So, Ava was sobbing in despair at the Sydney Airport, and Jason and I were discussing our options. There weren't many. He said the customs officials thought that we might be able to get some sort of extension stamp on Ava's passport. I'd never heard of that, but I told him I'd call the US Consulate in Sydney and figure it out.
I had a huge pit in my stomach. Ava was so disappointed--we'd been prepping her for this trip for months! Please God, I prayed, Help us find a way to get her to Manila. I ran over to the computer and started looking for a contact number on the Consulate website. While looking, I read that they would only process passport applications from 8:30-11:30am Monday through Friday. It was now 10:30 on Friday morning. That didn't sound so good. The only number I could find was the "Emergency Contact" number. Before giving you the number, the website was very helpful to tell you what constituted an emergency and what didn't. I guess too many American tourists are calling the emergency line when they can't find any Dr. Pepper anywhere in Australia. (Now that is indeed tragic but not technically, I guess, an emergency.)
Specifically, you had an emergency if an American had died overseas, been implicated in a major crime, or if your passport was lost or stolen and travel was imminent. We didn't exactly fit those criteria, but I figured I'd go for it anyway. It was an emergency to us! (That's so very American of me, isn't it?)
I rang the emergency number and talked to a guy named Rob. I explained our situation and then expected to be told, "Too bad, come in Monday, there's really nothing we can do right now." Something like that, you know? But you know what? He was helpful. God bless us every one, Rob came to the table. "If your husband and daughter can get here from the airport by 11:30, and you can come in too, we can process an emergency passport for her." He told me he'd let security know that we were coming. Gotta love a can-do spirit! I thanked him and called Jason. "Get on the train and head to the Consulate! I'll meet you there. You have to be there in 50 minutes!"
I should add at this point that the Consulate offices are in the middle of downtown. A part of the city that I've never driven to by myself. It's a good 40-45 minutes from our house, surrounded by one way streets, snarly traffic, with nearly impossible parking. I was already sweating, and we hadn't even left the house yet! I grabbed my passport and Ava's birth certificate and dragged a reluctant Nate and sleepy Grace downstairs to the garage. I ran next door to my lovely neighbor Jules, basically tossed Grace into her arms, and Nate and I took off for the city.
All the way down, Jason and I are calling each other. He and Ava were on the train. Ava was still crying, bless her. We were giving status reports. You have to get new passport photos taken when you get there, I told him. There's a photo place on Level 6 in the same building. You can't turn right on King Street, he told me. It's one way. Later he called me. "We got the photos done, but it's a 1o minute wait. We've got to get upstairs to the consulate. You'll have to pick up the photos when you get here."
Meanwhile, I am in the city, doing a giant, convoluted circle around the building we need. I can't turn the way I need to, cause all the streets are either "no right turn" or "no left turn" or "too bad, sucker!" or "one way" going the other way. I impose a vow of silence on Nate and drive like a maniac. I get honked at a few times. But finally, FINALLY, I find the entrance to the underground parking and we get a spot. Pause and reflect. This in itself is a miracle.
It's 11:30 now. I can't call Jason, cause he's already in the consular offices and you can't take your phone in there. Nate and I run--and I mean run--into the building and take the elevator to Level 6. This is a huge office building, and Level 6 is a food court with lots of stores on the fringes. We run from one side to the other, pick up the passport photos. We run back through the food court and go up two different sets of elevators until we get to the security check for the Consulate.
The security check is on a separate floor from the rest of it. They take your name, you walk through a metal detector and leave your bags, and then you get on another secure elevator that takes you up to, like, the eleventy hundredth floor to the Consulate.
Nate and I join Jason and Ava in there, and we are the only people there. I guess they'd closed for appointments already. Jason had already filled out the application, I handed Rob (I think it was the Rob) Ava's birth certificate and photos, and I signed the application. I was still waiting for something to go wrong. But they said, "Okay this will take about 30 minutes, and then we'll give you guys the passport." Really? You do not require a lock of my hair or something? No eye of newt, or a goose that lays golden eggs? Nope. They were actually going to do it for us.
I took the kids downstairs to eat lunch while Jason waited for the passport. And sure enough, 20 minutes later he came to join us, new passport in hand. I'll fast forward through the rest of our wrangling and cut to the chase. The airline put Ava and Jason on the next day's flight to Manila at no extra charge. Jason said the lady at the desk felt so sorry for Ava that she told her not to worry, that they could come back the next day and she would take care of them. And as I write this, they should have just landed in Manila. A day late, but they made it!
I am so grateful it worked out. I got my Consular Miracle after all. Imagine if I'd called a little later--they would've been closed to appointments already and then we would've had to wait out the weekend. It was just such a pleasant surprise to find a bureaucratic organization that actually helped us. When we needed help. Woo to the hoo!
Now, I don't know if the US Consulate in Sydney has Google Alerts, but guys? You rock. You saved our bacon. And Rob? You're my boo. I just want you to know that.