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Red Tape: Round 3

January 2, 2007

Don't worry, you haven't missed Rounds 1 & 2…I just haven't written them yet!

    My New Year's Resolution this year is to do one thing everyday that I have never done before. Some of you who are fans of "Friends" might recall that Ross once made this exact same resolution, and the results were…iffy, at best. Have no fear. I assure you that leather pants will not enter into this in any way. That being said, I would like to point out that it is only the second day of the New Year, and already I am doing new things in spades.

    Everything you are about to read took place prior to 12 Noon, Spanish Time, on January 2nd, 2007.

    Let's start from when I woke up this morning, at 5:30 am (that's about 11:30 pm East Coast). I was showered and dressed by 5:45, and out the door at 6:00, much to the surprise of my host mother, who was barely out of bed yet. I caught the C2 bus to the Plaza de España, where I entered into a line of about 30 people who were already waiting (I assume that the line must start forming at closing time the prior day) outside the door of the Oficina de Extranjeros.  I settled into a comfy corner of a closed door, and basically stared at the sky for two and a half hours, wondering why the hell I had gotten out of bed so early in the middle of winter.

    When the doors opened at 9:00 am and I looked at the sea of people waiting in line behind me, I remembered.

    It took another 20 minutes to get from my initial waiting point to the ticket desk, and then I received my pink number…88. This worried me a bit until I saw the first number of the panel, 87. Things were going well. I settled into a chair, took off my scarf, and double-checked all of my materials. Passport, check. Two color photos, check. Letter informing me of my appointment for January 2nd, 2007 between the hours of 9 and 2, check. 5 Euro and 48 cents to pay for this stupid thing, check. I was ready to go.

    But (and we all knew this was coming) I wasn't ready enough. I entered the long, hallway-like room where the appointment was to take place, and was seated across the desk from a matronly-looking woman with big fluffy curls, large glasses, and tiny lips painted a fierce pink.
    "Good morning," I greeted her (you will have to imagine the Spanish, I'm afraid). "Happy New Year." She blinked at me a few times, her eyes amplified behind the coke-bottle lenses.
    "Same to you," she said finally, and held out her hand for my papers. I turned them over. She regarded them for a long minute, and then regarded me with the same slight disdain. "Why haven't you paid for this?" I looked at her blankly.
    "What do you mean?" I asked steadily.
    "You have to pay for this at the bank." She looked at me as though thinking, "And everyone knows that". I cleared my throat thoughtfully before asking,
    "Which bank?"
    "Any bank."
    "Oh," I said, rather uselessly. She sighed.
    "Here's what I'll do," she said heavily, as though this were costing her an awful lot, "I'll get it all ready for you, we'll have you sign it, and then you go to the bank, pay, and come back as soon as you can." That sounded good to me, and I told her so. She took my passport to look at, and then my photos to crop ("Next time have these taken from farther back," she said, "I can hardly see your ears."), and finally she asked for my right hand. I stretched it across the desk, and she seized my right index finger, rolled it in ink, and stamped it in a few places on the page. Then she handed me a napkin to wipe the excess ink. I cleared my throat again, lost for words. I didn't even know her name.
    "That's all," she said, and I was dismissed.

    I left the Plaza de España and headed off in search of a bank. This was the third time I'd had to go wait for this stupid residency permit, and I was going to get it today come hell or high water. I laughed to myself a bit about the fingerprinting…there's a first time for everything, I suppose. I don't think the US government even has my fingerprints. Oh well. New experience number 2 of the day: The Bank.

    Any bank, she had said, and I intended to find out whether or not that was true. As I came up around the corner of the Avenida, I spotted an IberCaja out of the corner of my eye. Beautiful! A bank. I scurried across the street and ducked in the door, and then…I stopped in the doorway briefly. Where were all the tellers? A quick scan of the room informed me that this bank at least, did not function like the banks in Kansas, Toto.  To my left was the office of the Director, where a very pompous looking man sat puffed up behind his large desk,  prattling on to the couple seated in front of him. I passed 4 empty desks along the left wall of the room, one of which a cleaning lady was currently scrubbing, and walked towards the two occupied desks at the back wall, one of which was marked "Caja" (Bank), and I assumed that that was the place to go. Luckily for me, the banks in Spain are much better organized than the Immigration Offices, and I was paid and on my way with the correct paperwork in a matter of minutes. (Many thanks again to the charming ladies of the IberCaja on the Avenida de la Constitución).

    Back to the Plaza de España, where I waited for another number, and then waited for my turn. Finally I was back in front of my favorite lady, handing her the official proof of my payment.
    "Did you wait in line?" she asked me. I looked at her askance.
    "Yes," I said, "But not very long." She smirked.
    "I told you that you could come right back in without waiting, didn't you hear me?" Now the smirk was a grin. I smiled back thinly in return, thinking that she must have whispered it when I was about 100 feet outside of her office.
    "Bad luck," I joked lamely. She stamped a few more pieces of paper, blew her nose, and pulled a bunny out of a top-hat before finally handing me my card. I looked at it. I looked at her. She smiled.
    "Come back in 45 days with your passport to get that renewed. You'll have to wait for a green number then." I looked at the puny scrap of paper that I held between my twitching fingers, thinking that I had done an awful lot of running around for such a dinky reward. She smiled.
    "That's all!"

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