Monday, October 13, 2014

The Klutz in the Consulate Incident

Realtalk: I had a really bummer summer.

Back in April, I had cool plans and cool people in my life and cool savings and felt like a fabulous LA lady - I even thought about abandoning the awkward blog and starting a slick, shiny, like totally fab lifestyle blog since I was NAILING this whole quirky-artsy-LA-millenial thing.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

Obviously all my plans collapsed spectacularly and dramatically within a week. And my hard-earned savings (I was only getting coffee four times a week. THE SACRIFICES I MADE, I tell you…) disappeared in that same time span, thanks to my car suddenly needing thousands on thousands of dollars thrown at it.

After healthily coping (okay, moping for months) and being incredibly productive (okay, marathoning every possible TLC show and NCIS), I decided to revisit this blog because (no parentheses needed) I've been annoying the shit out of myself and needed a reminder to laugh when things don't go my way.

So here's a story from when I thought I was TOTALLY NAILING IT but, in retrospect, probably could have gotten myself killed.

(or worse, EXPELLED.)

This Spring, I snagged an opportunity to do one of my dream jobs in one of my dream countries. I would collect the stories of long-term aid workers, refugees, and the short-term staff with whom I was traveling, for both fundraising and development planning. In normal terms: I could spend weeks talking to people and writing down their life stories!

Just like this blog, except cooler people than myself and less cringing. In theory.

One teeny tiny small side note: this dream country, a place to where I've wanted to travel for over a decade, that I've feverishly researched for years… errmmm… was also home to some Bad Eggs known for killing people like me.

American? Check.
Woman? Check. Educated woman? double-check.
Christian? I have a cross tattooed on my wrist. Check.

I was gearing up to go to a country where one can be killed for being any one of those things individually. Let alone all three at once. (Instead of saying the actual country for… reasons, we will refer to it by a place that gets a similar amount of tourists: The Moon.)

And I had never been more excited about anything in my entire life.

I love talking to people and getting their life stories and telling more stories. I had an opportunity to listen to people who don't get listened to and tell stories that don't get told. And I got to the friggin MOON - a place most people feared and misunderstood, but one that had run through my head since I was ten. I got to do my absolute favorite thing in my all-time dream place.

But you can't just book a flight to the Moon and bop over on any given Tuesday.

I had to procure some documents and fancy papers. What happens if you show up to the Moon without the fancy papers? You probably get ejected into space and die a horrible death. And that's not even a metaphor.

Luckily, the Moon has a handy-dandy consulate in LA that I could just run into and get my moon-visa and other moon-paperwork handled. At least, I thought so. The consulate website was one step above a geocities site, all it was missing was a couple dancing babies.

For reference
I rolled up to the Moon Consulate with a meticulously curated outfit to casually match the modesty standards of the Moon, lest my typical denim short-shorts and raggedy tee-shirts get me banned for being a Slutty McSluterson. I wore a dark long sleeved shirt and full length pants with a dark flowy dress on top - totally normal for a middle school goth kid. Maybe not normal for Beverly Hills when it was like, 85 degrees outside. My conservative protestant upbringing's "modest is hottest" took on a whole new meaning in the California heat.

The Moon Consulate was a surprisingly bland building - I walked past it twice before I saw the tiny plaque in Moon-writing next to the front door. I took a deep breath and turned the handle -

It was locked.

I knocked and waited, knocked and waited again. Maybe everyone was at lunch - at 3pm? Just as I was about to give up and have this be the most anticlimactic story ever, I heard shuffling and muttering. The door opened the tiniest amount, and I could just barely see an eyeball.

"Hi! / Hello! / I'm R. Grace! / I'm going to the Moon! / I need a Moon-visa! / I have all my paperwork! / I mean, I think I do. / That's why I came here instead of mailing it in. / Can I come inside?"
"No. Go around the back."

Umm, okay… what?

"The door in the back." Click. And the door was locked again.

Oh HELL no. As I peered down the alley between the buildings, I realized I hadn't told any of my friends or my parents where I was at. This seemed… unwise. But I had driven all the way across the city (no small feat in Los Angeles) and there was no turning back now. The back of the building had a small parking lot and a nondescript loading-zone type blue metal door - nowhere near as official as the front door, no cool Moon plaque. Definitely not legit. But to my ongoing bafflement, the door opened up to the lobby.

