June 4

Passport fiasco finale

8  comments

I went to pick up the kids last night at DFW airport. Our son called as I was pulling into the airport to tell me they were on the ground and taxiing in. He said that he wanted to let me know they were down because they were informed on the plane that all cell phones had to be turned off while going through customs or they would be confiscated. What’s the rationale for this? Who knows? Because they can?
I had our daughter-in-law’s passport with me in the car so in case she was hassled my son – who had a valid passport – could come get hers and take it back so that she could get through.
After about 45 minutes of my waiting curbside, they showed up. Here’s what happened in passport control:
They came through and my son showed his passport then my DIL showed her certified birth certificate, driver’s license, marriage license and the copy of the passport we faxed her.
The following conversation took place:
Passport control jerk: Why don’t you have a passport?
DIL: I applied for a renewal 6 weeks ago and it hadn’t come by the time we left.
PCJ: How did you get this copy then?
DIL: They faxed it to me.
PCJ: Who is ‘they?’
DIL: My inlaws, who are at our house staying with the kids. My passport came while we were gone. They were going to FedEx it to me, but FedEx said they couldn’t guarantee that it would get to me before I left, so they faxed me a copy.
PCJ: What name are you traveling under?
DIL: My own name: Eades.
PCJ: I see his name (nodding toward my son) on the list, but not yours.
My son tries to hand him the boarding pass with the DIL’s name on it. PCJ doesn’t bother to look at it.
PCJ: What is your date of birth.
The DIL tells him.
PCJ looks over her birth certificate acting like he can’t find it.
DIL: (pointing) It’s right there.
PCJ: Go on through.
Despite the snotty, condescending it’s-my-job-to-protect-our-border attitude, the PCJ never looked at her driver’s license or the faxed copy of her passport, which were the only picture IDs she had. He looked at her birth certificate for her date of birth and that was the sum total of all the document checking he did.
In a perfect world inhabited by true civil ‘servants’ (there’s a real oxymoron for you), the PCJ (who wouldn’t have been a jerk) would have said something along the lines of:
We’ve really been overwhelmed with people applying for passports. Don’t feel bad. Your not the first to come through like this. I’m really sorry for all the hassle you’ve had. Come on through and welcome home.
Ah, well, it’s nice to dream.
The DIL wasn’t hassled either coming or going by the Mexican passport people. And she didn’t have to bribe anyone either.
Except for the angst caused by the passport’s not arriving on time, the trip went well.


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  1. This just says so much about the level of training of employees nowadays. I find rudeness at all sorts of places where customer interaction is involved–it’s as if some global force decided to do away with courtesy. I was in France this time last year, and found all airport employees to be not overly friendly, but calm and polite. Is it too much to ask that kind of behavior of our own airports?
    I find that since 911, some people have given themselves the right to seem obtuse, covert, and rude, as if their overbearing behavior is going to protect us better from terrorists. I don’t think your DIL felt better about terrorism being treated that way!
    Hi LC–
    Unfortunately, you’re right.  Civility is a lost art it seems.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  2. My only experience with customs people down there was quite the opposite. I was in El Paso a few years ago, and about a dozen coworkers and I walked across the Mexican border to Juarez. On our way back to the US, after way too much cerveza, we walked right through. The so-called border guard didn’t even examine our (Canadian) passports.
    Hmmm.  Probably wouldn’t have worked out that way had you flown in.  I’ve walked across the border myself many times with no passport check, but not recently.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  3. I’m sincerely glad your DIL made it home safely. Having lived in Mexico, I can assure you that you do not want to be in a position requiring mercy…and you think OUR civil servants are difficult!
    Speaking of which, I am amused by the level of kindness and tolerance you expect from people when you evidently do not extend the same courtesies to them:
    “In a perfect world inhabited by true civil ’servants’ (there’s a real oxymoron for you), the PCJ (who wouldn’t have been a jerk) would have said something along the lines of:
    We’ve really been overwhelmed with people applying for passports. Don’t feel bad. Your not the first to come through like this. I’m really sorry for all the hassle you’ve had. Come on through and welcome home.”
    In a perfect world filled with compassion, you might have said:
    Wow, I appreciate that you – who are merely trying to do a job, and improve your personal circumstance to the best of your ability, even while you stand there for 8 hours a day on weekends, holidays, and in the middle of the night, quite possibly lamenting some personal decisions made in the later years of high school that did not afford you the luxury of medical school or even higher education at all – must now suffer the indignities and retributions of thousands of frustrated, tired, and cranky passengers who cannot follow seemingly simple directions. I’m sorry for all the hassle you’ve had. Thank you for being there to help protect our sovreign borders. I’m glad someone has the gumption to stand up to this otherwise unrewarding job.”
    And, no, I am not a government employee. I am educated and well paid – but I embody compassion for everyone. Life is difficult for everyone, and compassion is not a quality that needs to be earned or deserved. It doesn’t mean people are not accountable for their actions, but thinking of people as jerks is a personal choice on your part that only fosters further ill will. The world would be so improved if everyone could think of other people as whole individuals and not personal irritants.
    And that said, I have compassion for you as well, and genuinely wish for greater understanding and tolerance from you. Doctors are held in such high esteem as being unselfish caregivers, that it makes me shudder more than just a little to know that beneath their veneer of caring, they may be cursing the ineptitude of their own patients…or are the people who give you money held in a separate regard?
    Hi Audra–
    You wrote:

