Last Friday, I went to the US consulate in Toronto to renew my visa. It was quite a trip.
It’s cold. You walk to the gate rubbing your palms. A surly guard points to the cluster of people outside. You get into the line, the tension is palpable. These don’t look like people going in search of a career, an education, a vibrant vacation. These look like people afraid of screwing up. No smiles, no laughter, lest it be taken as a lack of respect for this hallowed ground. Paperwork is obsessively checked, last-minute tweaks, last-second prayers, and then we are filed in.
Security check. Bomb scare posters all over. Commands barked” “Purses out, coats off, keep moving!” People actually scurry, hoping to get through unscathed. A woman with a nail file is made to leave and return without the weapon. We move along.
Paperwork inspected up ahead by two men. Neither’s American, but working @ the consulate has endowed them with the appropriate swagger and scowl. They go through my documents attesting to my birth my education my work my adventures my life and dolefully usher me through, as if they’ve somehow missed a trick.
I pick a number and wait. There’s two tiny TVs at the far end of the room, but screw weather updates, I’m in the middle of a live drama. The counters are manned by ordinary people with the extraordinary power to make or break a road trip, a dream job, college life. The visa applicants just stand and quiver, hoping their answers fit the grade. I see a Chinese man who’s got through the half-hour of checks and the hour of waiting for his number to be called, only to be told by the counter lady that he doesn’t speak adequate English and needs to come back with a translator. I hear the exasperated tones of an Arab man trying to exx-blain that being a pharmacist doesn’t make one a member of the ‘high-technology’ industry, and as such, doesn’t warrant extra documentation. Sorry, bro.
No ones at peace. The only happiness on display is the relieved smiles of successful applicants. My number is called! My knees shaking and mouth arid, I feel like I’m being watched from all sides. It’s amazing how the right attitude can make an airy office room seem like a panopticon. My nervous smile is on even before I reach the counter and I inch forward, praying.
I’ve said it before, the US is an amazing place. And I know security is a pressing issue. Still, there’s no need for the macabre.
Thankfully, my visa was renewed for 10 years 🙂 But it shouldn’t have to be quite so harrowing.