Sunday, July 12, 2015

The National Passport Center: "No Hope for the Desperate”

At my previous university, I had a reputation for being particularly tough on my students.  In fact, I was once told I was “heartless.”  Many of my undergrads fondly recall the day when I kicked one of their peers out of class for texting.  Of course, my graduate students would probably argue you haven’t felt pain until you’ve experienced the “Mighty Red Pen of Phelan”.  Then again, I tend to receive emails from them after graduation telling me how they miss the “Mighty Red Pen;” perhaps they are all masochists.

Nevertheless, I’ve never been known for being particularly…. I’m not sure.  How should I say this?....Warm and fuzzy?  I’ve never seen a semester go by without a student- a grown man student that is- coming into the office and telling me I’m intimidating and then grovelling for something.  Given my alleged lack of compassion, bargaining for grades, “rounding up” (ha! Insert eye-roll here), and offering extra credit or make-up assignments are of no interest to me.  I’m told none of those things occur here at UQ, but stay tuned as I will let you know when I find out if this is true.

While I don’t believe in extra credit, I used to offer my students “extra effort” opportunities.  There was never a specific number of points they could earn to boost their grades, but I told them they could present a relevant current event article which related to the class in which they were enrolled.  Last semester, one of the girls in my Tourism class told us that the U.S. government was going to stop allowing people to add extra pages to their passports.  This was the most useful extra effort presentation I’ve ever seen… because it related directly to me.

For most people, extra passport pages are a non-issue issue.  For me, they are a big issue.  When you get your passport you have about 50 pages.  If you fill up all those pages you can send in your passport to the State Department and add another 50 pages.  If you fill those up, you can go through the same process a second time.  My passport was issued in 2011.  Before I went to Africa I had pages added.  After Africa I had four blank pages, which I knew would never last me until my passport expires in six years.  Given my move to Australia, and after finding out after December of this year new pages can no longer be added, I decided to apply for new pages now.  (After December 2015 if you run out of pages before your passport expires you have to get a whole new passport.  This is a bigger deal for me since I’m living outside the U.S. and my Australian visa is tied to my current passport number.)

I came out to Australia to visit the first week of May.  The day after I arrived back in the U.S. I sent in my passport so I could get my new pages.  According to the State Department website, it takes 4-6 weeks to process a passport.  At 5 ½ weeks I hadn’t received the passport and the online tracking site was “down” and directed me to call the National Passport Center.

It took six attempts before my call finally went through.  During the first five calls I was either disconnected while going through the automatic messaging system or the call never connected in the first place.  On the sixth attempt I was put into the queue and forced to listen to the same dreadful music continuously for 49 minutes.

At minute 49 Evelyn picked up and told me she couldn’t give me any information at all, aside from saying the passport had been received.  I did find out however that more than 500 people work at the National Passport Center answering the phones (apparently none of them are able to answer your questions about your passport either, so don’t bother asking), the passports are indeed processed in the United States, not outsourced to India or Mexico, and even if you call at the start of the business day Evelyn does not have a sense of humour (I would hate to call at 4pm, eh!).  That led me to ask for her supervisor.

Twenty-six minutes later Nathan answered.  My first question to him was, “What is the name of that song I’ve been listening to for the last hour?  Oh? You don’t know?  I’m pretty sure I know the name.  I believe it is ‘No Hope for the Desperate’.”  Nathan thought that was hilarious by the way.  He must be the token person at NPC with a sense of humour.  While I enjoyed my conversation with Nathan (we have the same birthdate by the way) the conversation ended with, “Well, you can pay an extra $60 to have the passport rushed, but to be honest, they won’t guarantee it will be processed within two weeks (when I needed to depart for OZ).”

In the end I received my passport in time.  In fact, “rushing” works!  I actually had the passport in three days. Not too bad.  Here is my advice for you:
1.      If you travel a lot, don’t have many empty passport pages, and your passport doesn’t expire for a while, get your extra pages now.  After December you won’t have this option.
2.      If you need to renew your passport (or get extra pages) give yourself at least two months between when you send in your passport and your next trip.
3.      If you can’t comfortably be without your passport for two months, pay the rush fee up front so you don’t have to worry about it.
4.      If you have a question about your passport, don’t bother calling NPC.
5.      If you refuse to listen to #4 and insist on calling NPC and Evelyn answers tell her I said hi.  Then immediately ask to talk to Nathan.  When Nathan answers ask him the name of the song played while you were waiting.  If he doesn’t know the name, tell him you believe it is called, ‘No Hope for the Desperate.”  Then tell Nathan I said ‘Hi.’”

In case you were curious what an extra-large passport looks like here you go.  On the left is my passport which now nears the size of a phone book, and on the right is an original passport without any extra pages added.:

Happy Travelling!

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