Passports in a Pandemic: A Story about Trump’s America

This morning, I was tested for COVID-19. How I got to this point is Donald Trump’s fault.

For a few years, Hubster & I discussed getting passports. We wanted them pre-Trump because we want to travel internationally. We wanted them post-Trump in case we needed to flee the country. We finally got serious about it in October and scheduled our appointment on October 20th, which–as of this writing–was three days ago.

I’ve long been terrified about getting passports because I’ve always heard the process was a pain. So, being extra-cautious, we checked repeatedly to make sure we did everything right. We know we’ll need pictures, so we agreed to have them done at the post office. And, for at least a week prior, an enveloped marked “passport docs” sat on my desk; it contained required copies and applications. Per travel.state.gov, “citizenship evidence” includes a list with these two items first: “your original evidence of U.S. citizenship” and “a photocopy of the front (and back, if there is printed information) of your original evidence of U.S. citizenship.” It does not say the original documents are required. It literally lists both options. Remember this.

I promise this says “passport docs.” Hubster asked if I drew a penis instead of a D, which is fitting.
A screenshot of the U.S. State Department’s passport requirements page. There are more requirements, but I didn’t crop out anything relevant.

We arrived on time to our appointment. Everyone was masked up, but the post office was busy, as in a steady stream of people in line to ship, mail, and so on. Someone was ahead of us, but we didn’t wait terribly long. It was maybe fifteen minutes. We were both nervous this would go poorly, but with all the prep we’d done, I felt like it would be a breeze. That should’ve been my warning sign.

I can’t remember the order of events, but two employees helped us; one was a trainee. They got our pictures done quickly, but I was unnerved that the more experienced employee had her mask down off her face while we took our pictures. But it was over quickly, and we sat down to do our paperwork, a plexiglass divider on the desk between us and the employees.

They reviewed our paperwork. They went through Hubster’s quickly, but once they got to the copy of his birth certificate, they informed us we needed the original. We (probably more I) grumbled a bit that the directions did not indicate an original was required. They insisted. From there, I was antsy to get it over with. We knew we’d have to run back home, get the originals, and get back to this busy post office.

But did I mention central Iowa got its first ever snow squall warning right before we left for our appointment? Frankly, I was not eager for us to be on the roads.

They reviewed my application, and the trainee said I was missing a page. I said it was double sided. She seemed fine with that. The more experienced employee informed us the application was not allowed to be double sided. I’m sure there’s a reason. We don’t know what it is, and I was too anxious/irritable to ask.

The employees mark down that we’ve already taken and paid for our pictures. They tell us to come back before 3:30. They write on the paperwork that we’ll be back by 3:30. In our heads, this means we can just pop in and finish the process. Again, this should’ve been another red flag to me.

We get back home safely, as the snow squall hit northern Polk County harder than where we were, and the roads remained decent. I immediately bust my butt upstairs, grab my original birth certificate, put it in the stack with the rest of our documents, then print my application again, but this time, I make sure it doesn’t print two-sided. Hubs locates his original birth certificate (which caused a bit of panic because it wasn’t where it was originally, and I’m pretty sure that was my fault). We return to the post office maybe 30 minutes later if that.

An entirely different person is working the passport desk now. The two employees we worked with are nowhere in sight. We notify the folks that we’re back, and we wait. There are two people ahead of us. While we wait, a family of four comes in. My Karen-sense detector beeps. The mother in this family has her mask below her nose. The dad is restless. I’m not sure he ever sits down at the nearby table where his wife and kids are. I sense they expect to get right in. The Karen-y mom even looks at her phone, states the time of their appointment to her husband, has the email up, and says, “We’re special.” Having been invisible and stepped in front of countless times, I can tell my polite bitch mode will be required.

Sure enough, after the two people in front of us are finished, the passport employee calls in this family. At this point, we’d been waiting for half an hour. I jump up and say, “Ma’am,” then explain our circumstances. Hubster and I explain that we were told to come back before 3:30. The employee repeatedly tells us that Karen’s family had an appointment at 2 p.m. (It’s just about 2.)

