For the past few weeks, I’ve been living a quiet drama that seems to be peaking as I type.
Tomorrow, I’m scheduled to fly to Ireland for the Rock’n’Roll Dublin half-marathon, a trip I’ve been planning with my friends J. and B. since last year.
I say “scheduled” because as of this minute, 4:29 A.M. on July 30th, I don’t have a passport.
I blame myself.
While I’d heard rumors of how your passport can secretly be invalid before the expiration date (how’s that for confusing?), I didn’t pay attention to them.
And then I went to a cocktail party with friends on July 10th and heard horror stories about the little-known Six Month Rule, which basically means that you can be denied entry into another country if your passport is expiring within six months of travel.
To be clear: expiring, not expired.
Here’s an excerpt from the U.S. Department of State’s Travel.gov site:
Many international travelers may not realize that having an unexpired passport is sometimes not enough to enter certain foreign countries. U.S. citizens traveling on passports that expire in fewer than six months have increasingly been denied airline boarding or been detained upon arrival in certain foreign destinations, including popular European travel destinations in the Schengen area. This is not a new requirement, but it is only recently that the requirement has been more strictly enforced.
In case you’re wondering, the Schengen area is basically most of Europe.
Ironically, Ireland is NOT one of the Schengen countries, but that’s too late now for what’s unfolding.
After the party, I scrambled and got together all of my necessary pieces for the passport renewal, including a pretty sub-par photo taken at Walgreen’s. The associate pulled down a screen next to the employee bathroom and snapped away.
Let’s just say it was not the glamour shot that I envisioned representing me for the next decade.
I paid the expedited fees, sent it all off via overnight mail, and it arrived at the passport agency on July 14th.
Here’s where it gets dicey: the U.S. Passport Information Center says that it has a service commitment to process an expedited passport application within 8 business days, and door-to-door service within 3 weeks.
To do the math, I had 17 days.
There’s a website where you can check the status of your application, which I neurotically refreshed multiple times a day.
When the application still said it was processing on the 9th business day – and I was a week out from travel – I called the customer service line.
While the agent wasn’t impolite, there wasn’t much she could do beyond saying that she would forward a message regarding my travel date.
Monday arrived. Four days to go. The website said the passport was still in processing.
I called again.
Different agent this time. Nice guy. I asked him if there was any secret information he had that I didn’t. He laughed. He didn’t.
Quiet panic set in.
Wednesday morning. Victory! The passport website said that my passport had finished and had been mailed.
I was so happy that I took a screen shot of the message and texted it to my friends J. and B.
High five texts all around.
And then … I re-checked the passport website to get the number to call and get my overnight mail tracking number, so I could shift my checking neurosis to the US Postal Service.
The passport website now said that my application was “in the final steps of processing” and would be mailed on or about August 1st.
Another call. Agent #3. She can’t update me on the status but was able to give me a USPS tracking number – which didn’t appear to exist when I typed it into the tracking website.
On Wednesday night, I came home from work in absolute despair.
I decided to check the USPS tracking website one more time.
And this time, it said that my passport was in Little Rock, AK, at the USPS Processing Facility.
After arriving in Little Rock at 5:52 PM, it left there at 8:55 PM.
Right now, it’s somewhere, but I’m not sure exactly where that somewhere is.
And I am absolutely praying that it makes it to Fancy Pants Ranch today.