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Friday, March 09, 2007 State Department Hell

At the moment I am writing this I should be somewhere over Arizona in a Qantas 747 heading for a stopover in Los Angeles on my way to Canberra -- and to a few days of summer as well as a conference on Corporate Governance being held at the Australian National University campus.

Instead I am at home writing this and sitting among piles of papers and boxes that have been scattered about in a mad day-long search for my passport.

I thought I knew where it was, and until this morning I did not bother looking too hard. But as it turned out it wasn't where I thought it was, and the thing I thought was my passport was the empty folio/holder for it -- which did have my driver's license and the last boarding pass stubs from an earlier trip -- but alas, no passport.

Panic mode set in late morning as I realized there was no hope of finding it in time for my planned 1PM departure for Logan airport. I tried to see if I could get an emergency replacement through the Passport Office, and while it turns out that it is possible in principle, it is impossible
in fact given the way the passport service has organized and automated itself in the Boston area. Not only do you get stuck in an endless cycle of extended preliminary helpful information monologues, but that often leads to being put on hold or (more likely) being told to call back at another time (followed by that so nicely phrased "Thank you for calling, good bye").

When you finally reach a live voice they are not in the least bit helpful (although they are friendly) because their job is to tell you what you already know from being online, and then they put you in automated system for your particular regional office where you get to play roulette for an appropriate appointment. That is when I learned that I can get an emergency replacement by going to their office at the next available time: March 23rd.

Try as you might to get back to the human voice and you find that you cannot get out of their automated system unless you either take the appointment (which I did not -- I could get a new passport faster by mail!) or hang up (which I did).

Trying to get back to the human took a bit shorter time since by now I had learned the phone key sequence that kept me out of the "call back later" group and got me in the queue for the human after a ten to twenty minute wait. At that point a nice person was able to tell me that all he could do -- literally -- was send me back to the automated appointment system.... What a system for dealing with customer emergencies! We are back to the "sorry, we don't give a damn" service style of old. I never thought I'd miss the initiatives of Al Gore's National Performance Review....

Knowing this was turning into a real and unsolvable problem, I began to call folks in Australia -- but then realized I was ringing them 2 in the AM. The E-Ticket sent from a travel service in Sydney had a 24 hour emergency number and so I rang them and after listening to many, many switches on the line (but no info tapes, thank goodness), I finally heard an Aussie accent voice of the on-call agent (Fiona) who seemed a bit surprised to be getting a real call at 3 AM, but was ready to help. After talking it out we decided I would continue my search for the missing passport but failing that I would give her a call back at a more decent hour....

By 1:30 PM it was a lost cause, and it became evident that getting an emergency replacement was not an option that would get me to Canberra by Wednesday when the workshop started -- or even Thursday when my presentation was scheduled.... And it was sitll only 4:30 AM Down Under....

Having resigned myself to the situation, I canceled the domestic portion of my trip which I had booked separately (BOS to JFK) and waited until it was at least 8AM in Sydney before calling Fiona back. We decided to rebook for Sunday just in case I found the little black book, and failing that to just bank the ticket for a trip later this year (which looks likely).

The saga will continue as I dive further into the various places and piles of papers where the passport might be hiding, but it looks like I might be presenting my paper via video conference hook up.

Oh well, I guess I am going to stay winterized for the whole season this year...

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Comments on " State Department Hell"


Anonymous Ciarán said ... (10:15 AM) : 

Sorry to hear it Mel: I hope you got off this time!


Blogger Mel said ... (11:56 AM) : 

Thanks, but it looks like the Passport got up and walked out on its own -- or it is in hiding....

Will begin the process of getting a replacement tomorrow AM -- besides eventually to Canberra over the coming year (that is how long I have to eventually use the ticket), I do have a wedding to attend to in Ireland....


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