Wednesday, July 14, 2010

NOTHING is ever simple

“Professor Garbor, I have some bad news. I never checked the expiration on my passport and it expired months ago. So we’re working on getting a new one and it looks like I’ll be on the flight on Thursday, instead of Monday. I am soo sorry. Is this going to mess everything up?”

I don't believe in Revisionist History. So while Michael's trip to Belize was wonderful in many ways. it wasn't perfect - not the trip, not the days leading up to it, not the people involved.  But if you're reading here, you'll know I'm going to simply tell it the way it happened.

Michael is a lot like me. He's a People Organizer. When he first starting seriously planning his trip to Belize with his Anthropology class, he set up a Facebook Group. This would allow pre-trip information and post-trip pictures to be shared easily. No one would become a bottleneck. He posted reminders they had received at meetings, so no one would forget important deadlines. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Airfare was purchased a month in advance, suitcases were nearly ready and we were sitting around on the last Sunday afternoon before Michael was to leave. Julie, her boyfriend, her kids, her dogs, plus Grandma, plus our five. The topic of passports comes up and how the prices have risen significantly.  Julie and her ex-husband had traveled extensively and she was certainly the most "in the know." As we’re all chatting, Michael flips to his own passport.   The color drains from his face. He goes upstairs to show me, “Expiration: 2/28/10.” In all of his prepping for the trip, he never thought to look at the expiration date!  His plane for Belize was to leave in 48 hours - possibly without him now.

But we're all problem-solvers. So Ron grabs the laptop and I gets on the PC, quickly looking at passport renewal information. Many of the sources look like it might take a month to renew - 2 weeks at the minimum. Finally, we both stumble on “Same Day Passports.” And they have an office in Austin. Interestingly, they boast that they are available 24/7. So I find the number and Ron makes the call. And, on a Sunday night, a man actually answers the phone. Ron describes the situation and the man thinks he can get a passport for Michael by Wednesday. Ron and Michael would need to be at their office on Monday morning at 8 a.m.

As solutions are being found to the passport problem, I move to the airline issue. The roundtrip air flight was booked through Orbitz. Finding the itinerary, I look to see if anything is available on Thursday and what the costs will be to change the flight. With only 4 days advanced planning, the available flight is only $100 more! Tack on the “change of flight” charges and the Orbitz charges and we’re at $280 more. But Michael now has a seat on Thursday morning flight. There *were* some Wednesday night flights, but since he’d have to take a water taxi for the first time, it seemed best to not do that at night. Plus, if there was a glitch at the passport office, we’d be frantically doing this all over again.

Next, Michael needed to reach his teacher. The first numbers were not working. So he dug through is suitcase to find alternate contact numbers. His teacher was already in Belize and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to reach him. But, success! Professor Garber answered the 3rd number.

To say that Professor Garber is laid back, is an understatement.

Dr. Garber

“Maaaan. Shit happens, ya know? Especially when it comes to traveling. It won’t be a problem. We’ll probably still just be setting up! Call me if it changes, but we’ll look for you on Thursday."

A few more pleasantries were exchanged and that was that.

Monday, Ron and Michael went to Same Day Passports and completed the paperwork for the passports. The total charge was going to be $525. This would get the expedited passport to us on Wednesday morning. If there was a snag and the expediting is denied, we would have to pay an additional $290 but we could have the passport by Wednesday night. At this point, we had already invested about $6000. If we had to add another thousand to it, it’s better than walking away leaving $6000 for nothing. So we did.

Michael and Ron came back. Ron went back to work and Michael went back to house-sitting. (He was in the middle of a weeklong house-sitting for a house FULL of pets in the nearby neighborhood) With passports on the brain, Ron started looking up the regular costs, so the rest of the family could have passports. He noticed that there were extra steps if the applicant applied for a passport before reaching age 16. Michael’s expiration date was one month before his 21st birthday, so it seemed likely that he HAD applied before he was 16. So Ron called SameDay Passports, and she pulled up the date for the original passport issue date. Sure enough, Michael had completed the paperwork at 15, before he went to Japan. This meant they had completed the wrong paperwork at Same Day passports.

Nothing could be done locally to fix this.

New instructions: Ron had to call the State Department in Houston to make an appointment. We had no idea whether this would be the next day or weeks from now. Luckily, he got an appointment for 1 p.m. the next day, Tuesday. I had to get to Same Day Passports to pick up the passport and the other paperwork that was there for them to TAKE to Houston. They close at 5 p.m. but agreed to stay a little late since it was their error. What time was it when Sue found out she had to go across town in rush hour traffic? 4:55 p.m.

So with paperwork in hand, Ron and Michael trekked to Houston Tuesday morning. They found their way, with the help of Katie’s GPS, without problems. As they were chatting with the man completing the paperwork at the State Department, Ron and he discover that they KNEW each other. Both were stationed together at Sheppard AFB. That’s all fine and good, but now he has to get someone else to come swear Michael in, since he “knew” him. At this point, what’s another few minutes?

But the Same Day Passports people were again incorrect when they said he would be able to leave the interview with his passport. In fact, it would take 24 hours. And they could not mail it to us, they would have to pick it up there. So, that meant Ron and Michael would have to stay overnight in Houston. This turned out kind of fun, since I found online that the Museum of Natural Science was actually easily accessible to where they were. And, Tuesdays are open late until 8 p.m., so they were able to spend a decent amount of time there.

Is it too soon to say maybe luck is changing? As I type, it’s Wednesday morning. We are waiting for the 2:30 pick up time for the passport. And, if all goes well, they’ll get back tonight and Michael will board his plane Thursday morning for Belize.

Just to toss a few good things out:
- Michael was really lucky his teacher is laid back and not caring if he arrives late. This trip is for credit that he needs for his upcoming senior year.
- We were lucky to get a flight on Thursday, and it was only $100 more. I thought the point of reserving your seats way in advance was to keep costs low? Hmmm.
- Same Day Air returned all our money, and going to Houston to do this looks like it will cost a fraction of the “convenience” of doing the passport thing in Austin. Of course, we had to add on gas (but they took the Prius!) and hotel fee. But still, it’s not going to come up to $1000. More like a $500-$550.
- Ron and Michael got to have a little time at the museum together in Houston. They have similar interests so that works.

No comments: