Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Paved With Good Intentions

The journey from our house to Ireland has not turned out to enjoy as auspicious a start as we had hoped. A couple weeks ago, during our daughter’s spring break from college classes, she went down to the courthouse to begin the passport process. Since my husband and I needed to renew our own passports, we used the prodding to tag along.

Each of us had to first obtain a photo suitable for the many government requirements for such things.

We went to just the place designed to handle lots of such requests: our corner Walgreens. The friendly Walgreens guy took us through the process. First, he snapped our individual pictures. Then, he took the digital version and manipulated it just so—there was a handy-dandy computerized template to shrink our heads down to the right size to fit into a superimposed grid. Then, he flicked the contrast dial until he sucked all the color out of the background—and much of it out of our faces—then clicked “save” and slapped it into the photo processor.

In less than ten minutes, we were out the door with our uniformly-sized head shots in hand.

We had been advised by the college department that handles such matters that if we wished to avoid impossibly long lines, we should show up at the courthouse first thing. Being the perennially-late creatures that we are, we arrived at our downtown location twenty minutes after eight.

For those of you sympathetic to my cause, that is eight in the morning.

We apparently made it through the metal detectors in the entry way in record time, caught an elevator up to the third floor, followed the signs to a propped-open door, stepped inside the appropriate office and all the way up to the counter.

There was no line. How could this be? The office looked set up for a line out the door, but no one was in sight.

We had each of our applications processed quickly. We opted to pay to expedite our daughter’s application, not only because it was an initial application, but because it will be the one detail missing from an otherwise already completed application for her study-abroad site.

You see, the foreign studies consortium through which her university arranges such opportunities offers these many venues from around the world with one caveat: the assignments are doled out in something resembling a lottery.

You give them your first choice for where you wish to study abroad.

Then you give them a second choice.

And then a third.

Maybe you’ll get your wish, and go to your first choice. Maybe not.

The problem for our daughter is that she only has one choice: Ireland. Her special major studies in anthropology and archaeology come with a specific focus: Ireland. It would be quite the challenge if she were to have to complete her studies in Irish archaeology in, say, Brazil. Or Swaziland. It does not take a rocket scientist to deduce that there is only one place for her to complete this goal: Ireland.

And yet, there at the top of the application—which, of course, must be completed in its entirety to be accepted—is a square in which she must insert her passport number.

Right. The passport she has yet to receive.

No passport number, no application submitted. Hence the payment to expedite.

You can imagine our consternation when, in an email received not more than a few days ago, our daughter was informed that the “contrast” on her passport photo was unacceptable and that she would have to re-do her photograph and resubmit it before the passport application process could be completed.

When you are faced with a situation like that, you can go back to the store where the defective goods were obtained and complain, get your money back, vent your spleen, or whatever gives you satisfaction—but that still doesn’t guarantee that the same mistake won’t be made yet again. The complaining, the pursuit of refund will have to wait. This time, the job has to be done right.

No time to lose, our undaunted Irish-bound exchange student sprinted over to a different shop—one which a college friend had used without any such unfortunate results—obtained a second passport photo, and followed the explicit governmental-ese instructions to the “t” to re-submit it.

Meanwhile, the “expedite” we had paid for is becoming less expedited than we had originally planned. I don’t think we can heave a collective sigh of relief until the actual passport is safely in hand, and its unique individual identifier copied dutifully onto the college application requesting that her destination be—oh please, oh please—indeed, Ireland.

I’m sure Walgreens meant well. I’m sure the government worker inspecting the passport application meant well, too. I guess we’ll see whether this was a case of over-zealous bureaucrat if our own passport renewal requests hit the same bump in the road. Whatever the case, I just hope that bump happens in the road that’s still going to Ireland.


  1. I mailed my passport renewal application, check, photo, and original passport yesterday, but I have no timeline to meet. Good luck! I'm sure everything will work out fine.

    1. Ah, so we are on the same wavelength, Wendy! Best wishes as your packet goes through processing!

  2. Ours have only been used once and then the Canadian Officials didn't even stamp them..so ours still look brand new. We had the photos taken at our local Drivers Licence office...I guess they are used to doing bad looking photos with no background. I hope your daughters passport goes through with the speed of light! :)

    1. Thank you, Far Side. The speed of light would indeed be nice...

  3. I just had lunch with a friend who is leaving in August to go to school in - gasp - IRELAND. We used Costco for our passport photos without problems - must have just been an off day at Walgreen's. Sorry you're going through this and I hope it all works out fine.....and quickly.

    1. Are you serious, Debi? I wonder if it will be to the same school...

      I hadn't thought of Costco for passport photos. Good idea.

  4. Ugh, bureaucrats. They used to be public servants...

    1. Well...we'll see. It will be interesting to see if my own passport passes muster--or gets snagged for the same "fault" as my daughter's.


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