In the words of the Immortal Bard, ‘When shit goes wrong, it goes really wrong.’ (Hamlet I think. I’ve not actually read a lot of Shakespeare.)
And thus it was that less than one week out from our arrival at LAX, I found myself Prince of Denmarked up the arse in Amsterdam following the theft of not only my laptop, camera and other technological accoutrements but all my ID, cash, credit cards and the coup de grace, my fucking passport with the DV1 Visa that was my golden ticket into Wonka World.
In short, I was fucked. I couldn’t leave the country I was in, I couldn’t enter the country I wanted to and, if I didn’t make it to the United States before my entry visa expired in just over a week, there was an extremely probable chance that the last 18 months of methodical bridge burning I had engaged in back home was about to come back and bite me on the arse.
Once the stress vomiting, tearful recriminations and futile bargaining with an uncaring deity had subsided, serious thought needed to be given about what the fuck to do.
Contact the various US and Australian consulates? Yeah, about that. As anyone who has ever tried it knows, phoning a US Embassy ensnares you in Inception-like levels of automated number option loops and if you do make it down to the lowest level of Limbo you get a recorded voice message politely informing you that ‘All your base are belong to us’ and would you kindly fuck off and go look at the website. It’s like the shittest ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ book ever.
What followed was one of the most stressful and testing weeks of my existence (and as a white middle class male I’m no stranger to adversity). Compound the situation with no phone, unreliable wifi and no ID to prove who I was, and I get to use this picture again:
So with no real idea of what to do, I embarked on a slow and desperate investigative process involving days spent on phones, in train stations and internet cafes revealing small nuggets of useful information hidden amongst canfuls of red herrings and bureaucracy. Kind of like Sherlock, if Sherlock was less smart, with worse dress sense and had lost his fucking passport in Amsterdam.
But Mick, I hear you say (I have ears like a frickin’ bat) surely US Immigration had your visa electronically registered in the system? Surely they were just be able to dial that shiz up and see that you were the recipient of a genuine DV1?
You’d think that wouldn’t you? But nooooooo. That is definitely not the American Way™.
It seemed the only real record of my visa was the visa itself and so I needed a new one. However US Visas can only be reissued by the consulate that issued it in the first place, in this case Sydney. Where it was now the weekend #winning. Additionally, the visas can only be issued into full passports not emergency ones. The only place to get a full passport outside of Australia is London, where I currently wasn’t. I’d use the Scanners/Exploding head pic again but I’ve worn out the pixels.
Another part of the problem was that as I hadn’t actually entered the US yet on my visa, I was outside the jurisdiction of US Customs and Border Protection so they technically couldn’t help me. The Kentucky Consular Centre was also a dead end as they only deal with the application processing and once that’s done, so are they.
And where was my loving wife Safka during all of this? Well, right beside me to be honest. To her eternal credit, Saf was hugely supportive and never once mentioned divorce or threatened to abandon me while she went off to start a new life in the Land of Milk and Honey sans Mick. I may or may not however (hint: I did) have mentioned to her in passing that as I was the primary recipient of the visa she was technically unable to enter the US without me and so for better or worse, had to stick it out. Love you babe.
But Friday afternoon, I finally caught a break when someone in the US Embassy in London broke the first law of bureaucracy and answered the phone. Lisa as we shall call her, was amazing. She patiently listened as I sobbed and dribbled my story down the phone before laying out a plan of attack that began with ‘get to London on an emergency passport’ and ended with a promise to make some calls to see what she could do for me.
For the first time in 24 hours, there seemed a glimmer of hope. There was still the very real possibility that I wouldn’t be allowed into the US or even onto the plane at Heathrow, but at least now I had a direct phone number I could call and a feeling that someone in the labrythine clusterfuck that is bureacratic process was on my side. Go Team Me!
By Friday night, I had an emergency passport courtesy of the Aussie Consulate in The Hague and an appointment at Australia House in London on Tuesday to get a full one.
But with all the embassies now being closed for the weekend and our ferry to London not leaving till Sunday, all we could do was try and enjoy our remaining time in
the City of Thieves Amsterdam, albeit beneath a cloud of tumour-inducing stress and worry.
That was actually the weirdest thing about the whole experience. Saf and I couldn’t think or talk about a future beyond the next Wednesday when we were supposed to get on that plane to LAX. The excited conversations we’d been having about ‘what we were going to do when we got to the States’ had been very abruptly curtailed and all we could discuss was what had to happen in the next 5 days and how fucked we were. That’s not a lot of conversation to fill the time with.
Analysis of our situation continued ad nauseam until, unable to comfort each other with any realistic expectation of a positive outcome, long stretches of wordless isolation began to overtake us. This was terrifying on a relationship level and brought its own cornucopia of stress and worry. The silences punctuated by only the most mundane conversation starters (‘What should we eat?/Should we get a hooker? ‘), our minds finally rebelled against the constant redlining of our stress levels and began to paddle playfully in the shallow end of the insanity pool. We laughed overly loudly and longly at the most childish of jokes, and ridiculous attempts at humour became de rigueur, which to be fair, pretty much sums up our entire relationship anyway.
These are the times that put immense strain on a relationship, but can ultimately serve to make it stronger. Hopefully that is what’s happened to us, and I will let you know once Safka moves back in with me.
So 48 hours in Amsterdam. What to do? What. To. Do?
It wasn’t just Hindu Kush and remorse though. We saw some Rembrandt, visited a town with the same name as Safka (which I think technically makes her king of that part of Holland, though it still didn’t help our visa situation) and generally tried to avoid being run down by the multitude of cyclists that rule the Low Countries with an iron fist.
Sunday evening found us at the Hook of Holland boarding the UK bound Stena Brittanica. Ensconced in our cosy cabin, I mused that there really is nothing quite like an ocean cruise (and three bottles of shiraz) to take the edge off your worries.
The gently rocking waves lulled us to sleep as the boat carried us ever onwards on our own personal Journey to the West and Part II of our Trial by Bureaucracy.
END OF PART I