     I am amused by the level of kindness and tolerance you expect from people when you evidently do not extend the same courtesies to them…

    You may not believe this based on my response to your last comment, but I do extend kindness and tolerance to pretty much everyone I meet.  I am certain than whenever anyone who has dealt with me on anything comments on me, the comment would be: He’s a really nice guy.  Now people may think I’m dumber than dirt or irresponsible or unreliable or crafty or cunning or devious or whatever else, but I would bet they would follow up any such criticism with: But he’s really a nice guy. 
    Yesterday I interacted with at least 40 people – including members of the TSA – and every interaction, save one, was pleasant.  The one exception was a TSA agent, and the interaction wasn’t really unpleasant, it just wasn’t really an interaction.  As MD and I were headed into the security area at the DFW airport, the TSA agent (a young female) doing the initial ID/boarding pass check before allowing people into the line to go through the screening simply stuck out her hand for our IDs and boarding passes.  No ‘Hi’ no ‘Hello’ no nothing.  Just a dull look and her face and an outstretched hand.  We gave her our stuff–I actually said ‘Hi’ and got no response, not even a dull stare.  She checked our IDs with our boarding passes, made her cryptic little marks on the passes, handed them back to us without a word or even raising her head and looking at us, then stuck her hand out toward the next person in line.  I didn’t go ballistic; I didn’t make a nasty remark; I didn’t say something smart like ‘Thank you so much for all your help and attention.’  I just took my stuff and moved on.
    Civility is a dying art.  And, unfortunately, it seems that it is dying at the greatest rate in the group of people that we pay (by our taxes) to help us, i.e., government employees.  And that annoys me.  If I were paying an employee who dealt with me with sullen indifference I would fire him/her.  But I have no choice but to belly up to the bar and endure it with the public ‘servants.’
    I don’t mean to imply that all government employees are losers.  I’m sure there are hard working dedicated ones, but I’m also sure that these represent a minority.  In most endeavors about 20 percent of the people perform 80 percent of the work.  In the private sector the other 80 percent of people (those producing 20 percent of the work) can be replaced until (assuming a well-managed business) most of the people are contributing.  Not so in government.  The 80 percent on non-significant contributors keep their jobs and continue contributing minimally while the 20 percent who are the hardworking fireballs end up leaving for the private sector where they can be compensated for their efforts.  So both the public and the private sector start with the same 20 percent/80 percent breakdown (a la the Pareto principle), but in the private sector (assuming good management) the trend is toward greater than 20 and less than 80 whereas in the public sector it goes the other way with what started as 20 percent of contributors/80 percent slugs moving rapidly toward greater than 80 percent slugs.  It’s the nature of the game.
    You also wrote:

    Doctors are held in such high esteem as being unselfish caregivers, that it makes me shudder more than just a little to know that beneath their veneer of caring, they may be cursing the ineptitude of their own patients…or are the people who give you money held in a separate regard?

