February 10, 2016
You couldn't make it up… The Passports Saga part 2
I was the first to get a call from the Passport Office. My photograph had been rejected. The facial recognition machines at (some) airports might not positively identify me because there was hair too close to one of my eyes. The Passport Office lady was helpful. If I went to the main post office in Brisbane – in Post Office Square, natch – 'they take a nice photo there'. Then all I had to do was walk two blocks to 150 Charlotte Street, up to the 17th floor, to hand in two new photos, which wouldn't need re-certifying. Bob's your uncle.
I also arranged with the Passport Office lady to collect our passports the day before our departure for the US in mid-Feb since, with the photo hiccough having stalled the process, there wouldn't be time for them to be posted.
I know it's probably hard to believe, but I was agitated waiting in line at the post office the next day. I knew what would happen: 'Just move your fringe out of the way'; 'lower your chin'; and the picture would be shite, whatever. There was an even more anxious lady behind me in the line: she needed an express queue (there wasn't one); then she had to fax things places; and she had to do all this yesterday. I was relaxed, by comparison.
I trotted off to Charlotte Street with the photos, which could have been worse but not much. The first hurdle: I couldn't find 150. Do you know why? The number is inside the building, not on the exterior. Helpful, right?
[I have a theory. I reckon it's pretty dull working in the Passport Office. The atmosphere is sombre and reverential: the employees are all-powerful; their clients fearful in case they put a foot wrong. So the powerful ones have come up with a game. Mostly, they process everything straightforwardly; but occasionally, if they're faced with a Pom or a non-native-English speaker, they decide to have some fun, by putting any or all of a series of hurdles before them to see if they crack. The game's called You want an Aussie passport? Let's see how much you want it.]
On the 17th floor a little man sat at a desk right outside the lift. I had to explain to him why I was there and he then directed me to the appropriate booth inside a waiting room full of apprehensive applicants. My queue didn't take that long, it being only for queries and delivery of additional stuff, not 'interviews'. The Passport Office lady on the phone had recommended I complete a stat dec requesting them not to put 'Stockport Third' as my place of birth. The man behind the glass accepted it and told me they would call me if there was a problem. I didn't doubt that. On my way out, the little man was asking another rather desperate-looking chap if he'd achieved whatever it was he was after. He put his head in his hands and scurried into the lift. Just as well the windows are non-opening on the 17th floor.
Two days later my friend received a phone call from the Passport Office: the photocopy of his birth certificate that the post office had made during his 'interview' wasn't legible. Could he photograph the original and email it to the Passport Office? He could and he did.
The next emails, rather confusingly, were headed 'YOUR PASSPORT IS COMPLETED', although the first paragraph said, 'Your passport is now being prepared'. I phoned up just to clarify, and to request collection on an earlier date than I'd arranged. I didn't want to turn up on the 9th and discover they were in the 'For collection on the 11th' box, did I? I checked again what I needed to take with me.
Yesterday was the day. I went to 150 Charlotte Street and, hey, there was no queue. It wasn't where I was supposed to collect the passports either, but no one had told me. I had to go to the main post office, where there was a long queue. To pass the time, I phoned my friend to joke about the misinformation, believing it to be the final twist in the story. I couldn't reach him.
Neither was it the final hurdle. When I got to the counter, and handed over my receipt of application for a passport, my friend's receipt of application, a stat dec from him authorising me to collect on his behalf, and my driving licence for ID purposes, the man said, 'And do you have your partner's driver's licence?'
I didn't. Because the frickin' requirements for collection given to me in that first phone call hadn't included it. I think it was at this point I came closest to tears. It had just been too difficult, and I was so near and yet still so far. Our passports must have been just over there; just beyond that screen. The man went to ask his supervisor if we could proceed without it. We couldn't. It was needed to verify my friend's signature on the stat dec: I might have forged it, you see. My friend's signature was on his passport, of course, but that was in a sealed envelope that I couldn't open for the man because he wouldn't give it to me because he couldn't verify my friend's signature authorising me to collect the envelope.
I think the man felt sorry for me. He suggested my friend photograph his licence and send me the picture to show the supervisor. I still couldn't contact my friend, either on his mobile or through his company's switchboard. I noticed I didn't have a signal so went outside to try, and fail, again. The man offered me the post office's landline. I reached my friend's desk phone through the switchboard but he didn't pick up.
I was beginning to conclude there must be something wrong with my phone. The man said he would only be there for another 20 minutes, and then I'd have to go through all this again with someone new. I'd tried phoning, text messaging, emailing (it wouldn't send) and WhatsApping. I had to give up. I wandered out into Queen Street, where I had a thought: I went into the Apple Store a couple of doors away to see whatsup with my phone.
It was then I learned that Telstra had gone into meltdown in most of Australia's state capitals.
A young greeter took pity on me. She tried bypassing Telstra – something I would happily do permanently – and Facetimed my friend using Apple's wifi. It didn't work. She then put me on a computer so I could use Facebook. I had doubts he would be on Facebook at work, but I sent a message anyway. I think Telstra must have sorted the problem at that juncture, for a moment later he phoned and a couple of minutes later I received the all-important photo evidence by text.
I raced back to the man in the post office in the nick of time.