Just about three years ago, we moved into a new house. For the first few weeks, I tried as hard as possible to avoid Steve, the mail delivery person in our new neighborhood. He kind of scared me, mainly because he knew my name and would call loudly to me from across the street, wildly waving packages and handfuls of letters in the air as he did so. Soon enough, I realized that he was simply a character. In fact, he was kind of a gossip, and sometimes he would knock on the door just to chat. But he was great at what he did: efficient, speedy, knowledgable. I loved him. And he clearly loved his job.
Sadly, he accepted a promotion and got transferred to a different route. Now our mail delivery is terrible. Sometimes the mail just doesn’t arrive at all, and when it does, it is frequently not our mail. I miss Steve. Unfortunately, I have to say that he was the exception rather than the rule. The Post Offices in my area are notoriously awful. So when my passport expired, I was dreading the process of applying for a new one.
I tried to make it happen several times over the last couple of months. I would steel myself and steadfastly brave the long lines and annoying people filling the Post Office. I would take a number (our Post Office does not accept reservations for Passport applications). And then I would wait. During these excruciatingly, agonizingly slow and painful moments, I would try to figure out what was taking the clerk so long. Each time a new person would come to the window, that fresh victim would have to endure a minimum of twenty-five minutes of line-by-line questioning and review of his or her application. It was a thoroughly ineffective, inefficient and insane system. Sisyphean.
The longest I lasted was two hours before I wilted in defeat and frustration. I tried calling a few different Post Office locations, but no one would answer the phone. I finally drove to what I thought might be a location that could help me (they claimed to be able to make appointments!) but the clerk told me that the earliest appointment he could schedule was in two months.
I realized that I had to be missing something. At this rate, no one could ever make it out of the country. So I went back online and navigated through the clunky government website until I found this page. I entered my zip code and crossed my fingers, hoping to find an answer, and miraculously, I did.
The University of California Department of Recreational Sports.
Hmm. Unlikely, I thought, but it was listed as an option. I called the number, and the phone was answered promptly by a woman who sounded both capable and professional. I tentatively asked her if they processed passport applications, and she happily responded that they did. When I asked her how long the wait was, she laughed and told me that there was none. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone, especially after I asked my final question: how long did the process take? I almost gasped in shock when she replied: five minutes.
Needless to say, I zoomed down to the Department of Recreational Sports. I raced in, just in case others had discovered this miraculous and otherworldly office and were hot on my heels. Nope. Just as she had described, there was no wait, and the entire thing took five minutes.
The contrast was so intense that it felt like an episode of Candid Camera. I kept waiting for someone to pop out of the bushes and yell, “Gotcha!” But that didn’t happen. Instead, I went home and did a little research. I learned that many universities have passport acceptance facilities on campus. So I wanted to pass that fact along to you, just in case you are experiencing your own Twilight Zone Sisyphean post office moment.
Happy Traveling. May your wait for a passport be short and the stamps that fill it many.