We woke up on Sunday, hyper focused on getting all of our ducks in a row. Printed out all the forms, completed all the paperwork, got my new passport photo taken (it’s terrible), finished up some work, lightened our load by unpacking an outfit. Early in the evening we got back on the train and headed into the city to have dinner with Sarah and early to bed so we could be up by 4:30 and out the door by 5am.
Monday morning we were up and out before dawn, and pretty pleased with ourselves to be the only ones waiting outside the passport agency in the dark from 5:30 – 6:30am when they finally opened the doors. A slow, strange and unpleasant hour with no coffee, waiting outside in the dark and cold, staring through the door, looking for signs of life. But it was worth it because once I got in, I zoomed upstairs and I got the prize. The first walk-in ticket, A#1. We were told to wait in the cafeteria until the office officially opened at 8:30 AM. Another slow, but more comfortable hour- Matt went to Philz Coffee and brought back some pastries which went down fast and easy.
At around 8am the cafeteria and surrounding hallway started filing up, and around 8:30am, security came down and said that due to Friday’s power outage in San Francisco the systems were still down and they were delayed in opening… and then they dropped the news that all of the people who had appointments on Friday but were turned away due to the power outage were now going to be given priority over the people who had appointments on Monday, and those people already had priority over the Monday morning walk-ins.
It was not looking good. My A#1 ticket now felt like Q#47. And in addition to all of these setbacks, we also got a text message with some “Fake News” saying that Trump was punishing sanctuary cities of San Francisco and Miami by closing down the passport agencies. We had thought maybe we’d have a 50/50 chance of things coming together… at this point it was feeling slim to none. With our flight scheduled to leave at 1:55pm, we really needed to be at the airport by 12pm at the latest.
With each passing quarter of a hour we were losing another sliver of hope. Finally, at 10:30am, Matt called KLM, to see if we could pro-actively change our flight to Tuesday or Wednesday. The excellent customer service we received at the airport was the exact opposite of what we got over the phone. The agent told us she could waive the $300 change fee, but we would have to pay the change in fare for the new tickets, and that was going go be $2,000. Per ticket. $4,000 total. Biting my tongue while listening to Matt be Mr. Nice Guy, I seethed “Give me the phone” convinced I could be a more effective advocate… He reluctantly handed me the phone and had to walk away because he was embarrassed to hear me go “Kelarooski” on KLM. As I was assertively making our case, I saw Matt running toward me flailing his arms, yelling “hang up the phone! They are calling walk-ins!”. I dropped the call, grabbed my stuff and ran to the front of the line, waiving my #1A ticket in everyone’s face, “I was here first! Please!! Our flight leaves at 1:55pm!”
They wouldn’t let Matt come in with me, so he had the brilliant idea to go to the airport and see if could have better luck negotiating in person while I worked my magic in the office. He ran out of the office, swung by Sarah’s to pick up our luggage and booked it to the airport.
At the passport office, the tension was thick as I was surrounded by lots of other people – each with their own sad story. But I couldn’t let myself get distracted – while it may or may not have been true, my situation felt more dire than anyone else’s and I had to keep laser sharp focus to get to the front of the line and talk to an agent as soon as possible. No time to spare. I went directly to a woman at the front of the line who looked highly pissed off and irritated. “Excuse me, I’m so sorry, but my flight leaves at 1:55pm, I’ve been here since 5am, can I please…” She rolled her eyes and gave me an annoyed back-handed wave that said “Fine. Go! Just stop talking”.
Though this was hyper real, I didn’t want to miss any opportunity, so I tapped into my acting training. It was a high stakes situation, I had a clear and specific action (to get these beaurocrats to cut the red tape) and knew my cap (I will have a new passport in my hand). No “as if” needed – this was really happening. I pounced on the counter as soon as the last person began clearing up their papers to move on. The tears were flowing freely as I pleaded my case. This is our honeymoon! We are meeting family there from all over the world and we don’t know if we will see them again!!!” All of these were true statements in and of themselves, though I admit the delivery might have led them to believe that hundreds of people were traveling from all around the world to see us get married in Italy and if we didn’t make it, we would have ruined the whole purpose of the trip, and I would never see my great-grandmother again (love and miss you, Babka!).
I met strong resistance but wouldn’t leave one counter until a supervisor came over and approved me to go to the next counter. And then I had to start all over. Three counters and three award winning performances later, I had worked all my magic and they were rushing it through but now I was at the mercy of timing of communication and approval between the San Francisco office and the main office in DC. Nothing to do now but wait.
Meanwhile, Matt was working his magic at the KLM ticket counter at SFO. After several miscommunications about exactly what was happening and what we needed, he connected with a super helpful, super laid-back, super French KLM agent with KLM. He offered to book us on the next flight on Tuesday, and if by some miracle I made it to the airport by 1pm, then he would change our tickets back so we could fly out that day.
It was a total nail biter. We were both standing in front of these counters, feeling powerless to these larger systems and agencies and corporations. Staring at the clock. Adrenaline pumping. Boring holes through the counters and screens with our eyes, willing and praying for things out of our control to come together.
At 12:30pm one of the human beaurocrats called my name, and held up my new passport as I approached the counter. More tears, shaking, and utter disbelief and euphoria that there was still a chance! I could barely text Matthew- “I got it!!! On my way!!!!”
I thanked her and everyone profusely, feeling they were all angels and allies now, and I flew out of that office, through the hallways in that maze of a building, and out to the sidewalk to get a car to the airport.
As I jumped in the car I build I blurted out my story and explained I needed to get to the airport as soon as possible and please please drive as fast as you possibly can.
He nodded and smiled and kind of laughed, and I thought we were in agreement, however given his relaxed pace in driving, I soon realized that he did not speak English and had know idea what I just said. Given my heightened emotional state, I had zero access to my very limited Spanish vocabulary, so I simply made wild directional gestures and said go go go go go go go go go! We cruised through about 14 yellow lights and made it to the freeway without stopping in city traffic once. Bam.
Matt was giving me explicit directions on where exactly I should be dropped off, and which exact door I should go through to find him at the KLM counter. If you are ever at SFO, the exact door was the one smack dab between the words Francisco and International.
I made it to the airport just by 12:57pm, and sure enough the KLM agent printed our boarding passes, we pushed our way through the security line, excuse me excuse me I’m sorry we’re going to miss our flight please let us by, and somehow we made it to the gate by 1:25 PM, and Matt even had time to get us salads again, although this time there was no time for Chardonnay.
Back on cloud nine, we were at the gate, staring at each other and disbelief and amazement that we had somehow pull this off. And as we lined up to board the plane, once again we were stopped at the counter. Something was not right with our tickets. Before we even had time to panic, the agent who had delivered the heartbreaking news on Saturday called us over and resolved the ticketing issue and hooked us up with a row of seats to ourselves.
I gave her a huge hug, and giddy with excitement, we boarded the plane and proceeded to drink wine and champagne, courtesy of the KLM flight attendants (who also gave us a wedding bell as a present) and we watched five movies and saw the most spectacular sunset over Iceland as we made our way to Milan via Amsterdam.
We couldn’t have pulled it off without sticking together and trusting each other and keeping positive, solution focused attitudes. No blaming or fighting or energy wasted. Now more tears, as I looked over at Matt plugged in and absorbed in Hacksaw Ridge. Thinking about getting married to this guy, and what it means to be a team. Team work is dream work. We are a good team, and now with happy hearts, grateful beyond belief, I couldn’t help but feel that somehow going through this ordeal was even a sweeter start to a beautiful vacation.