Mr. Mint

Or, how I bought myself a US passport.
posted Tuesday September 16th, 2008 at 16:16:00

While recently writing an article on the AAMAS conference, I was reminded of an incident back in 2002 that, in retrospect, is quite amusing. Although I have publicly recited the story in the past, I have never done so on my website. That, and enduring my incoherent scribblings of six years back makes me want to thrust unsharpened pencils into my eyes.

The prologue is a rather boring and, I must say, embarrassing story, the only pertinent details of which are that I am left in need of a US passport, posthaste.

It's Saturday. My flight bound for Italy leaves Monday afternoon.

Philadelphia, the city from which I was to embark, has a 24/7 passport-related toll-free telephone hotline, which conveniently plays a recorded message on a loop stating, among other things, that the only possibility of getting a passport (forget a same-day passport) is to have an appointment, and the appointments are booked at least two weeks in advance. In order to book an appointment, there is an automated system available through a separate 1-900 (non-toll-free) number. It stated that it was impossible to speak to a human without an appointment.

Thank the lords for the Internets. There is one company that guarantees same-day passports: itseasypassport.com (the website doesn't appear to work anymore). I call their 1-800 24/7 emergency hotline. The number just plays me a recording telling me to call a different number, this time in the 212 area code (New York City). I call the second number and am greeted by woman. Mind you, she does not pick up as if she were a receptionist; she greets me as if I had called her personal residence. Which, it turns out, I had. I ask for Its Easy Passports, prompting her to yell to her husband to pick up the phone.

The proprietor of this well-oiled establishment picks up the phone and immediately asks me, "Do you have a valid driver's license? If so I can get you anything." I explain my situation and tell him that I need a passport. "Do you want a Visa, too?"

Here are the instructions he gave me:

  1. Go to a building in NYC at 07:00 on Monday morning (he gave me the address);
  2. Call a guy named Mr. Mint (he gave me his cell phone #);
  3. Mr. Mint will alert the guards at the entrance to the building to let me in;
  4. Go in and go directly to the 10th floor (all of the other floors are "prisoner holding cells");
  5. Get out of the elevator and across the hall there will be a room with a bunch of forms and a phone;
  6. Fill out the forms and when you are done call Mr. Mint again;
  7. Mr. Mint will come in and take the forms and he will give you a ticket;
  8. Pay Mr. Mint $100 cash; and
  9. Come back at 10:30 and you will get your passport.

As you might imagine, by this point I am very skeptical, so I ask the mystery man how his company ensures same-day passports (without being so rude as to directly ask if the resulting passport will be a forgery). He claimed that his company buys slots of appointments from the passport office and sells them to his customers. I look up the address the guy (whose name turns out to be Dave) gave me and it appears to be the address of the real NYC passport office, so the story checked out.

I decide to try this, as it's my only hope. Sunday night I take the train up to NYC and stay at the Chinatown Holiday Inn. The next morning I walk to the passport office and there was already a line encircling the building. No one in the line spoke English. I enqueue and call Mr. Mint, but he does not answer. Without any other option, I walk to the front of the line and tell the guard that I am here for Its Easy Passports, and by this magic password he steps aside and lets me in. I take the elevator to the 10th floor and, sure enough, Mr. Mint is waiting. Everything went as planned and I hop on a train back down to Philly, got to the airport, and caught my flight at 17:00.

When did you get this passport‽

British Airways attendant

I just had it printed today.

Me

Edit (10-08-2009): I'd like to clarify that, although It's Easy Passport seemed sketchy at first, it turns out to be a legitimate company that provides an excellent service. I would recommend them to anyone in a similar situation to mine.

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