Today I took a little break from my grueling NaBloPoMo blogging routine to go downtown to the American Embassy. My business was extremely top-secret, and its true purpose was known only to me.
Because in fact I hadn't bothered to tell anyone else about it, so mundane was the mission.
I can hear you yawning already, Dear
Anyway, the idea was to get additional pages added to my passport.
Legally, you're supposed to always have at least one completely empty page remaining in your passport. Why? Don't ask me.
But I was getting down to the end.
My pages looked like this.
And this was already after getting another wad of pages added, in London, about two years ago.
The process in London went approximately like this. It took two hours to get to the Embassy from the far reaches of Berkshire. Southwest Trains, to the Tube, to Mayfair. Through the security and scanners at the Embassy, after checking my cameras and mobile phones. Took a number, and sat down in a huge waiting room heaving with people.
After about 10 minutes, my number was called.
I turned in my passport and paperwork, and "hey presto!" Another 10 minutes and I was summoned back to watch as new pages were taped into the document and it was handed back to me. So easy. Pretty anti-climactic.
So then another two hours, back to Berkshire. Out into the sunshine of Mayfair, back into the grimy Tube, and another long ride from Waterloo Station towards Reading.
But new pages meant I'd be free to travel for innumerable trips. And not just around the western suburbs of London.
Cut to Warsaw, 2008. The experience was almost exactly the reverse of London 2006. It took me 10 minutes to drive downtown. Another two minutes to pay the parking meter and get through security, and scanners.
Down a long corridor, past a somnolent guard slumped sideways in his chair.
"Dzien dobry," as he waved me a "hello" with a strange little hand gesture that resembled a half-hearted salute.
"Po prosto". Straight ahead.
I walked into the waiting room, which was empty except for one other girl.
"Do I need to take a number?"
She raised an eyebrow and glanced around, as if to say "Are you joking?"
"No. They'll call you."
I was summoned up to the desk after a few minutes, and given paperwork to fill out. I turned it back in, and the clerk said, "Sit down, please. We call you when finished."
Tick. Tock. Tick tock. Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
You get the idea.
A few staff wandered around behind the glass. A phone rang. Ms Clerk went down a corridor. Two electricians wandered by holding cables. Ms Clerk wandered back again. Mr Clerk plopped a big seal-stamper-thing onto the counter. The seal impression machine sat there, unused. Ms Clerk 2 wandered by. Ms Clerk 3 came back from lunch and turned on her computer. Ms Clerk 2 spoke to Ms Clerk 3. A phone rang. The electricians wandered away.
Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock.
Why didn't I bring a book?
Just as I was beginning to despair (thinking of my parking meter running out, or my passport being confiscated, or...?) I was suddenly summoned back to the counter, after 55 minutes of suspense, and...
"Heyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, prrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrresssssssssssssstooooooooooooooooo!" my passport was delivered back into my sweaty hands.
Same process. Just slightly, slightly slower than in London.
I'm thrilled there weren't two of us there today, needing passport-page-adding Embassy-type services. Because if there had been, I might still be there, waiting, chewing my nails, and reading Minnesota Travel Adventures.
No, actually, that's a lie. Because they close at 3pm, on the dot. I would have had to come back tomorrow. Ugh.