Friday, January 17, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole

... to a land with no clocks, a stultified world that time forgot.

No, no, not the world of Alice in Wonderland. I'm talking, of course, about the bureaucratic limbo that is the US Citizen Services area of the US Embassy in London.

I had to make my first (and hopefully, only!) trip into the US embassy a few days ago in order to get extra pages added to my passport book, as I'd recently gotten down to my last four open squares. Now this probably makes me sounds like a lot more of a badass world traveler than I actually am, but what I don't like to tell people is that a whole two pages of my passport are currently filled with novelty stamps from Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin that I got when I was 18 years old and never in a million years imagined that I'd ever need my passport to get between my home and my school. Now those novelty stamps not only get a disapproving eye roll from every border control agent I have to sheepishly present my passport to, but they're also seriously cramping my style.

The entire process was like some sort of bureaucratic satire: before even gaining entrance to the embassy itself, I had to wait in three separate lines outside: a line to 'check in' (confirm that I'd made an appointment and that my name was on the list), then a line to have my passport identity confirmed (why this couldn't have been done at check in, I have no idea), and then a line to be admitted into the security screening area. All I can say is that, mercifully, it wasn't raining.

After finally getting onto the fortress-like premises (seriously, no other embassy in the area in enclosed in a fenced in compound guarded by patrolling soldiers with machine guns like the bad guy's lair in some post-apocalyptic road warrior society), I only had to wait in one more line before being dumped into a DMV-style waiting area with no clocks and no entertainment of any kind except for the screen showing the current tickets that were being served and BBC weather on mute. Oh, and copies of a magazine called 'The American.' Wat.

Since we'd had to give up our bags and electronic devices before entering the embassy, the waiting process was even duller than usual. Eventually my name was called to one window, where I handed over my papers and told to go wait in line at another window to pay. After waiting in line at that window and paying, I was told to go back into the waiting area to wait until my number was called again to pick my papers up.

Finally, an indeterminate time (later determined to be just under two hours) and seven queues later, I emerged $82 poorer but with my shiny new passport pages in hand. Hooray! Hopefully, NEVER AGAIN.

(My current passport was issued in 2006, making it one of the 'old style' ones (before they started adding the microchip into the cover and changed the style of the interior pages), but obviously the new pages are of the 'new style,' meaning that my passport now has a decidedly disjointed vibe to it.)

(It's also significantly chubbier now. Large and in charge, THE AMERICAN WAY.)

Then it was off for some of the best mental therapy London could offer:

Tea and (not pictured) poached eggs on toast. It's a wonderful life.

I also then spent the rest of the day in London with a friend from home who is getting a masters at London School of Economics. It was great to catch up and do some London sightseeing, which I've been seriously remiss on so far. I have to remind myself that the bus to and from London was super cheap and super convenient, so I have no excuses for not coming up more often!!

 (Checking out some conservation projects at the V&A)


 (Napoleon's horse at the National Army Museum. Umm... either this horse had the most tragic conformation of all time, or else, Skeletal Reconstruction: you're doing it wrong. So, so wrong.)

 (Chilling in the V&A's glorious cafe)

 (Trying on pith helmets!!)


jenj said...

Heh, my husband had to go through the "extra passport pages" shuffle, only he had to send his in and it took for-bloody-ever to get it back. Now he just orders one with extra pages from the beginning.

I wonder which of Napoleon's horses that is? There's a stuffed one at the Musee' d' Armee in Paris - it's a grey. His conformation isn't much better, lol!

Carly said...

I hear a safari calling you and that helmet's name...

Katherine Erickson said...

They said it was Marengo. He was only 14hh!

Katherine Erickson said...

Hahahaha maaaaybe - I have always wanted to go on safari!

Elena said...

My only experience with that Embassy is from when they denied hubs a visa so, as you can imagine, I'm not too fond of them either. Although they have a big advantage over the Embassy in Lisbon where I had to wait on a bench next to a highway for hours while he went in for a least the one in London is near Starbucks!

L.Williams said...

1)Yes definitely get a Pith hat! and 2) My passport was also issued in 2006 now I want a new one to check them out, sadly it won't expire for a while, or goodly I don't know mine is so woefully empty!

T Myers said...

I hate visiting Embassies...sooo boring. Glad you got your passport sorted!

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