Blue and black. The most obvious Jeopardy reply would be, “What are the colors of the many random bruises on Michelle’s pasty skin?” In nearly all cases, this would win you full points and hopefully put you in a comfortable lead going in to Final Jeopardy. But, with any luck you did not take this chance to go with a true Daily Double, because your digital score bar would be reading all zeros. Today’s correct reply is, “What colors of passports do Thad and Michelle possess?”
With a Wednesday afternoon off from Chinese studies, Thad decided it was time to shuttle on down to Main State and turn in our requests for our diplomatic passports. While there are several steps to this process, they seemed fairly straight-forward; we had the required documents in my super cute purple and pink paisley Vera Bradley knock-off bag and Thad and his classmate, Ian, who was going with us, were properly suited up for a visit to Main State. Time to roll. (Okay, less rolling and more waiting patiently for the next shuttle to leave FSI, take a tour through the Rosslyn area and finally arrive downtown DC. Either way, we were on the move.)
Once arriving at the Department of State building, Thad and Ian walked hassle-free in the front door. I, on the other hand, as a mere spouse, had to go through an odd little addition onto the building, show my Virginia Drivers’ license–for those of you not paying attention, I am now an official VA driver, as it my ticket to motorcycling madness– have my bag scanned and go through the X-ray machine. (Side note: Since I’ve been in DC, I have gone through the X-ray scanner more times than I had, in total, up to this point of my life. I have to go through it each time I go to FSI, each time we go to Main State, plus on my several trips to the airport this summer. I am beginning to think that this may not be so good for the ol’ cells!)
Once I made it past the extremely friendly guards (no sarcasm there at all- seriously- they were quite congratulatory on my being there to get my diplomatic passport, as if I had actually contributed anything to this endeavor!) , Thad and Ian were waiting patiently inside the building. Our first stop was to get passport photos taken. I guess I expected this step to take a bit of time, but we walked in and were whisked to the photo room before we had even finished signing in on the all-recording clipboard. With no time to primp or prepare, onto the stool I went with slightly crooked necklace and a bit of crazy- humidity hair, but at least I remembered at the last second to convert my current four-eye status back into just two! (LASIK countdown is at four weeks, so it is glasses for me for the next month. If I was hesitant about the procedure before, I am totally on board now, just so I can stop wearing these awful spectacles!)
Not five minutes later, Thad, Ian and I were handed envelopes with four passport-sized photographs in them and it was off to stop number two. The halls of Main State would make the Minotaur weep. Labyrinth is an understatement. After being escorted in the right direction by a friendly fellow headed our way, we walked confidently into the office that said friendly fellow pointed out. Only problem? Our friendly fellow was off a few doors. Our second entrance, while filled with a bit more humility, was into the correct department. To the passport window we sallied, ready to turn our photos into travel documents. At the window, we were greeted by a no-nonsense woman, who I am sure has her hands full with the daily parade of first-tour junior diplomatic officers, many who while thinking they have life figured out, are often just confused kids beneath their puffed up egos.
This dear woman promptly asked us for our passport applications. After glancing at one another, a quick and quiet conference, we blushingly replied that we didn’t have applications. With what can only be described as a sigh of resignation, our helper woman responded with, “Wait. I’ll come out there.” I guess we were her problem children for the day.
Out from behind her window she came, directing us to a wall covered in an array of official looking documents. After grilling us with a series of questions about our current passports and their statuses, we were each handed the correct application (being told that if we hadn’t answered her questions correctly, she would have to start all over with us) we were sent to a table to fill them out.
The application itself was just a routine set of questions about name, address, personal passports, etc. It didn’t take long until we were back in front of that window, feeling a bit like middle schoolers waiting to be allowed to go to lunch. Thad and I were up first. We handed her our applications, passports, photos and his travel orders. She promptly looked at his orders and told him he needed copies of a different set, which we happened to have in the ever-prepared bag of cuteness. As he scurried off to make copies to give her, Ian boldly stepped up to the window.
Glancing over Ian’s paperwork, the woman behind the glass gave a single nod, which we interpreted to mean he followed directions precisely. The smart thing, at this point, would have been for Ian to smile, thank her and walk away, meeting Thad and I in the lobby shortly. But, no . Ian, more than politely, asked her if she would notify him when his passport was ready to be picked up. With a snort/chortle, she quickly questioned him as to whether he thought she looked like she had time to call him and a hundred of his friends each day to let them know their passports were complete. Then, under her breath, she continued with a mini-tirade about how even if she did, they wouldn’t come any way. Ian, ever-smiling, agreed that she probably didn’t have time to do that and he would just swing by the office and check in a few weeks.
It was at this moment that Thad arrived back with our copies. In no time our documents were accepted and before I could warn Thad about asking, he presented the same query- when would we be notified to pick up our passports? Oh no! With a giggle, I turned and quickly headed for the reception area of the department. I was not going to be there for the answer. (Luckily, he got a quick response, shorter than Ian’s and we were out of there.)
The best part about this whole process was that woman. She was as polite and helpful as is possible, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met someone who can couple that with such a no-nonsense attitude. I really wanted to suggest to this woman that she become a middle school teacher! She would be amazing at keeping sixth graders from randomly wandering the classroom, seventh graders from passing notes filled with gossip and heart-dotted I’s and eighth graders focused on Poe and Dickens rather than upcoming dances and football games.
Our day at State ended with a jaunt down to the cafeteria, where I managed NOT to make an ungodly racket returning my lunch tray to the upright bin. (My last visit was not so successful in that department, but that story is for another time!) Soon, blue and black passports will be resting neatly in my sock drawer, waiting for April and the next adventure to begin.