Saturday, January 20, 2007
Today, I reluctantly began my first adventure related to my upcoming trip to Africa. It may not sound like much, but I traveled 2 hrs by train to Philadelphia's US Passport Office to get some Visa pages added because I was almost denied admission into South Africa last time. Technically, I was "out" of space even though the stamps cross over quite a few empty boxes. But I was advised to get this done so there weren't problems. After all, I am leaving in a few days to go to 3 countries. Using my head, I thought it best to go and get this small point addressed before my Wednesday flight. :)
After arriving in Philly by train nearly 1.5 hrs before my noon appointment, I decided to walk to 2300 Chestnut Street. The home of the US Passport Office - Philadephia. It's only a few blocks from Philly's famous 30th Street Station where I had arrived. 3 blocks to go and almost 90 minutes until my appointment.
After having a fairly lengthy...albeit interesting...conversation with a parking ticket officer (me listening/him ranting) about the demise of service with the rise of technology required for his job, I proceeded across the bridge and into the heart of Philly...the City of Brotherly Love. As I walked away from him, the officer yelled... "I'm going to invent a scan system on license plates and I'll show those techies that make me use these things." To which I smiled, then yelled "that's a good idea" and thought to myself "actually that is a good idea." My first "African" journey was starting off well... slow, non-deliberate, unexpected topics of conversation and interesting people.
When I arrived at 2300 Chestnut Street, I discovered that there wasn't a building with this address. Clearly, I had it wrong. Through the use of that new centerpiece of technology in my life, known as my Treo, I quickly discovered that the actual address was 200 Chestnut Street...over 21 city blocks away from where I currently stood. Now less than 1 hr to go and a city to cross.
Sure I should've taken the subway and saved myself the hassle, but I was preparing for Africa. That slow, soothing, aggravating, conversational pace of life that lulls you into reflection on the subtleties of life. Walking would be good for me. All the way across the city, right through Indedepence Hall and the origins of freedom in America. Zimbabweans long for justice and freedom, so I was finding this all rather entertaining.
45 minutes until my appointment, 21 blocks to go. Dunkin Donuts was there so I had to stop. I love doughnuts. My first stop every time I come back from Africa, if I can help it. A boston creame and glazed are the regulars. The checkout guy was a Yankees Fan. We chatted it up for a few minutes and I listened to him heckle me about this and that and this extra charge for Sox fans and that extra discount for Yankees fans. I smiled, paid, thanked him and was on my way. 39 minutes and 20 blocks to go.
At this point, I realized that I had to hustle. I passed a few homeless people while I enjoyed my donuts and thought about my friends in Africa that wouldn't know what to do with this scence. Me with my donuts and homeless people. Me walking in between stores wooing me in to buy things that I didn't need, radio stations giving out free stuff just for walking by and huge drugstores across the street from each other offering LOW LOW prices on drugs they need in Africa, but can't get. 12th and Chestnut. 10 blocks to go and 15 min.
After passing about 5 more Dunkin Donuts and ignoring (hey...I was in a rush) many more homeless people suffering from 25 degree cold and gusty winds blowing in between tall city buildings, I arrived at my location, 200 Chestnut, a few minutes before noon.
They dutifully screened me at the door and made me go through a few times because I'd forget my change and then watch and then belt and then wallet and then change again (but they let me go after realizing I was not too bright). As if I never travel. My mind was distracted by the contrasts of the place. Powerful, marble building and powerful guards with guns guarding the door... and confused, vulnerable people piling in waiting for instructions on how to navigate the federal passport regulations that were seemingly changing with every international scare or change in color on a chart of terror that I still don't understand.
I must say, though... I was genuinely impressed. My noon appointment was promptly adhered to on their end. My number was called. A mere $60 dollar fee, a signature and 10 minutes later, I was on my way to waiting 2.5 hrs until 2:30pm for my passport to have about 20 pages added.
Seriously... I'm VERY impressed. I didn't have to wait in the building, but could go around and visit and talk and watch the people outside in this city of love. And I loved it. I wandered around. Saw a 20 min movie staring our founding fathers and saw some sites. What a country I live in. What a country.
A good friend of mine lives in Philly and met him for a bit and then we picked up my passport right on the dot...2:30pm. Ready, as promised. The US government delivered for me. I was impressed with the ease of the whole thing, given all the complications world-wide with passports. Genuinely impressed. Did I say that? what a country I live in! Amazing!
During the long walk back to the train station with my friend walking his bike by my side, we talked about a lot of things and came across quite a few interesting people. We discussed his calling in life, his love for Bosnia, and his love for orphans in the world. We discussed cameras and politics...and women, of course. We tried to go ice skating, but it was closed during the day even though it was as cold as it has been all winter. We took pictures of beautiful, soft, innocent pigeons plotting to take over our food supply, with the gentle pictures ironically accented by battleships floating peacefully in the background along the waterfront.
I came early this morning, rushing for some extra pages in my passport. Too busy to be bothered for the trouble. Along the way, I was reminded of just how amazing our country is in so many ways. Amazing how people function and thrive and entertain and provide joy if we allow them to. And I was reminded of just how amazing our creator is and how much he wants us to enjoy the little things...even if we have to take a long way to get there.
I'm more ready for Africa than I was yesterday morning. For that, I'm thankful and I thought I should share.
Blessings to you as you walk the long walks of life and live like an African. Soak it up, my friends. Relationships are all around you.
Written by Ryan - ForgottenVoices.org at 1/20/2007 01:12:00 AM