    Which is a valid question.  I had a crisis of conscience over this very thing and ended up changing careers because of it.  I started out working as an emergency room physician.  I thrived on all the action: the big car wrecks, gunshot wounds, bad injuries, deadly illnesses, and all the conditions that those who watch ER and other TV shows believe are the hourly routine of big emergency rooms.  But those are not the reality.  The reality is that many people consider the emergency room as a place to go not just for emergencies, but as a place to go when ill and they don’t want to go see a regular doctor.  And many people figure that the ER probably won’t be busy at 3 AM, so that’s when they decide to go with their sore throat that they’ve had for two days.  Problem is the ER doc (who works 24 and sometimes 48 hour shifts) may have just gotten to lie down for the first time all day.  Then here comes someone with a sore throat he or she has had for days.  It can get annoying.  And most of the stuff one sees in ERs are of the sore throat, urinary tract infection, upper respiratory tract infection (the common cold) variety, not the high drama.
    As I worked more and more in the ER I got more and more aggravated that people weren’t using the ER for what I thought they should be using it for.  I started getting a little short with people who came in in the middle of the night and got me out of bed (where I may have been for maybe 30 minutes) to treat some minor problem they had had for days.  Once I had a bad heart attack come in and just as I was finishing dealing with it, a car wreck hit the door involving a (and this is right out of a sit com) German couple on vacation who couldn’t speak English and a van full of people being transfered from a institution for the mentally disabled.  Everyone was hurt and no one could communicate.  I had bleeding screaming people everywhere and it was I and only I on the deck to care for them.  I had to make about a zillion judgments as to who had life-threatening injuries, who could be put on hold for a while, and who was basically okay but just shaken up.  And I had to do it without being able to communicate verbally with any of the patients.  As you might suppose, it was a stressful couple of hours for little ol’ me.  I got all these people triaged where they needed to get to, and got the ones that I could deal with myself, i.e., those needing suturing or splinting or whatever, lined out so that I could begin fixing them up.  Before I started working on them all, I stopped for a minute to catch my breath and have a quick cup of coffee.  When all this chaos had hit the door, the ER waiting room was full of all the people who had come in for routine things that should have been seen in their own doctor’s offices.  After all these folks saw the carnage hit the door, they realized that they wouldn’t be seen for hours so they all left…except for one lady.   I decided to deal with her before I started the couple of hours of suturing, casting, etc. work I had ahead of me.  I asked her what her problem was and she told me that “her nerves were shot” and that waiting around for several hours during the preceding catastrophe hadn’t helped her situation.  She was seeking a prescription for some kind of tranquilizer.  Valium was the drug of choice back then.

    I pretty much lost it.  I asked her if she thought an emergency room as the place to go when one had a little bit of anxiety.  I told her to follow me.  I took her back to where there were moaning patients and blood everywhere, and I said, “look around.  This is what an emergency room is for.  It’s not to take care of someone with a little anxiety.”  I then told her to go back and wait and when I got finished with the ‘true’ emergencies that I would see her…if she were still there.  She, of course, left.
    After I had treated all the patients needing treatment my shift was almost over.  I left and thought about the situation long and hard.  I realized that I had done the lady a great disservice and I was really ashamed of myself.  But I realized that the problem was that my concept of the purpose of an emergency room and that of the majority of users of emergency rooms was vastly different.  And that situation wasn’t going to change.  And I couldn’t change it a patient at a time by being rude to them.  So, I determined that my choices were to buck up and take the patients as they came or quit the ER.  Knowing my own personality, I decided to quit doing ER work and went into a regular practice.
    I felt that my cognitive dissonance between what I thought an ER should be and reality would engender other hateful responses on my part, especially if I were tired and stressed.  I didn’t want that to happen so since I couldn’t change that situation, I changed my situation. I started a regular practice, which I really hadn’t wanted to do since I enjoyed the freedom that ER work afforded me: a 24 or 48 hours shift here and there and a lot of time off and no call.
    And it’s my feeling that if people hate their jobs and, as a consequence, they are rude to their customers, which in the case of government employees is us, they should change jobs.  And I don’t particularly have a lot of compassion for rude, surly, sullen people.  Especially when I think the system has engendered them. I certainly didn’t have compassion for myself when I was rude and sullen.