She says, “It’ll only take them fifteen minutes.”

I say, “My husband is already missing work.”

She says, “Can you wait fifteen minutes?”

I asked, “Do you have an appointment at 2:30?”

She replies, “Yes, but this will only take fifteen minutes.”

At that point, I knew it was pointless to argue, so we sat back down and waited. I also knew it was not going to take this family fifteen minutes.

At 2:35 p.m., the family finishes. There are more people in line for passports. She calls us in. There’s no acknowledgement that her fifteen minutes was really 35.

She’s kind. She’s helpful. She knows her shit, this employee. This is also why it doesn’t not take her the estimated time she thinks it will take. She’s under the impression we will also take only fifteen minutes. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.

She looks at our pictures and asks, “Where did you get these taken?”

We’re both like, “Uh, here.”

She doesn’t believe us. We still have our masks around our necks in the original photos, and she says, “We’re not going to be in a pandemic forever, so you shouldn’t have those on” despite that fact that you can still see our entire faces. I provide the extra copies that have the USPS logo on them. She shakes her head and comments about how she’s taught them better. We’re required to retake our pictures.

Fifteen minutes, you say?

She takes his and has no issues. She takes mine, looks at it, and asks me to take it again. She explains the background is not “picking up the gray” in my hair. Keep in mind we have to take our masks off completely to do this. Hubster’s mask is easy. It loops around the ears. Mine ties behind my head and neck. Taking mine off more than once takes longer than I’d like especially in a scenario when I want to be quick about it. Maybe I should’ve worn an easier mask, but I wanted to wear one that felt secure in the high-traffic space of the post office. I take my mask off for the third time in a public space, and she puts an old, red sweater on my shoulders (god knows how long it has been there and who all it has touched), so my grays will show up. She takes the picture again and is finally happy.

The rest is easy. We shell out a lot of money. We’re friendly and sign some things. I apologize for being rude. She tells me she didn’t think I was rude, just that I didn’t understand the process. And that’s when I about lost it internally because we leave there at 3 p.m. And the 2:30 appointment gets in at 3.

Now, yes, that was his own fault. He was a little late to his appointment. However, it’s possible he came from Northern Polk county, where they had upwards of nine inches of snow in about two hours. Worse, she refused to make the 2 p.m. Karen family wait for us, but she made the 2:30 appointment wait for us, and WHY NOT JUST LET US GET IT DONE AT 2 P.M.? It’s not the process I don’t understand, lady; it’s your damn logic.

*screams internally* What should’ve taken fifteen minutes (apparently) took us two hours. I was exhausted, angry, and grumpy at the end of it. But it was done, and now we wait.

Except it’s possible I got myself a souvenir from this lovely post office, typical government bullshit experience. A couple days later, I notice a mildly sore throat and fatigue. Immediately, I was like, “Ah, shit.” But because I have other health issues that could’ve caused this, I tried not to panic. This morning–three days after our post office fun–I woke up stuffy with a sore throat, a headache, fatigue, and coughing. Before getting up for the day, I decide to get tested. I schedule it for a few hours later.

The experience itself is a post I’ll save for another day, but I should have my results anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. In the meantime, I’m staying home and trying to keep myself in my office even though Hubster probably has it already if I do. (Yes, I’ll share the results when I get them.)

And this is the gist of it. We got passports because we wanted to flee Donald Trump’s America, and I might’ve gotten COVID as the souvenir. That’s the kind of world we’re living in. It’s one where you try to escape a growing sentiment of hatred and end up the victim of an uncontrolled pandemic. It’s one where you’ve done your best to stay home for seven months, wear a mask in public, socially distance from family and friends, keep informed about best practices, raise awareness about elections, and vote with two hours of research to still end up feeling sick and having a swab up the nostrils.

Donald Trump’s America means choosing between a cough or a coup, death or defecting. And I’m over it.

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