Tuesday, February 12, 2008

passport pages

Last week I went to the San Francisco Passport Agency to get more pages added to my passport.

Normally you can get new pages via mail, but it takes "3-6 weeks", and by the time I figured that out, I had maybe a page and a half of space left, and it was nearly December. Unfortunately, I didn't have a gap of 6 weeks at any time between December and April, and during that time, I had plans to go to Taiwan, Japan, Canada, Cambodia, Vietnam, Argentina, and potentially Brazil, which meant at least two visas and several entry/exit stamps. So, I scheduled an in-person appointment, and it ended up pretty much sucking all around, for a variety of reasons.

First, I left my passport at home, so I had to turn around and get it, which meant 15 minutes lost.

Then, I stupidly took 101 to 4th Street instead of taking 280 to 6th Street, and got stuck in traffic. It took me 20 minutes to go 2 miles.

After a few futile efforts to find street parking, I ended up parking in a lot that charged $2.50...per 15 minutes.

At this point I was 45 minutes late for my 9am appointment, so when I got to the security checkpoint and the guard objected to my 1.5 inch long Swiss Army knife, I told him to throw it away. He wouldn't do it. He said that I would have to take the knife downstairs to the lobby where there was a trash can. Instead, I took the knife and hid it in a nearby bush outside the building, and then headed back up, where there was now a line at the checkpoint.

By the time I got to the check-in counter, it was nearly 10am, but luckily the passport agency isn't too strict about appointment times. However, the woman at the counter made me fill out my application (yes, they have an application just to get more pages) before giving me a number.

After a 15 minute wait, my number got called, and I handed the application to the agent, who told me the fee would be $60. I was a bit confused, since on the website it had said adding extra pages was free, but he said that since I was leaving the country in a week, my application was for "expedited processing" which cost $60.

I grumbled and paid him, and then he asked me if I would like to pick up my passport at 3pm or at 11am the next morning. Confused, I asked how long it would take; somehow I'd gotten the mistaken impression they would just add the pages on the spot. His response was that the designated passport pickup times are 11am and 3pm. To his credit, he did hint that if I showed up at 9am they would probably let me pick up my passport anyway. I asked for a 3pm pickup time, so the passport would at least be ready (although potentially not available) at 9am the next day, and resigned myself to another morning of driving to the city.

On the way out, I retrieved my knife from its bush and paid $7.50 for 40 minutes of parking. Then, I headed to Tartine to buy a cake. Even a crappy day feels better when you know you have a scrumptious devil's food cake stashed in the fridge, ready to serve to your dinner guests.

Things went much more smoothly the next day; I had no passport to forget, I navigated traffic smoothly, and I found street parking in time to wait outside the agency with the other 20 or 30 people who had gotten there before 9am. I was able to retrieve my passport outside of the designated pickup time, but I was a bit surprised when I got it back and discovered that the way they add pages is to glue a stack of them into the middle of the book. Plus, the pages were glued in kind of crooked, and the new pages don't match the existing ones, so the whole thing looks really ghetto; like something I could have done at home. Apparently that's what you get for your $60, courtesy of the US government.

As an aside, I think the fact that they only give you 24 pages for a 10-year passport is a bit silly. Several people have disagreed with me on this; they think that lots of people get passports and travel only a few times. However, both use cases would be served if passport applicants were able to specify on their applications if they wanted a 48-page (or larger) passport book. Unfortunately, the passport agency really has no incentive to provide this option; in fact, in my particular case, they would have lost $60. Although, even I'm not paranoid enough to believe that they issue small books on purpose. I think.

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