I was up early; my appointment was at 7.45. The car was picking me up at 7.00 for the short drive to the U.S. Embassy. I had thought of taking the bus -- only a short walk away-- but decided I would have more peace of mind being taken there. When I arrived 15 minutes later, the line was already forming, but the queue was still relatively short. By the time I was weeded out from those applying for visas I was third in line. So far so good.
Fortunately, I had received an e-mail from the Embassy reminding me of my appointment. The e-mail also provided me with some additional information I had not seen on the website and that was that no cell phones, i-pads, PDA's or i-pods were allowed into the embassy. Good thing I knew that because I had made plans to use my GPS to navigate my way there!
There were two young girls behind me also for passports. One, a student, just needed to add more pages to hers, but the other had been in London for a week and on her first day at the school had had her bag stolen with her passport and all credit cards, as well as her computer, and phone and so on. So her entire week had been marred by this very big upset and she was quite worried about what would happen. She was planning to return to the States the following day to sort everything out. Poor girl! I felt so sorry for her, but tried to re-assure her by saying that the embassy would be very sympathetic and that they were always having to deal with this sort of situation and that everything would be fine. The other girl it turned out had had this same experience -- only in Rome a few years ago. From other stories I've heard it is terrible how these thieves really target the young and inexperienced and how much havoc they cause for them.
OK! I was called into the security area and told to put my handbag through the x-ray. As I was getting ready to put my other bag through the guard put my bag on top of the machine and said, "You have a camera".
"No," I said.
"There is one in the bag," she said.
Suddenly, I realized! I'd forgotten my small digital Canon! I'd carefully removed my cell phone, but completely forgotten the camera! I took it out. The guard explained to me that I would have to store it and that that would mean I would have to leave the place and walk up the street a block and a half to a drug store and they would store it for me! When I became totally exasperated and told her to "Just throw it away" she calmly explained that as there were no bins either there or on the embassy grounds I would have to do as she suggested.
I must confess I was on the verge of again turning into a little old lady, but at the same time I realized it would do me no good and I was just going to have to give in to the inevitable. I walked to the drug store, paid 3 pounds and returned to the front of the queue, where they were looking me and let me straight in.
And so in went my bags. I walked through the 'magic' X-ray door and back to the other side of the X-ray. The guard asked to see my keys! I had three sets of keys. The first set he handed back to me. The second and third set, however, had little battery flash lights on the key rings!!!!
"You cannot go into the Embassy with these", he said embarrassed that the keys had not been seen the first time the bag went through!"
I was beginning to think that I was never ever going to get into the building and I would never ever be able to get a new passport! However, much as I wanted to again turn into a simpering little old age pensioner lady -- I didn't. The guard and I discussed the importance of these little flash lights and it was suggested that I could go across the street into the park and dump them into the bin at the gate. This I did.
Again I entered the security room! I placed my bags to go through the machine... Again I went successfully through the X-ray door. And now time I held my breath. And the guards, who were now becoming my mates, were holding their breaths, too! YES! I PASSED. I was allowed onto the grounds and into the building and up to the passport office! And then everything was a piece of cake. I had been slightly delayed -- if I'd gone in the first time, my number would have been '3' now it was '13' -- so not to bad.
And the moral of the story is -- Don't ever go to the U.S. Embassy unless you have absolutely and positively no other choice! By the way, when I went to get my camera two hours had elapsed and you would not believe how many items they had 'stored' for people. I'd just been the first of the day...