“Now serving ticket H-6 at counter number 11.”
Big Papa and I are at the Office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, USCIS. We are trying to expedite our fingerprints in an effort to extend our approval to adopt, both here and in Armenia. Both countries’ approvals will expire. Soon.
Although we received notice from our government with a fingerprint appointment for later this month, we decide to take our chances as “walk-ins” in an attempt to shave a few weeks off the process. It is 8:00 a.m. in the morning. We arrive, promptly at 7:45 a.m., in time to park in the pay lot (cash only and a $1 more since we were here last year), and walked the surprisingly long walk from the parking lot to the nondescript government building located in the middle of nowhere land south of Boeing Field in Seattle.
I tell Big Papa “Let’s wait a couple hours. Maybe until 10:00 and then, if we don’t get in for the fingerprints, I’ll take you back to work.” I know he has several meetings today that he’d like to make. Frankly the thought of sitting inside these four walls for the remainder of the day is pretty unappealing to me too.
After passing through airport-like security, our bags and bodies scanned, we move to the second check point where we tell the man behind the counter: “Our appointment isn’t until later this month. We’d like to walk-in.” He hands us two numbers–H-16 and H-17–and directs us to the next room to wait until our number is called so we can put our names on the “walk-in list.”
Once our numbers are called by the electronic voice, we queue up behind H-15 and in front of H-18. When we reach the window, we plead our case to the young clerk behind the glass window. She asks us, in a very quiet voice, to take a seat and tells us she’ll alert a supervisor. We sit and wait. An hour passes. Have they forgotten about us, I wonder aloud to Big Papa?
Finally, a smiling-faced man, a supervisor, approaches and asks us to come to his office. He tells us that Seattle’s immigration office is one of the busiest in the county, “Next to L.A.” he says in a matter-of-fact sort of way. We are welcome to wait but there is no guarantee we will be called. He lets us know there are two others ahead of us.
“Sometimes we see a bit of a lull, at 11:00 and then again around 3:00 or 4:00.” I can see Big Papa squirm in his seat.
We head back into the big waiting room, now filled with dozens of people. The sounds of languages from all around the world surround us as we sit and wait some more. And hope. Hope that we will be one of the lucky few (and I do mean few, as we’d just been told by the supervisor that roughly 3-5 walk-in appointments are taken each day) who will be called, before the office closes at 5:00 p.m.
This morning, as we bolted from our house, we did not consider that we might be waiting at the USCIS office all day long. I am grateful that Big Papa has two protein bars and his sandwich, the sandwich that is supposed to be his lunch sandwich. There is no cafeteria, no convenience store within walking distance and the selection in the fast food machine is slim pickings.
I am also pleased that, in my hurry, I’d remembered to bring a book, <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000CDG8EW/ref=as_li_qf_sp_asin_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=pampeandpakhl-20&linkCode=as2&camp=217145&creative=399369&creativeASIN=B000CDG8EW”>Almost French: Love And A New Life In Paris</a><img src=”http://www.assoc-amazon.com/e/ir?t=pampeandpakhl-20&l=as2&o=1&a=B000CDG8EW&camp=217145&creative=399369″ width=”1″ height=”1″ border=”0″ alt=”” style=”border:none !important; margin:0px !important;” />.
At least, for the duration of the time we spend holed up inside the dreary USCIS office, I can be an armchair traveler and let the author’s words take me to Paris. Ah, croissants, French espresso. What I wouldn’t do, right this very moment, for a double, served with a piece of dark chocolate.
At various points during the day, Big Papa and I explore our options: leave and come back another day, bribe someone else in the waiting room to trade places with us, or continue to wait. As it turns out, we continue to wait in this very room, in these very seats, until the clock strikes 2:30. By this time, the electronic bell has chimed many, many times, and the electronic voice has reached number H-162.
When I finally hear a real voice, albeit ushered in a whisper, say “Beth,” I resist the urge to jump and scream “We made it,” and hug the soft-voiced woman behind the glass window who just said the two words I’ve longed to hear a live person say all day: our names. Instead, Big Papa and I high-five each other and stand up. My butt is sore and my patience has worn thin, yet I feel as elated as I felt the first time we came here to get our fingerprints…over three years ago. It’s been a long journey since that day, in every sense.
We walk into the next, and thankfully last, waiting room of the day and another fifteen minutes passes before we hear our names called once again, this time to have our inkless prints scanned. I walk over to where the three fingerprint technicians stand by their fingerprint machines, capable of scanning and then emailing our prints to the Hague unit of the Big Immigration Office in Missouri. Then it’s Big Papa’s turn.
“Is this your first time here?” I hear the fingerprint technician ask Big Papa.
“Nope” he tells her, “Third.”
My technician asks a few questions too. I give her the elevator story on our adoption. Just the bare bones, but still she is intrigued. And sympathetic which, right now, feels pretty good.
And then, it’s over. 6-1/2 hours, one sandwich, a Diet Coke and two protein bars later, we have our fingerprints.
“It’s like a flight to Paris,” Big Papa jokes.
“Oui. Deux cafés s’il vous plait.” I reply, though truthfully I’m feeling like I need something stronger, and boozier, than a double espresso at the moment.
I put down my book, now three-quarters of the way finished. We head to our car which is parked outside the Office of Immigration, in the $7 cash only parking lot, in Tukwila, Washington. It’s been a long day. And, Toto, we are definitely not in Paris.