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Cynthia Wisehart on Collaboration

This is a story of swag. And of people doing their jobs and collectively saving me from an emergency of my own making.

On the morning we were to travel to his mother’s funeral in the UK, my husband was checking us in online when he realized my Covid-dormant passport was expired. Our flight left the ground in seven hours at 4:30 from San Francisco. Our flight from Santa Barbara to SFO left at 2.

I got on the phone and the human chain began. First, the State Dept operator did not give up until she found me the only same-day emergency passport appointment in California—in San Francisco as it happened. I left immediately for SBA to get an earlier flight to SFO. Second person in the chain reschedules me on the 10:45, arriving SFO at noon. Third person in the chain—Lyft driver— whisks me to the federal building in downtown San Francisco. Security at the federal building doesn’t have to let me in until 1:15. It’s 12:30. He lets me through early so I can use the passport photo booth on the ground floor. The passport photo woman asks me if I want a minute to do something with my hair. I don’t.

It’s 12:50 when I get upstairs to the passport office. The seventh person waves me over to his counter. “It’s ok I can take you now.” Except I only have proof of my emergency on my phone. (“We need email. Or fax.”) He advances my application to the next step even though it’s technically incomplete. “You have about 10 minutes to send that email before the next clerk calls you up.” Eighth person takes over my application. She signals that she’s deaf. I drop my mask so she can read my lips. On a scrap of paper, she writes one word in red pen: WAIT. Here’s where the swag comes in. There’s no power in the room and the phone I will need to call my Lyft is under 10%. In my bag I have my Shure survivalist phone charger from InfoComm 2019 (and an energy bar). A security guard walks over. “You can’t eat in here,” Then he says: “As soon as I let the first person in for the 2:30 pickups, you walk there to the front of the line like you belong there.” But at 2:30 a clerk is telling me, “Your passport is nowhere near ready, you’ll need to come back and get in line again for the 3:30 pickups, it might be ready then, but….” The guy behind the next window interrupts her and hands me a printout. “Listen for this number. Don’t leave.” At 3:25 I have a passport, and a charged phone. The Lyft driver is there when I hit the street. It’s rush hour, but he’s an expert and we get to SFO at 4:05p. The automatic kiosk to passport control won’t open when I scan my boarding pass because it’s too late. A British Airways staffer lets me through. She didn’t have to. She hands me a pass stamped Priority. “Run,” she says. “I’m calling the gate.”

As I sank into my seat next to my stunned husband, I counted it up: our miracle took twelve kind people and one handy piece of swag. You can never truly know what good you’ve done when you do your job, including when your job is picking the swag.

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