t want to know.) “Sure, the cover is frayed on the edges and a few pages are warped but it’s not really that bad, is it?”
The answer to that, apparently, depends entirely on which nameless clerk processes the passport and what his/her mood is like at that moment. If they’re feeling picky, they can declare the passport to be “mutilated” and refuse to add the pages. And the best part? They keep it. I’ll have to start from scratch and get a new passport if it doesn’t pass muster.
Getting a new passport would require a birth certificate and a valid driver’s license. Mine, of course, expired while I was out of the country so I’d have to take the driver’s test again like an eager 16-year-old. And to take the test, they’ll want to see the registration and insurance for my motorbike which is sitting storage with neither. It will get very expensive very quickly.
So the 10-day express option was dead — if they rejected it, I would only have a day or two left before leaving for Korea which is not enough time to start over. The 5-day super-express option was now necessary, adding another 100 bucks to the cost. I typed up a nice letter explaining to the passport clerk that I traveled full-time, carried it with me at all times and that I would take much better care of it in the future, I promise. After signing a few forms and handing them $350, I walked out the door completely at the mercy of someone I’ll never meet and praying to God that they get laid this weekend.
I’ll find out Tuesday.
I got the call Monday that my passport was ready to go. I now have 48 extra pages just waiting to be stamped, stapled and abused.