Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Houston, we have a problem.

As always, I must pay homage to a terrible day – two actually – even though they were somebody else’s terrible days.

Yesterday began a two-day nightmare for my cousin Matthew. He tried to board a plane to Israel only to discover that his passport, which was due to expire in less than six months, was not acceptable. The group he was flying with left without him. But let me back up about 6 hours…

Yesterday morning, Matthew was in his apartment on his phone, probably talking to his girlfriend and anticipating his drive to the airport. Suddenly, his front door opened and in walked a stranger, key in hand. They both stared at each other in shock. Turns out the property management company for Matt’s apartment had advertised that his side of the duplex was for rent and given the key to a hopeful client. After awkward explanations were exchanged, Matt drove to the property management place and administered a well-deserved lecture.

It was several hours later that Matt would find himself returning home with his luggage, his friends en route to Tel-Aviv. I had just returned home from taking my dad to the airport for the very flight Matt had just missed when I got a call from my brother Bryan. Bryan, who had been Matt’s ride home from the airport, was driving a borrowed truck. He had been unaware that this truck’s gas meter was broken, until it ran out of gas miles from their destination. Bryan and Matt were now sitting on the side of the road in 106 degree weather. Fortunately, they were only 25 minutes from me.

I rescued them with a gas can, and returned home. Meanwhile, it was determined that Matt would apply for an emergency passport in Houston today and hopefully catch a flight this evening. Getting very used to feeling useful, I offered to drive him. (He had done the same for us on our recent trip to the UK.)

We left my house at 4:30 this morning and arrived at the passport office sometime after 9:00. When it was Matt’s turn at the passport office window, he could barely get his request in before the lady proceeded to lecture him in the rudest manner I have ever witnessed from somebody in a professional setting. She literally rolled her eyes in disgust every time he tried to explain himself. “How long have you known about this trip, sir?...Six months! You had six months…!” And on she went until Matthew was stunned silent and I was ready to go through the window and throttle her, security guards be damned. Matthew is easily the most prepared person – next to my husband – that I know. Had he known that a passport due to expire in four months is considered already expired, had he not used the logic that comes so easily to him which told him that the expiration date is exactly that – an expiration date, he would have had his passport renewed. This lady knew nothing, yet she talked down to him in the most demeaning way. (Think Madea from “Madea’s Family Reunion” without the humor.) The only thing stopping me from telling her off was the fact that Matt was at her mercy.

When she walked away for a moment, I said to Matthew, who had turned very red, “Pray. Just pray. She is out of line.” Then I proceeded to do the same, but when I did, my anger increased until I had to stop and apologize to God for the turn my prayers had started to take.

The lady returned to inform Matt that had he been issued new tickets from Delta, she could have given him a passport today. But he hadn’t. Matt staggered. Delta had told him the very opposite – that he could not get new tickets until he got a new passport. In the end, she told him the soonest he could have his passport was tomorrow at 2:30. This Israel trip is to be 10 days only. Matt had now lost two of them. We were also going to have to find lodging.

We returned to the car where Matt made several calls, meeting with frustration at every turn: Delta said they needed to hear from Matt’s travel agency, but when he called the travel agency he only got the voicemail. He finally managed to reach his travel agent (who is currently in Jerusalem with the group) only to end up having to yell over the singing of a choir halfway through the conversation. It was so loud I could hear it. By now, he was literally shaking. Meanwhile, I sat next to him brainstorming ways to coerce Delta, who had failed to issue him tickets, into paying for our lodging, and to get the lady at the passport office fired. We both sat consumed with our plans until he finally reached Delta.

By the end of Matt’s incredibly long phone ordeal, he had learned that all Wednesday flights were booked and he would have to take a Thursday flight. Now he was missing three days of the trip, but he seemed calmer, because, frankly, I think he had run out of energy to care. I temporarily abandoned my plans for revenge and we went to find a place to eat.

