But the full extent of the con didn't hit me until I joined the teeming crowd at the passport office. The scene bore a passing resemblance to the fall of Saigon. Some people were crying. Others were screaming, either at agents or at the armed guards who herded us from one spot to another until the room became too packed to move. A few travelers were in more advanced stages of resignation, sitting on the floor staring at books of Sudoku or simply praying the dwindling supply of oxygen would hold out long enough.
A news ticker streamed across the wall with the message, "The average waiting time is 163 minutes." A clerk gave me a numbered ticket that said, "Upgraded Application." It said my estimated wait would be 5 hours, 41 minutes.
A young man who had already waited several hours explained that the average waiting time—by that point at 186 minutes—was just the first step, seeing a caseworker. If applicants survive that hurdle, they receive another ticket to come back later and stand for hours in another line, while the back office prints their passport.
I reached the caseworker window in a mere 150 minutes, still with a faint hope of making an evening flight. But the agent at Window 8 had other plans. She angrily questioned why I needed a passport that day, when my flight wouldn't land in Australia until two days later. I tried to explain the International Date Line, but she had already reached a verdict: Our passports couldn't possibly be done in time for us to leave, so that meant she had no obligation to complete them. And since the office was closing for the weekend, she gave me a slip to come back for them—on Monday.
The prospect of losing three days—or more, if the con continued—was enough to make us throw in the towel. I went home and asked American Airlines to cancel the trip and refund our tickets.
Then a minor miracle happened. If the agent at Window 8 had been an immovable object, the agent from American Airlines was an unstoppable force. I told her our story at 5 p.m. on a Friday in August, when Jason Bourne himself couldn't break into the federal government in Washington. Somehow, she tracked down our passports and had them in our hands by 7:30, then rebooked our flights to leave the next day. When I asked her how she did it, she just laughed, the way a weary Russian might once have done in shrugging off the labyrinthine challenges of surviving the Soviet Union.
The mystery deepened as I looked inside the passports. Just two hours earlier, the passport office had insisted our passports didn't exist and wouldn't anytime soon. But according to their "date of issuance," the passports had been issued two weeks before.
Just before we departed the next afternoon, the passport office sent me an e-mail: "We have finished your passport, and it has been mailed to you." By then, we knew better than to trust anyone who promises that "the passport is in the mail." But we had to admit that finally, our passports were looking pretty good. ... 8:12 A.M. ( link)
Saturday, Aug. 11, 2007
Red Meat: Until this week, former Bush speechwriter Matt Scully's sole claim to fame was as conservatism's most determined vegetarian. His book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, made the compassionate conservative case for animal rights. George Will dubbed Scully " the most interesting conservative you have never heard of."
After Scully's devastating write-and-tell smackdown of former speechwriting colleague and press favorite Michael Gerson in the Atlantic, however, animals won't be the ones whimpering for mercy. Never underestimate the wrath of a vegan scorned. Scully doesn't just jab his fellow Bushie as a shameless publicity hound; he guts Gerson and hangs him on the mantle.
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