    Cheers–
    MRE 

  4. Just as I was about to leave for work today, some congresscritter on CSpan was talking about how all passport offices are glutted with requests-some are having four hour waiting lines! It seems that more than ever, people are aware of the need for passports and are requesting them. This particular congressman was talking about some kind of facilitation, but I’m not clear if he was asking for writing a new bill, or if something is already in the pike.
    I thought I’d let you know, because the glut in requests would certainly explain the difference in service between mine five years ago, and your DIL now.
    Hi LC–
    Thanks for the heads up.  Maybe something will get done about the situation.  Especially if it will give someone in the gov’t a chance to grandstand.
    Best–
    MRE 

  5. Michael, thank you for sharing your crisis of conscience. I like you a lot better, and have also had a good long look at myself through this brief discourse – not all favorable, but indeed enlightening – and for that, I am also indebted to your attentions.
    I often muse over the god-like status that is automatically granted to doctors (but not nurses) in our society, and wonder that more people do not recognize them as very human, with worries, anxieties, self-doubt, the ability to make mistakes, and possessing the whole array of fleeting emotions that pass through the human spirit in any given day. Sometimes I think there must be a first year med school class entitled “Deism 101” followed by the elective course “Ego 102”. Of course, a certain degree of detachment is critical to success in that profession, lest you be consumed by the suffering (and ineptitude) you encounter on a daily basis.
    So it was very heart-warming for me to read your account of your self-reflection. You were fortunate to realize that you had the opportunity to change your situation. Alas, so many people cannot see a way out of uncomfortable situations, and do indeed suffer from the melancholy and subsequent poor demeanor that accompanies feeling trapped by circumstance.
    I wish you continued success in your spiritual growth and in all your endeavors.
    Kind Regards,
    Audra
    Hi Audra–
    I’m glad we’re friends now.
    You can probably quit worrying about the Godlike behavior of doctors because it’s pretty much dying off with the generation right before mine.  It used to be that doctors made great incomes and, consequently, everyone who was smart wanted to be a doctor.  Why?  Because usually brains follow money.  When I got in to medical school it was at the time that it was the absolute most difficult to get in (and I got in not because I was so smart, but because I was so tenacious), and my classmates (and I, too, I’m sure) developed the God complex because we had achieved what the other thousands and thousands of people trying to get into medical school hadn’t.  We were in, and, by God, we were full of ourselves.  At that time, law school and MBA programs were for those who couldn’t get into medical school. (Let me hasten to add before I get inundated with hostile comments from people whose first choice of career was law or business that not all who chose that path were unable to get into med school.  It seemed that all my friends who couldn’t get into med school chose either law school or another graduate school, primarily a MBA program.)

    Now, it’s all changed.  All the whiz kids who want to make the big bucks go to law school and/or an MBA program.  It’s still not a shoo in to get into medical school, but it’s nothing like it used to be.  The demand isn’t there on the part of the students.  Why?  Because doctors don’t make enormous incomes like they used to.  I know kids right out of law school who make more money than do physicians with several years of training beyond medical school.  These income discrepancies will erase any Godlike notions from most doctors in a hurry.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  6. “congresscritter”
    LOL, LCforevah, I’m going to have to borrow that term from you.
    I know the government employees under discussion here are mainly federal and the same attitudes can be found at state and city level, but there is one group of government employees that are generally exempt from the bad attitude bunch and those are library folks. I worked just as hard at the library as I do now in the private sector for a horde of attorneys with the same expections of delivering high quality service. And even though it was difficult to do so, problem employees did get fired at DPL. I’d still be there today (with the truly great benefits) if the handwriting hadn’t been on the wall that the cataloging dept. which I loved working in was going to be pretty much eliminated and the cataloging outsourced. That did indeed happen about a year after I left with nearly all of the department being laid off.
    Anyway, I’m glad that your son and his wife made it back ok and that you and MD got home without any airline snafus.
    And to me, a smart person is one who can step back and realize when things aren’t working out and change course like you did when you were in the ER.

  7. Esther, I got that term off a progressive talk show because, let’s face it, exasperation with our Congress is a bipartisan thing.

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