Yesterday we made our annual trek to the Brazilian Consulate in Los Angeles. This time it was to renew Gabi's Brazilian passport.
We left, as usual, a half hour behind schedule. But I hadn't taken into account that the carpool lane is now open almost the whole way! We flew. And I must admit, I gloated a bit as we zoomed past all the cars stopped in the morning traffic. Which will totally come back to bite me in the ass some day.
I always get a bit nervous when we go to the Consulate, as the people on the other side of the window have all the power, and like for you to know it. One slight misstep and you're out. There is also a security guard at the door who herds people. And you had better go straight to her when you walk in or you will NOT be on her good side. She also likes for her power to be recognized. Luckily, this being our fourth trip, we're hip to how things work.
We were given a number and sent to the passport window right away (no waiting!). We were then sent to get my signature notarized, where we discovered that Gabi's 2x2 passport pictures were the wrong size. Not wanting to deal with another photo shoot, we decided to wait and see if they'd be accepted. When we returned, there was a long line of people waiting for the passport window, but the security guard, who we had wisely befriended, told us to take our number and be next at the window.
A whole hell of a lot happened in the next ten minutes.
1) While Gilberto was waiting for his turn, a woman from a travel agency pissed the Visa window woman off by not having the appropriate documentation for her tour group and for asking too many questions about it. The guard went up to her and told her to back off as she was in jeopardy of being escorted out of the building. The travel agent had to sit down and take another number.
2) The next person was sent back to the end of the line because he hadn't stapled his paperwork. As he was about to staple his paperwork, the guard started yelling at him that staples weren't allowed. Confused, he asked what he was supposed to do, and the guard said, "Can't you see these signs here? They tell you what to do! Read 'em for Christ's sake."
The funny part about this is that the guard, after interrogating you upon entry, gives you a number and tells you to take a seat. Most people, sufficiently intimidated by the authority emanating from her, immediately obey. But that doesn't give them a chance to read anything on the board. If you don't know what to do, you're just out of luck.
3) The next person was sent back to the end of the line because she HAD stapled her paperwork. At which point the guard started yelling again that staples weren't allowed. And could someone please pay her more money to do her job?
4) Gilberto headed up to the window for his turn before the next number could be called.
5) The long line of gentlemen that were in the passport line did NOT like that Gilberto had cut. They rallied together and had a very animated conversation (in English, much to my benefit) about organizing themselves. They figured out who had what number and lined up accordingly, the whole time loudly cursing the nerve of people who think they're better than the system. The guard, instead of intervening, just turned the volume of the Maury Povich show up louder so she could hear over all the commotion.
6) The couple who had the number after us returned from the notary, and after witnessing the rally of men and not wanting to deal with cutting, just asked the guard for a new number. The woman came back and asked if the number was for the right line, and the guard totally lost it. "Are you TELLING ME I don't know how to do my JOB? Do you think I'm STUPID? You were in here before and I gave you a blue and white number then, why would it change now? GO SIT DOWN!" She went and sat down, but made the best face behind the guard's back!
7) The window woman sent another person to the back of the line because she couldn't understand their broken English and didn't want to deal with them anymore.
8) The travel agent had her second turn. Having gotten advice on how to proceed from the people sitting around her, she apologized to the window woman and told her that it was all her own fault, etc. After groveling for a few minutes, she was able to get what she needed.
9) A woman's number was called, but she couldn't find the stub. She was given a new number and sent to the end of the line after being scolded by the guard about losing things.
10) A Brazilian woman came in who didn't speak English. The guard said, "Honey, you have to know what you want when you come in here. Either take a number or take a form, but you need to move on." The poor girl took the number that was shoved in her direction and sat down.
11) Gilberto finished. The men had formed a barrier so that no one else could cut in, but that also meant that Gilberto had to squeeze past them to leave. So he squeezed by, with a big smile of relief on his face that we were done. And totally oblivious to the chaos he had caused and all the mean looks directed at him.
Knowing our luck could change at any time, we hurried out of the building as fast as we could. I don't know how he did it, but Gilberto was able to convince the guy who was helping him to accept the 2x2 passport photos. I don't think the mob would have let us back up to the window if we had gone to get more pictures (which would have turned our hour long visit into at least two).
I felt so bad for all the people who expected some friendly help and found themselves face to face with Security Guard and Window Woman instead, but that was one of the most entertaining days I've had in a long time.