Saturday, July 20, 2013

what was accomplished today

Today saw me driving a long, long time in piss-poor traffic. I trusted my phone's GPS to find me a decent route to the Korean Consulate in DC, and it did: Route 66 to Rock Creek Parkway, and thence to Massachusetts Avenue (a.k.a. Embassy Row), from which it would be a straight shot to the consulate. Traffic was horribly backed up on 66 close to Exit 60, and again close to Route 495, and again just after 495. But once I hit the Rock Creek Parkway, it was fairly smooth (if slow) sailing, and Mass Avenue was a breeze. I left Appalachia around 3PM and got to the consulate around 4:20PM, at which point it was a matter of finding parking. Parking on that part of Embassy Row always sucks; I did my usual thing and parked semi-legally on Decatur, about 200 yards up the street from the Korean Consulate.

The consulate itself was quiet, as has always been my experience. I've never once, in all my years of going to and coming from Korea, had to stand on line. I stepped through a metal detector (which didn't ding, despite my pocketknife) and was directed to the window, which stood a bit off to the side. A salt-and-pepper-haired bureaucrat was tucked behind the bulletproofed counter; our conversation was entirely in Korean. The process went smoothly, except for when the man started asking me questions about my mother. For some reason, he was fixated on her citizenship status: "Was she a Korean citizen when you were born?" he asked. I really couldn't remember, but I gave him a tentative "yes" on the assumption that she became a US citizen soon after my birth. My "yes" must have been the wrong answer, because the man paused a long time, brows furrowed, and seemed on the verge of saying something—something likely to derail the entire E-1 visa application process. I added that mom had passed away over three years ago; he looked briefly sympathetic, and that news seemed to dispel whatever it was he had intended to say. We were back on track with the E-1 process.*

I had prepped pretty thoroughly, having checked the Korean Embassy's visa app webpage to see what documents I needed to bring. The bureaucrat gave me no complaints and demanded nothing extra (a problem I had experienced in the 1990s, at Seoul's then-Byzantine Immigration Office), but he did do a weird, bureaucrat-y thing: when he asked for the $45 processing fee, I gave him three twenties. He took the twenties, changed one of them into four fives, then gave me two twenties and four fives, and told me to give him the exact $45. I had to fight hard to stifle an insane grin: the guy could simply have handed me $15 in change! What was his obsession with my handing him exactly $45? As surreptitiously as I could manage, I shook my head in wonder at this minor waste of time.

The whole thing was over in minutes, then I was back out in the oppressive summer heat and humidity. I realized, about a hundred yards away from the consulate, that I had to piss like a racehorse. Should I go back into the consulate and use its restroom? I wondered. My ego answered: Nah. Drive to Georgetown University and piss there. So that's what I did. My alma mater isn't that far away from Embassy Row: just go uphill along Mass Avenue, turn left on Wisconsin, and go downhill to either Reservoir road (which takes you to the back of campus) or to O Street (which takes you to the front of campus). Just one minor problem: as any DC veteran can tell you, you can't turn left onto Wisconsin from Mass Avenue. So I crossed Wisconsin, turned around, and turned right onto it. The rest was gravy. I parked near St. Mary's dorm (there's more construction happening there), walked briskly to the nearby Leavey Center, and drained my bloated dragon.

I got back into my car, gratefully turned on the air conditioning, and started back home. Route 66 westbound was even worse than eastbound, and it was that time of day when a short spur of 66 was exclusively reserved for HOV-2s (High Occupancy Vehicle, minimum 2 people). Cops pull people over for being alone in the car while driving in an HOV-2 lane; as the flashing overhead marquees remind us, the fine for that violation can be up to $1000. I didn't know what else to do, though: Route 66 is right fucking there when leaving Georgetown, and it seemed ridiculous to divert all the way to 495 so as to take the "safe" 66 exit. So I risked getting caught and leaped onto 66 right away.

I very nearly was caught: as I crawled along with the rest of the traffic and got close to the 495 junction, a crouching state police cruiser suddenly turned on its lights, leaped briefly into the stream of vehicles, and pulled over a car with a lone driver inside. From my perspective, a mere eighty yards back, the event looked like a wolf's plucking a sheep out of the herd. Then, to my dawning horror, I realized that I was going to crawl right past the police car. I had nowhere to go: the cars in the left lane were jammed too tightly for me to dodge away from Statey. The cars ahead of me and behind me were packed in too close for me to effect an escape. I had no choice but to roll right by the policeman, like a float in a goddamn parade, my aloneness in full view. Lamely, I pulled my interior sun visor down, knowing full well that that would do no good. My brain chanted at the policeman's back, These aren't the droids you're looking for... move along... these aren't the droids you're looking for... Luckily for me, the state trooper was totally focused on his prey, leaning into the driver's window and doubtless asking all the standard questions: Do you know why I pulled you over? Do you understand that this is an HOV-2 zone? Are you aware that it's a maximum $1000 fine for being in this zone illegally? Do you realize that your sister is a close Facebook friend of mine? I started breathing again only after I was two football fields away from the trooper. That was close. Had I not lagged eighty yards behind, that would have been my ass.

The ride home was long and tedious, but 66 cleared up after Haymarket, and with an empty road ahead, I was back to my evil, lead-footed ways. Once I was in town, I went to a local Verizon branch to discuss the matter of my cell-phone account. I'm currently the primary holder of a two-person account; my brother Sean shares the expense with me as a way of paying a cheaper monthly fee (more precisely, we both pay a cheaper fee thanks to the shared plan). Once I leave the US, however, there will be no need for me to have a Verizon account, so I had to find out how I could transfer responsibility fully over to Sean. I spoke with a very, very cute blonde lady, who told me that I needed to perform an AOL (Assumption of Liability—see here). An AOL can be done over the phone, she said; Sean and I have to be in the same room, talking to the Verizon rep, to make this work. The bad news: (1) Sean, as a single account owner of a now-unshared account, would have to pay an extra $10/month, and (2) I would have to pay an early-termination penalty. Shite. The lady also said that I should wait until just before my departure to perform the AOL. The good news: I can still use my phone's Wi-Fi function in Korea, even after it's been disconnected from the Verizon account.

I had hoped to leave early for the consulate, and to get back in time to visit our town's central admin office to discuss the handling of my electric bill (my move-out day is August 12, so I shouldn't be billed beyond that date) and my property taxes, half of which I've already paid this year. For all I know, the town may ask me to pay any residual taxes right away, before I move. Unfortunately, because I left rather late in the afternoon, there was no way for me to get back in time. That's an errand I'll have to save for next Friday.

I had also hoped to get over to a Lowe's or a Home Depot hardware store to grab a few dozen packing boxes, but that didn't work out, either. What I may do, in fact, is terrorize the local grocery stores in the hopes of cadging a few dozen cast-off apple boxes. Those cardboard bastards are durable as hell; you can store anything in them for a million years, if need be.

In all, I got a good bit done today, but had I started a few hours earlier, I might have gotten more accomplished. The US Army apparently likes to boast that "We get more done by 9AM than you do all day." Today, that boast applies to me and my lame, sluggish, civilian ass.

*Now that I think about it, I think the man was wondering whether I couldn't just apply for an F-4 visa—the visa given to gyopos. My mother and I actually did try to set me up with an F-4 once, years ago, but the Immigration Office told us that we needed a crucial document that Mom didn't remember ever having filled out back when she was living in Korea (Mom left Korea in her early twenties).


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