“Please, Mom, come sooner rather than later.”
It’s an email from my daughter Katheryn in England, a continent and an ocean away – Katheryn, who, three weeks ago, was given a diagnosis of breast cancer, stage two. She was told that she needed mastectomy surgery to save her life. It would likely be scheduled in the next month. “Please come sooner rather than later.”
I had begun searching through flight options when my housemate asked, “Is your passport current?”
Oops. It had expired in February of this year.
Go online, find the form, fill out the form, check the box for “expedite” (which guarantees three-week delivery instead of five or six) and add another $60 “expedite fee” to the total on my check. Find a place on Whidbey Island that does instant passport photos. Put everything, along with my expired passport, into an envelope with priority postage guaranteeing delivery at the Philadelphia Expedited Passport office on Monday morning. Hand it all to the postal clerk before closing time on Friday afternoon. Whew!
Then on Saturday morning I got a call. New tests had caused Katheryn’s docs to speed up the timetable. Surgery was now scheduled for the coming Friday.
Now what? I wouldn’t have a passport for another three weeks. A friend suggested I call my Congressman to see if he could help. Yeah, sure, I thought. Equating “Congress” with “help” is not likely these days. Nevertheless, I called the local office of Congressman Rick Larsen early Monday morning. I spoke with a staff person, Jamie, who listened patiently to my story, including the part about how my expired passport and all my info was now somewhere in the bowels of a bureaucratic office in Pennsylvania. She agreed to make some calls on my behalf, and would call me back. I remained skeptical.
The short version of the rest of my passport story is this: Jamie reached a congressional liaison in the passport offices; he okayed the emergency nature of my passport request and alerted the reception clerk in the Seattle Passport Office that I would be coming in on Wednesday morning. When I arrived the clerk (and his computer) located my paperwork in Philadelphia, including my check and my expired passport. The several clerks who worked with me did not fit my perception of “bureaucrat” at all – they were alert, kind, efficient, and respectful. I watched as they patiently moved many dozens of citizens through a streamlined system of service that did not feel at all like the stockyard feedlot I had expected. In less than an hour I was called back to Window Number Three, and was asked to return to the passport office at 2:00 that afternoon. By 2:30 I had a brand new, very expedited, valid passport in my hand.
When I went back to the reception clerk to thank him for all he and the others had done for me, I told him I would never (well, not for a long while, anyway) disparage “government bureaucracy” again!
Now: get those airline tickets, and get to England to be with my daughter.