- by Patricia Rosemoor
Well, okay, maybe not a license to kill. How about a passport? What does that have to do with writing? The passport is for a research trip to India, a setting I’m using in a new novel I’m developing, and I’ve never been to India. Whenever I am forced to deal with the government, I find I get lots and lots of story ideas that involve fictional ideas for mayhem and murder, and never so much as in getting this passport.
It’s not that I haven’t had a passport before–I’ve had three. But my last one expired and I wanted a change of name in my new one. Dropping my late husband’s last name didn’t seem so difficult. Though when I filled out the application, in the name change area it had two options: newly married and change of name by court order. Nothing about being a widow who wanted to go back to her maiden name, which by the way, I used all along on everything but my passport and driver’s license. So I filled out the application, dropped the hyphen and my husband’s last name and included a death certificate. I expedited the application and paid for overnight deliveries both ways to the tune of $190.
A week later, I got a call from the National Passport Agency. They needed proof that I was using my maiden name. So, at their instruction, I gathered three utility bills and set off for Fed Ex to FAX them. On the way, the main street was closed for repairs, so had to take a side street…where a woman opened her car door into my moving car. (And she acted like -I- was at fault.) Add the $500. deductible to the $190. And $7. for the FAX.
The next morning, the National Passport Agency called again. My passport had been denied because I needed to send utility bills in my name that were more than 5 years old. More than 5 years? But my husband only died 4 years ago. The woman assured me the illogic didn’t matter. I asked to speak to the actual person who denied the passport to straighten it out. No, the people who approve or deny your passport DON’T TALK TO ANYONE ON THE PHONE. Besides, my application would not go back to the same person. Great. What would the next one want? Then she gave me other options that didn’t make better sense and ended by telling me I could just send a copy of my driver’s license. I said that it, too, had my late husband’s name. Her solution–get a new driver’s license if I really wanted a passport.
So on Friday, after investigating online what I needed to bring with me to prove I was using my maiden name, I headed for what I not-so-fondly call hell on earth, the Elston driver’s facility. We have lots of places to get a new license but few options if you want to change your name. I waited in line only to be told I needed a death certificate. I said the online instructions said to bring one piece of identification from column A and one from either B or C or D (I’m not joking). I brought several. Nope, not good enough. (Rule: whatever a government website tells you they need is WRONG.) I asked to speak to a supervisor.
The supervisor told me, no, I didn’t need a death certificate. I needed a social security card. (Rule: the government employees who tell you what you need are wrong, too.) Now I’ve had one SS card in my life–and I got that at age 16. The supervisor sent me to a Social Security office to get a letter that said I was in the system under my maiden name. So I left the facility, drove to Social Security and returned to the state facility an hour and a half later. A longer line than the first time. The paperwork went through, I paid my $5 and got in line to have my stunning photo taken. Both machines were down. A woman announced that a bunch of us were to follow her outside to get our photos taken. Actually it was to another building. People who had been behind me rushed to get in front of me. Another long line. Finally I got to the camera and gave the woman my name. She said, oh, I couldn’t do it there—with a name change, a supervisor had to approve it. I had to go back to the original building…
The next day, armed with my new driver’s license, I went to Fed Ex and made copies and FAXed it off with those utility bills that were more than 5 years old. Another $10. I didn’t realize I left without my one day old driver’s license. Later, when I did realize it was missing, I went back…no one had turned it in. On Monday morning, it was back to the Elston facility for a duplicate. $5. Then I brought my wounded car into the body shop.
One day later, I got a call from a pharmacy about 20 minutes north of where I live. Apparently I’d been in the store earlier and had dropped my driver’s license. And apparently I had checks from a bank that I don’t actually bank with–the checks had my name and address. (Oh, great, now we’re into identity theft.) I explained the situation, told the woman I wouldn’t have a car until the next day to come get the license. And then I tried to make a police report. Well, no, they don’t make reports on stolen driver’s licenses–no intrinsic value–and if I was the victim of identity theft, I needed to contact the State Attorney’s office. The rest of my lovely evening was spent making fraud alerts with the credit reporting companies and banks.
The next morning, I rented a car ($35.) and went to pick up my driver’s license from the pharmacy and then headed for the bank in question–the one with the fraudulent checks in my name (by phone, I was told I needed to go to one of their locations in person). After filling out the form and trying to hand it back to the clerk I was told that since I wasn’t a client, he wasn’t taking it. I told him I was following directions from corporate (Rule: people on the phone will say anything to get rid of you) and all he had to do was sign it and give me a copy so that if something came up later I had proof that I reported the problem. He told me that he didn’t have to do anything for me since I wasn’t a customer. I left in defeat.
So…$742…two trips to Fed Ex…two to the Elston driver’s facility…two to the body shop…two to the car rental facility…one to pick up my driver’s license from the pharmacy…one to the bank that wouldn’t take my report…numerous hours on the phone and online making the fraud reports…
I’m relieved to say my undoubtedly most expensive passport in the world was finally approved after 10 days of stress that would make anyone want to kill.
Now to find a way to work this mess into a novel…after I fill out the fraud report to the State Attorney’s office, of course.