My passport expired. So did my wife’s. Being a savvy computer-literate American, I dutifully downloaded the requisite Department of State forms, filled them out as pdfs, printed them, and then researched methods to obtain requisite passport photos.
I could upload a photo off my phone into some template and then print out the photos, but I didn’t have any photo paper and didn’t want to buy any. No need. All my photos are in the cloud.
An internet search disclosed the following stores provided on-demand passport photos: Costco, WalGreens, Wal Mart, UPS, CVS, and the US Postal Service…oops, no, USPS used to provide photos but no longer. They will provide a properly addressed envelope to ensure your properly filled out and assembled documents, along with a check, will go to the proper office. The envelope’s free; you still have to pay the postage. Okay, so, get the photos, go to USPS, get the envelope, drop in documents, mail it, mission complete.
The saga begins.
We went to see Spiderman: No Way Home (epic. Just epic) and figured afterwards stop by the local Costco, get the photos. Walked up to the photo desk, “Hi. Like to get some passport photos.”
The guy running the counter looked at us like we’d ordered morphine. “We don’t do passport photos. Haven’t since last February.” And then glared at me like I had ordered morphine.
“According to your website, you do.”
“You believe everything you read on a website?”
Well, no, but one assumes a service offered on a company’s website is one actually provided by said company owning the website. One assumes.
Walgreens was across the street so off we hied. The 8th grade girls running the place assured us they did offer passport photos so one of them snapped pictures of us on a Kodak Instamatic (that’s what it looked like) and uploaded the results to a nifty looking combination-photo-processor and printer. The 8th graders entered their code and entered their code and entered their code and the nifty printer-processor promptly crashed. With no way to make it uncrash. We laughed.
We went to WalMart.
As you know, the electronics section of WalMart is as far from the front doors as possible so, after a thirty minute hike, we got back there. Mind you, this is now about eight in the evening which, of course, makes no difference to the number of customers but has a deleterious effect on the number of Walmart employees manning counters and cash registers. So you can imagine our relief at seeing not one but two persons behind the electronics/passport photo counter: two bearded millennials, one of whom may not actually be of a sex normally associated with beard growing, wearing matching black shirts and pants like members of a cult. “Passport photos, please!” I beamed. My wife beamed, too.
“Oh!” Beard #1 was sorrowful. “We’re contractors, not employees. So we don’t do that.”
“A manager will be here shortly,” Beard #2 replied and then both Beards hied to another section of the counter where they played grabass for about the next ten minutes. I concluded Walmart had contracted them as employee stand-ins.
About fifteen minutes later, a person dressed in WalMart regalia slipped behind the counter and immediately got into a very loud and somewhat intense argument in Spanish with a patron, the gist of which is the patron did not believe a correct discount had been applied and had a much-slapped receipt in hand to prove it. While this was going on, a line formed behind the patron because Lord knows it is a rare sight to find an actual WalMart employee manning a counter after 8 pm. When patron’s complaints were disposed (not to the patron’s satisfaction), the employee began waiting on the line.
My wife can be assertive at times and spoke up at that point, advising the employee we had been waiting for passport photos for, oh, say, twenty minutes. He looked at us and said, “I don’t do those.” Pause. “No one here tonight does those.” The contractors ceased their grabassing for a moment to give us a big smile, then back to grabassing.
We left. Not in the best of moods.
The next day, we went to UPS. UPS, c’mon, it’s UPS. What could go wrong?
No printer paper, that’s what. And no idea when printer paper would be available. But, they were willing to sell me printer paper so I could print my own. That is, if they had any printer paper. Which they didn’t.
CVS, the last great hope.
The first CVS we attempted also did not have printer paper. I’m guessing all the printer paper destined for the Shenandoah Valley is on a ship container off the California coast. But this CVS did have something no other store had: someone willing to help. The manager called around to the other CVS’s until he found one that not only had printer paper but a photo processor that worked, codes and all. It was clear across town, and we tore through badly timed lights, drunk pedestrians, and drivers who obviously had no idea there were other cars on the road and made it. We made it. Got our photos. Hallelujah.
So, warned by the preceding experience, I called the USPS. Or tried to. Apparently, there are several 800 numbers with a required series of public service announcements beseeching you in English and Spanish to watch out for that COVID before you reach a menu that lets you call your local post office, except as soon as I tapped “6,” the designated menu number to retrieve said local phone number, it hung up on me. So I searched the internet for someone who had thoughtfully posted the local number, found it, dialed it… disconnected. Another search for USPS passport offices and, on the fourth menu page, found a local number. Called it. It rang. Someone answered.
“Hi, do I need an appointment to bring in my passport paperwork?”
“Do you have everything?”
“Forms filled out but not signed, old passports, check not filled out. Even got the photos, which, let me tell you, was no easy task.”
“Then you don’t need an appointment. Just come in anytime between 9-5 to pick up the pre-addressed envelope.”
So we went between 9-5, no appointment in hand. Our passport office is located out of sight of the main Post Office lobby in an obscure back room set around several corners as far away as is architecturally possible. I’m guessing this is a dexterity, stamina, and logic test to see if you qualify for a passport or not. The four-ton door is another test. I walk in. “Hi, I’m here for a passport envelope!”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“You said I didn’t need one.”
“That may be so in your case, but your showing up here interrupts others who have an appointment so I cannot serve you until the others with appointments are served first.”
“So I needed an appointment?”
“No. You didn’t. You’ll have to wait until those who have an appointment waiting outside the door and who come in one at a time are done.”
“There’s no one waiting outside.” Which was true when I walked in. Apparently they were having trouble with the door and the logic test.
“Fine. Here’s your envelope. I will write on the inside flap everything that needs to go into it. It is already pre-addressed. The fee changed fifteen minutes ago to $160 each, which is different than what it says on the website so good thing you came in, even though you don’t have an appointment because they would have rejected your application.”
“Are there other reasons they will reject our applications?”
“None that you’re allowed to know.”
Out the door past the now long line of waiting passport patrons. “You don’t need an appointment” I said to them, “it’s enough that you found your way here.”
Out to the lobby where, in full view of numerous persons very interested in our old passports, we checked and triple checked and readied the photos for stapling to our applications with four, no more than, and no less than, staples at precisely marked locations with the stapler I had cleverly brought along… but didn’t check if it had staples in it. Borrowed a stapler from a suspicious clerk, shooed the patrons interested in our old passports away, and then ready to sign. My wife has a purse that doubles as a sleeping bag, but no pens inside it. Paper clips, a translation of Thucydides, playing cards and a portable life raft (in case of flood), but no pens. Black ink only. I had one in the truck, though, went out, got it, shooed away the patrons who were busily copying down our identifying data, signed, stuffed requisite items into envelope, brought envelope with correct check made out to Department of State and our dates of birth, names of great-grandparents, DNA samples, and all the places we had lived over the last forty years listed in the memo block, sealed it in front of the suspicious clerk, paid for it, and sent it off.
We should get our new passports sometime in the next two months.
Or, more likely, a rejection. Staples were the wrong size, doncha know.