(Warning: This was typed by a very sleep deprived man)
Last month, the court case that removed my ability to get a passport came to an end. I assumed that at that point, I was allowed to do all the things that had been legally kept from me. Drive a car, use my bank account, get a passport, etc.
In June, Danielle and I took a ferry (I live far away from everything and must take a ferry into the city for many things) to the passport office to order passports at $90 each so we could go to ConnectiCon. Just to be sure, we paid the extra $30 each to get the "express" treatment so we'd be sure to have them in time for the convention. We were assured that if there were any problems, they'd call us. If we received no phone calls, we could pick up the passports on the very day that we were scheduled to catch a plane into the USA. Talk about cutting it close!
For two weeks, I jumped every time the phone rang, hoping that it wasn't the passport office. After all, our plane tickets came to $1,500 and were non-refundable. The day before we were meant to leave for the convention, we received a letter from the passport office, telling me that my passport application had been denied because there was a "flag" on my name. The letter was sent the date after we applied for the passports.
I quickly called up the FMEP (who were my old "friends" from the court case who were supposed to remove the flag on my name) and asked what was up. The man I spoke to told me that it was all cleared up weeks ago and perhaps the files at the passport office were just slow to update.
Danielle and I woke up at 4:15am the next day in order to catch the first ferry into the city and be at the passport office as soon as they opened. We brought with us, all our ConnectiCon luggage just in case there was something that could be done and we could dart off to the airport with passports in hand. Once at the office, we waited in line to get a number, then waited for that number to be called at which point we spoke with Gordon, a passport office employee.
After hearing about our situation, he looked me up and discovered that the evil flag was still
on my name! He said that as long as that flag was there, he cannot issue me a passport. And even if he could, it's not likely that it could be ready the same day, but if we wanted to contact the FMEP and "light a fire under their butts" as Gordon put it, we could then pay the $150 '24 hour urgent passport application fee' and try our luck.
"But I've already paid. I paid $120." I said.
"That was your initial application fee and that application was shut down as soon as we saw the flag on your name. That fee is unfortunately non-refundable." Danielle and I looked at each other, knowing that although we had about $160 on us, we needed that money for luggage fees, food, taxis, etc.
I decided to call FMEP from a payphone in the hallway and see if I could light that fire under their butts. I was put on hold, so I waited. I waited at that payphone for half an hour before an FMEP rep named Laura answered. After explaining my situation Laura assured me that the flag should be gone by now. I asked if someone representing the FMEP could call the passport office and tell them that. She said "we don't have the power to do that, only the Department of Justice can do that". I got the D of J's number and called them. I was put on hold and so I waited. I waited at that payphone for half an hour. Then I waited for another half an hour. I hung up and decided to pester Gordon again.
I went back into the passport office (where Danielle had made herself at home, crocheting next to a pile of our luggage), waited in line to get a number, then waited for that number to be called, at which point I was talking to my old friend Gordon who was telling me once more that he didn't have the power to bypass that flag on my name.
I returned to the now familiar payphone and decided to call the mysterious Department of Justice again. This time, I was determined to stay on hold for as long as it took. It took about an hour.
My heart leaped as a man answered. "Department of Justice, before we begin, may I have your social insurance number please?" (For you Americans, a social insurance number is similar to a social security number).
"495..." I began.
"875 234?" Said the man on the phone. That's right, he finished my SIN number for me (No, I didn't just type my real SIN Number online, but the real one was said over the phone).
"Um... yeah, how did you..?"
"Hello Mr. Hunt" I was completely confused at this point. I couldn't understand how he knew who I was.
"I literally just
got off the phone with Laura from the FMEP who called me to explain your situation. I can help you. I contacted the security department and as soon as they fax me the information of your file, I can manually remove the flag on your name."
"Wow, that's great!" I said.
"Yes, you're very lucky that I was in the office. I can have this cleared up by tomorrow."
"Tomorrow? Oh, well I need to be on a plane tonight. Is there any way that was can fix this now?"
"Unfortunately Mr. Hunt, I can't correct the issue until I get that fax and they won't be able to contact me until tomorrow."
"Oh." I replied "Well is there any way that you could..."
"Hang on Mr. Hunt, the fax is here."
"It's here. It just arrived." And five minutes after that comment, this amazing God of a man had removed the flag from my name. He even said "On behave of the Department of Justice, I declare that you are free to obtain a passport without any hindrance."
I rushed back into the office, waited in line to get a number, then waited... well, you know the drill. We gave Gordon our $150 and a few hours later, Danielle and I both had our passports. An awkward phone call to Danielle's amazing parents landed us a $200 loan from them, which would cover the other expenses of our trip.
We bused to the airport, checked in our luggage for $50 and waited until just after midnight to catch the first plane of our trip.