I don't know what normal consulate lobbies look like, but the Moon Consulate was BLEAK. Dim lights, plastic chairs, no magazines, old portraits of important looking Moon dudes - this room had not been touched by a decorator since the early 1970s. I shot a quick text to my parents but OF COURSE there was no cellphone reception. Two older Moon men in suits also sat in the lobby. They glanced at me with confused curiosity, but that was probably because I tripped over the chairs in trying to sit down.

Both of the men were helped quickly - one of them disappearing down the hallway that probably connected to the front door I was not allowed through. I nervously shuffled through my language flashcards - no one had spoken any English since I'd entered the building, and I was already overwhelmed and feeling very, very small and unprepared. The only phrases I knew I could say were "Hello," "Where are the doctors?," and "My heart speaks the language of love.," (the language sites I found were… weird.) so I was definitely in trouble if no one besides my mysterious door-answerer spoke English.

Thankfully, when I walked up to the reception window, the woman spoke English and was incredibly kind and helpful. She reviewed all my paperwork with me, everything seemed to be in order-

"You marked "vacation" for purpose of your trip."
"Um. Yep."
"People don't really go to the Moon for vacation."
"I um uh well I'm not going for "business" and I don't have "family" there so I guess uh..."
"Volunteer work?"
"YES. That one. That's a thing. That I am doing. Yep."

Definitely calm, cool, and collected. Not.
She told me that everything should be ready by Friday. Less than a week! Awesome!

"Have fun on your trip."
"You too! / Oh gosh / I mean, I don't know if you're going on a trip there anytime soon / I'm sure it's lovely / If you're going to visit family or something sometime soon / uh uh / I'm gonna go. Bye."

Nailed it.


And by "nailed it," I mean, my second visit was so much more painful.

I was running late on Friday, and they were closing early for a Moon holiday. If I didn't get it that afternoon, I would have to wait until Tuesday AND drive all the way across town (seriously like an hour each way, for North Carolinians who are rolling their eyes at this) again. No. No. Not happening. Getting my visa and paperwork TODAY.

I threw on a maxi dress over my denim shorts and SPRINTED through the parking deck and down the street, flailing around the side of the building and through the door - right into a roomful of very startled, and very ready to go home, business folks in suits.

"Hi hello / please don't be closed / I think there's two more minutes until it's 2pm / if that's okay / I um / I have a thing to pick up / hello / I've got my identification somewhere I'm uh / uh geez let me find it -"
"R. Grace? Here is your passport and paperwork. Have a good trip!"

A wave of relief washed over me - I did it! Immediately followed by the horrifying realization that my dress was caught up in my shorts, my hair was plastered all over my face, and I looked like a lunatic. And also, inappropriate… on the start of a holiday, no less.

But I had my passport and Moon visa and no one could take that away from me! I victoriously stepped outside - and tripped on the pavement, landing hard on my hands, with my passport and PHONE skittering across the gravel lot.


"Are you okay?"

I turned to see two Moon officials looking down at me, very concerned.

And I had just rattled off multiple profanities. And my dress was all snarled in my shorts, revealing all sorts of leg. And I was still on the ground. Oh gosh, maybe they COULD take my visa away. I stood up as fast as humanly possible and gave my most convincing, I-definitely-have-my-act-together, please-don't-ban-me-from-your-country smile.

"I'm fine / totally fine / doing great / phone's okay / PASSPORT's okay / Thank you for letting me into your country, by the way / I really appreciate it / I'm good / definitely okay / thanks so much / bye."

I darted back to the parking deck, before they could reconsider letting such a spazz into their country. I was home free. Next stop: the Moon!


Bummer Summer Epilogue: Please Stop Reading If You Don't Want Sad Feelz

I never went to the Moon.

Unfortunately, there are some Bad Eggs on the Moon. These Bad Eggs did bad things to good people, shortly after that afternoon I sprawled out on the pavement. Suddenly, the Moon was a very scary place  to be - scary even to our organizers, who cancelled the trip. I still have a hella cool stamp in my passport, and the great tale of humiliating-myself-on-so-many-levels at the consulate, which I'm sure will be helpful the next time - when I do get to go to the Moon. Bad Eggs can't take away that.

But in a happy twist, I get to do that whole story-gathering thing of people who are way cooler than me, this December - just, eight thousand miles away from where I originally planned.

Nailed it.