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April 03, 2009

Hello. My name is La Roxy, and I'm an addict.

April 3. Day 277.

I spent the better part of today driving from post office to post office, on the phone with the federal passport agency and its idiotic robots, and rushing back and forth twice to "A-Official Passports," an expediting service located near the U.S. naval base on Point Loma.

Stop 0: The passport photo place conveniently located two blocks from my house. I even put on make up and smiled. Only because when I took my last photo, in 1999, I was running a fever and looked the part. For 10 years, people who saw my passport were kind enough to comment, "God, you looked so awful!" Thanks, dears.

Stop 1: Hillcrest Post Office. Run in, ask if they accept passport applications. No. Mission Valley Post Office does.

Stop 1: Mission Valley Post Office. Line 1, Line 2. Clock ticking. Time's a-running out. Finally, a gentleman with a santa clause beard and a veeeeeery relaxed demeanor (good for you! yipee. just don't be relaxed on my shift. deal?) tells me that if I apply for a passport, I probably wouldn't get it by the 13th. Some private companies can do it faster, for a fee.

Stop 3. "A-Official Passports." The lady informs me that she can get it back within 10 days, for the government fee plus $70 plus $40 for FedEx fee. "Is this negotiable?" I ask flat out. "No."

Stop 4. Home. I decide to call the passport agency in L.A, to see if they can fit me in. After about an hour on hold, they give me an appointment next week. But next week?? That's three days before I leave!! Cue the fear and trepidation.

Stop 5. Back to "A-Official Passports." I've just done the math, and driving 4 hours (round trip) plus $25 for gas plus who knows how much on parking ($2 meter? $30 garage?) isn't much better than spending $110 extra to get it done in San Diego, and work that whole day. Plus, what if the federal passport agency in LA is inefficient? I'm about to give her a check when we confirm the date I'll get it back.

"Seven to ten business days, so that would be April 14 at the earliest."

"Business days! Noooo! I'm leaving the 13th!" I wail. "Is there any other option?"

"We do have a courier service. That would get it back within 5 to 7 days. Still cutting it close. That would raise it to almost $200 above the base rate."

"Oh my god," I moan. I am not acting. I am not angling for sympathy. This is bad. I don't have money for last minute passport renewals! Not when --

In case you're wondering what this is all about. Yes. I'm crazy. A certified travel addict. But I'm going to Europe for a week.

My passport expires on May 9, and I'm about to leave the country for a week. In slightly more than a week.

Holy, as they say, crapola.

I'm not usually such a globetrotter, but things have just conspired strangely, wonderfully, this year. La Divina's visit, which prompted Hawaii. Then Mr. A's last minute and totally wild suggestion that I meet him in Athens. Now this. My mom, my exhausted mommy, is craving a vacay. And just when we were planning a staycation, complete with a visit to the San Diego zoo and a drive up the coast to see some friends in L.A., she got an email. From AirFrance. $270 LAX to Nice, with a $10 stopover in Paris. Frankly, it's not the wisest of moves, for either of us, but here's what she told me: "If I don't travel now, when will I?"

You know what I say?

Vive la joie de vivre!

But first, back to reality. Will my new passport actually cost $300???

"Please," I beg. "Is there anything you can do? I bought this ticket two hours ago and thought the post office does rush renewals, but they don't. Can you take anything off this price?"

"Don't do it here!" she says, suddenly girlfriendy. "Go to L.A. Same day service."


"Yes. You cut out all the extra fees. They're great."

"Really? I thought maybe it takes a while."

"No! It's the best option out there. As long as you can get to L.A."

"Of course I can!! You are so kind to tell me this. I will remember your honesty and pay it forward."

She smiles, and I'm outta there.

Gained: Nothing, of course. How can I be building net worth when I'm always traveling and letting things expire? At least I figured out how to do the least damage possible to my wallet for this impulsive European adventure. Estimated costs: $70 regular passport fee. $60 rush fee. Gas
for 200 miles times 30 mpg @ $2.20 per gallon is around $25. Lost time -- well, I just won't let myself lose it, dammit.

Reflections, post-game.

1) Yay, private sector. I have never encountered a worse phone menu than the federal passport agency's.

2. Yay, public sector. I'm impressed they do same-day passports. I looked online and the LA agency has great reviews from average josephines in a hurry, just like me!

3) I solemnly swear I will never let my passport expire again.
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