We landed in Minneapolis and were all guided to US customs. Something that we were told we'd have to do before we could catch our next flight into NYC. Danielle and I were ready to pay some kind of duty tax on our items, but we'd done some research and discovered that there was no tariff on books.
An officer pulled us aside and asked us all sorts of questions. I explained about the convention and how Danielle and I were to be guests of honour.
"Where are your work visas?" He asked us.
"What? Wait, we need work visas to attend a convention?" I felt that 'passport office' stress from the day before returning to me.
The officer explained to us that by trying to enter the USA to sell even one book without a work visa, we were stealing work from Americans and breaking the law.
I told him that I'd be willing to ditch all my merchandise and just go to enjoy the convention and he said "no". He said that since I already told him that I was planning to sell some books, I could not enter the USA at this point no matter what I said or did.
He asked us if we'd ever sold any books at American conventions before. Not wanting to make things worse by lying, I told him that we'd attended GenCon in 2007. He told us outright that we were not going to be allowed into the United States and mentioned possible jail time.
"Have a seat and wait right there." He said.
After my court battle, I was now getting used to being told that I might be going to prison. For a guy who doesn't even know how to roll a joint, I sure hear the phrase "possible jail time" a whole lot. This time was different than the court situation though. Having Danielle lumped into that possibility with me was a special kind of fear. As I sat in my plastic chair looking up at the staggering number of American flags that surrounded me (which now looked angry somehow), I began rehearsing certain conversations in my mind..."But officer, she didn't even fill out the customs card, I did."
"Officer, she's not the author of the books, I am."
"Honestly officer, I don't even trust her to touch my merchandise. She has nothing to do with sales."
After awhile, Danielle and I were separated and I was brought into an interrogation room. It was explained to me that Danielle was also being interrogated somewhere else so if we lie about anything, they'll know about it and her and I could be facing five years in prison. I silently hoped that neither Danielle or I accidentally got any facts wrong and end up with unmatching answers.
I was questioned for maybe an hour by Officer C. (you think I'm crazy enough to post his name here?) who asked me about everything. Seriously, everything. When my Father met my Mother, how much money did I make at GenCon in 2007, even this one...
"So why are you a guest of honour at this, ConnectiCon?"
"Uh, well... I'm an author. I guess... I suppose I have a large amount of fans? I mean... I suppose I'm an author of some notability in certain circles." I'm a pretty modest guy, but we're talking about jail, people. I'd have told him that I was the best singer in Canada, if that's what he wanted to hear.
The interrogation was actually a lot like the ones you see in movies. A bunch of times he'd exit the room, leaving me sitting alone in my chair before returning five minutes later. I could vividly picture some cheesy Law & Order group of cops studying me from behind some two way mirror asking things like "what do ya think? Ya think he's lying?". There was no such mirror, but I could still imagine it.
After the interrogation, I was finger printed, photographed, then brought into another room where two officers thoroughly searched me. It was all very professional and I wasn't "violated" or anything but seriously, that was as close to a homosexual experience as I've ever come, and I've had a prostate exam before.
Eventually, Danielle and I were brought into the same room and escorted by Officer C. to a plane that would take us back to Canada. We were not allowed to have our passports returned to us until after the plane landed in Canada.
Despite all of these events, I want to make it clear that the officers Danielle and I dealt with were very professional. No one tazed us or was unnecessarily rude. They were all just very professional and unwavering in their duties. In fact, Danielle and I were both told separately that we were much more co-operative and truthful than what the officers were used to.
So now we're back home safely. I'm so very sorry to those of you who travelled a long distance and paid money that you otherwise might not have to get to ConnectiCon to see us. I also want to apologise to ConnectiCon who paid for a hotel room for Danielle and I that will now not be used.
Given that this whole nightmare has cost us over $2000 and made us no profits, I'll be launching a Tempts Fate this week in hopes of putting a dent in this brand new debt of ours. The riddle door in the last Tempts Fate was very popular, so I'll be expanding on that idea. Hopefully it'll be fun for everyone. My stance on Tempts Fate donations is usually "just reading the comic is support enough
", but this time it'll be a little bit more of the "please help us
Also, the last three days, being a roller coaster of stress and intense negative emotions has shown me something pretty cool. Despite the tears, the fear and the worrying, Danielle and I never once snapped at each other or turned on each other in any way. The entire time, we were nothing but supportive, loving and close. In fact, the worst part of the whole ordeal for both of us was when we were separated and not allowed to know where the other was. I now know that no matter what happens, there's no situation that can cause us to turn on each other.
During the interrogation, I answered as many questions as I could with a simple "yes" or "no". I didn't want to make matters worse by adding any extra details and tripping myself up. I kept this minimalistic answering for as many questions as I could except one. In an environment where an untrue answer would get me thrown in jail, when asked "Is Danielle Stephens your wife?".
I answered "She will be."
As always, thanks for reading.