My Fudge Up Story #1

It’s been a long time since I have written anything on my blog, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about it. In fact, I have been searching for the ‘right’ direction of this blog since I started it last year. I like posting the occasional cake recipe, review or story, but I felt I needed some ‘anchor,’ something that would be my thing. And I think I have finally found it. Inspired by FuckUp Nights movement, I have decided to start writing ‘My Fudge Up Stories’ about all the entertaining failures of my life (and believe me, there are quite a few of those). And no, it won’t be anything work-related or something, it’s just about me being human and screwing up sometimes. I also plan to write at least one fudge up story per month, and maybe develop some kind of writing habit around it (at least, I will try my best). So without further ado (oh yes, I have always wanted to use this expression), it’s time for my first ever Fudge Up story!

#1: Do I really need a passport to go to Germany?

There are several very important events in your life that you don’t want to miss like being born, getting married, having children and… defending your Ph.D. thesis. In May, it was finally my time to stand in front of the scientific committee and prove that I’m worthy to be a scientist (or something like that). Just to briefly recap, it took me more than five years to get to this point (4 years researching and writing + 1 year waiting on reviews + couple more months before a defense date was announced). So this was a big deal for me – a long – awaited event that was supposed to release me from the nagging feeling of unfinished work. Knowing that the time was short (it’s typical to wait for something forever and then have no time to get ready), I quickly made my travel arrangements (I needed to go to Germany for this wonderful event) so that I could focus on the science part of things (the important stuff). Everything was going quite smoothly besides me occasionally panicking about the presentation not being ready, the work not being good enough… well, the usual academic drama that I had forgotten about. And then it all went to shit!

My flight was planned for early Sunday morning because I wanted to be in Germany a couple of days before the big event. I received an online check-in notification on Monday and decided to check-in on Tuesday afternoon. I don’t normally read the check-in notification emails anymore as they contain standard information any traveler knows, but for whatever reason, I read it this time. Something in the sentence ‘Make sure that you have valid travel documents’ made me pause and think for a moment. I don’t know whether it was my intuition or some mysterious force, but I decided to check my passport (I hadn’t traveled anywhere for more than six months which meant I hadn’t used my passport for quite some time). I got my passport, opened it and… felt a wave of pure horror wash over me. My passport had expired not a week ago, not a month ago, but five months ago!

It took me few moments to compose myself and avoid having a heart attack or something. I simply couldn’t believe this was happening to me of all people! Eventually, I calmed down a bit, and my brain started considering all the options. First, I texted my best friend who used to work at the airport and asked what my chances of slipping through airport checks with expired passport are, but I already decided against this plan while I was typing the message (verdict: too risky!). Next, I opened the web page of the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs to check how fast one can make a new passport. It said two working days which would have been great any other week, but not the one with all the possible national holidays and only two working days in total (one being the day of expiration date fiasco discovery leaving just one full working day). In brief, I was totally fucked!

The idea of postponing my Ph.D. defense also wasn’t an option. It wasn’t just me going to Germany for this thing. There was at least one more person from abroad invited to my defense with all expenses paid. If I couldn’t make it, it would have been a disaster of quite big proportions, and I bet not just financially. Imagine getting in front of German scientific committee that you stood up once?  Well, I believe I would have been fried in seven circles of scientific hellfire before the day was out!

I decided to take action. My mission was clear: I need to go to Germany with or without my passport! In action movies, this would be the moment when the hero unzips a black suitcase that he keeps under the bed and loads all his guns. I, on the other hand, started calling everyone. First, I called the Office of Citizenship which wasn’t much help. Then I tried to reach my parents, but, of course, no one was picking up. Next, my brother just randomly called me (which happens like twice a year at best), and I told him the whole story. I had forgotten that he works in the same building where one of the Offices of Citizenship is located. He told me to calm down while he goes downstairs and asks what are my real options here. More phone calls among my family ensued, and it became clear that if I made it to the Office of Citizenship within an hour, I would get my passport the next day.

It was sometime between 3 pm and 3.30 pm when I got the hopeful news. Everything from that point on was a race against the time. I got dressed as fast as I could and put on some makeup just to make myself look somewhat representable (not just desperate). I had taken few days off work to get ready for my defense which meant I was at home, and that meant I was in the wrong part of the city. As time was an issue, I called a taxi. It felt like ages before the taxi arrived but I tried not to panic.  I got into the taxi sometime before 4 pm, and we started an excruciatingly slow trip to the Office of Citizenship. The streets were already flooded with people leaving work which meant that the trip was dragging on what seemed like forever. I somehow kept myself from shouting at the driver for choosing all the wrong streets and bridges or from leaving the taxi and making a run for it.

Around 4.15 pm, we finally arrived at the right location (only about half an hour before they stopped accepting new customers!), and it was time to make my desperate plea for mercy. I had to listen to a bit of lecturing about how irresponsible it was for me to leave everything so late and so on. I did feel offended, and I did want to tell the lady that I’m probably the most organized person she has ever met, but it was not the right time or the situation because everything relied on her being forthcoming. So I listened and agreed with all that was said. She expressed doubts that the passport could be made and delivered the next day as it was a pre-holiday work day and that nearly sent me into another panic attack, but then she checked with her boss, and it seemed doable. I filled out all the forms, and the lady took my picture sporting a lovely ‘deer in the headlights’ look that will always remind me of this day. Finally, I paid some money and went home!

It’s needless to say that I barely slept that night. I kept imagining that they forgot to send in my information and the passport won’t be ready, or the courier will lose it on his way to the Office of Citizenship, or about hundred other scenarios how everything could go wrong. It even paid off because when I went to pick up my passport the next day, the lady retrieved an empty application form with the first try contributing to at least five more gray hair on my head. The second try was more successful as the passport was simply hiding in the box. In the end, I can say that I was lucky (minus the dead nerve cells and gray hair) because it could have all started and ended at the airport check-in. On the other hand, I probably gave my worst scientific presentation in years due to lack of sleep and preparation (it didn’t help that everyone was expecting me to do ‘such a great job’ of it).

So go on now, check the expiry date on your travel documents (and you can thank me later)!


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