WE AIM TO PLEASE
3 January 2005
She's trying to get to Israel for a wedding.
The bride is a good friend who has been living in Jerusalem for the past few years. Word is that engaged kosher Jewish couples don't touch each other until after the wedding, so there is some urgency about having the wedding done as quickly as possible, all those cialis and viagra ads out there, I guess.
So anyway, she's trying to get to Israel at the last minute. Unfortunately the wedding invitation came at a time when she was up to her eyeballs in work and commitments and she wasn't able to deal with it until just before Christmas.
Her passport expired 5 years ago, since she had no reason to be traveling abroad any more, so in addition to trying to make travel arrangements to a country she knows nothing about, with no helpful information forthcoming about public transportation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, no information about hotels in Jerusalem, no knowledge about whether one can travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv on the Sabbath, since they can't get her a flight home on Sunday and are now looking at Saturday, etc., etc., etc., she also had to have her passport renewed quickly.
She discovered, sadly, that had she renewed her passport six months earlier, she could just have sent in her old passport and received an updated one. But the bride hadn't decided she was going to get married at that time, so now she is forced with starting from scratch in applying for a new passport.
She thought it would be a good idea to go to the passport office in San Francisco so she could get the whole passport issue taken care of while she waited.
As with any endeavor of this type, the first step is one to which we have all become resigned: wading (or should that be "waiting"?) through the interminable voice mail hell.
None of the recorded messages answered her questions, so she took her chances by pressing "0" and hoping it would get a queue that would eventually lead to a live person.
Now, I have to add that she is one of the most polite people you'd want to meet. She treats everyone with respect, is soft-spoken, and in all of her dealings is quite pleasant.
By the end of her conversation with the "customer service" representative, she was shouting and if she hadn't been on a hand-held phone, would probably have slammed it down in the receiver.
The first thing she learned is that she needs a certified copy of her birth certificate. She's never had to deal with this before and asked what he meant by a "certified copy."
"Do I have to repeat myself, ma'am?" he said, condescendingly. "you need a certified copy."
"Yes, but I don't know what that means," she said, beginning to be irritated.
"You need a certified copy, ma'am," he repeated.
"OK," she said. "So if I have a Xerox copy notarized by a Notary Public, will that be OK?"
"You need a certified copy, ma'am," he repeated. "I've already told you that."
They were obviously getting nowhere with that and she would have to figure out for herself what "certified" copy meant.
Next, she discovered that she cannot even make an appointment to visit the office until 14 days before her flight. She was calling 20 days before her flight.
She was incredulous. She understood that they didn't want to issue a passport, for whatever reason, prior to 14 days before it was needed, but she couldn't even call ahead for an appointment? She had to take her chances and hope that an appointment was even available at that time (and 14 days prior to travel happens to fall on a Sunday anyway). And then, assuming she can even get an appointment, she has to hope that they will actually get the passport to her in time for her to travel.
She's also not certain if she can actually purchase a ticket for overseas travel without a passport, but she cannot get the passport without showing proof of a ticket purchase.
This may be a Catch 22 situation.
When the "customer service" rep told her she was unable to call to make her appointment for another 6 days, she couldn't believe it and asked him to repeat the information because she just didn't believe it could possibly true.
"I've already answered that question, ma'am," he said, again condescendingly. "Do I have to repeat myself?"
"Clearly yes," she said, "because I can't believe that what you are telling me is true."
"So you're telling me," she said, "that I just have to sit here, not knowing if I'm going to be able to use the $1,000 plane ticket that I must buy?"
"I've already answered that question, ma'am," he said again.
"So I'm just supposed to sit here and PANIC?" she asked, her voice rising to a shrill pitch.
"I get that question a lot," he said.
Well, no shit. Maybe if the "customer service" rep would offer a little service instead of patronizing condescension, interactions like this would be more pleasant for all and some actual business might get accomplished, she thought.
But then, this is a government agency.
What was she thinking?
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