We agreed it was essential that beer be part of our meal, so I searched for breweries in my GPS system. That started the next nightmare, as my GPS system led us in a maze only to end up at a closed brewery. I entered another brewery, and this time we were led through even more of a maze across the city. (We had driven in a similar fashion to find a Starbucks earlier in the morning, and never had found it.)

I finally said: “Watch us end up back at the passport office with the brewery right behind us.”

Matt replied: “That lady from the office will be standing there tapping her foot, saying ‘Not today. Just keep on drivin’.”

We both collapsed into laughter, and I felt my anger fading. By making this lady a caricature, Matt had extinguished my anger in a way prayer couldn’t. God can use anything, including humor, to set our hearts right again. We finally found an open brewery, but it took about as long to find a place to park.

We enjoyed a delicious meal and an I.P.A. beer. Matt talked to his girlfriend for a bit while I read my book, and we left feeling refreshed. We could now head home, as Matt had decided it would be more expensive to find lodging. The plan was (and still is): he will return tomorrow for his passport, and Thursday I will drive him to Austin for his flight.

Now we were in the parking garage, but could not find our car. We ended up looking on every floor (of which there were only four, fortunately) and found it at last. Surely, this was the last hurdle.

Of course it wasn’t. At some point, we realized we were almost out of gas; in fact, the needle had passed the last notch and was almost on the ‘E’ itself. I search for gas stations in my GPS and it showed that one was very close, just a straight shot down the road. However, when we turned the car to exit the parking lot we had pulled into temporarily, the GPS got confused and told us to take a turn. I should have said something – I noticed that the map still showed just a straight shot – but after a U-turn and a long drive to the next exit, we ended up literally feet from where we had been. It was like the fates were nothing but cruel. But at least we had made it. And I had to use the bathroom after the beer and then the Starbucks we had finally found.

I walked into the bathroom and thought there must be some mistake – we had taken a wrong turn and ended up on the backside of hell. I have never seen such a horrific looking bathroom in my life. Even had it been clean it was an eyesore, with rust and mold and cracks and holes, the walls and floor protruding in places as if possessed. Somebody had attempted to flush the toilet at some point and not succeeded…and that’s all I will say about that. I made a concerted effort not to touch, look at or even think about anything in that bathroom, lest I become contaminated.

Once I made my escape, I hurried to the car and dug for my Purell. After slathering on, I rubbed some on the door handle and even on the things I had pulled from my purse to find the Purell. Just as I replaced it, Matthew got in the car. “That was the worst bathroom I’ve ever seen –“ I began.

“So was mine – I need the Purell!” He threw his hand out, looking straight ahead as if recovering from fresh trauma.

We briefly rued the bathroom’s condition, but there was little more to say, and we lapsed into wordless horror until we recovered.

Eventually, we were chatting and laughing again, but then Matt got on the phone with his girlfriend, allowing my mind to drift, and I ended up missing an exit. I got off the next exit and came to a fork in the road, during which time Matt, still on the phone, said, “Circle! Circle!”

“Circle” meant nothing to me, as I wasn’t sure which road made a circle. “Left” or “right” would have sufficed. I went left, and that’s when Matt got off the phone and made me get out of the driver’s seat.

But we made it, safely, and in the end that’s what counts. Matt goes back to Houston tomorrow, and flies out Thursday, so keep him in your prayers.


ByTheBrooke said...

Oh my goodness. Thank God I wasn't there. Because that passport lady would have died and/or I would have been arrested for my sassy mouth alone.

danderson27 said...

You've got to be kidding! That could only happen to you, Naomi.lol.

Naomi said...

Or a cousin of mine. Poor Matthew. It probably wouldn't have happened to him if he weren't my cousin.

K. S. Hogue said...

I am wiping tears!! You guys make quite a team! Oh the horror! I always think this is why Matt is always so prepared for every event, because if anything is going to happen, it WILL happen to him!! Darn Passport Office!