The saga continues, and I hope you have settled in with a glass of vino for part two. In case you missed it, read Part One Here.
Do this, then proceed.
Buckle up! This part may be the craziest yet!
The no-address, no-name building opens at 9am. Our advisors (a combination of Margaux’s coworkers, our lawyer, and some online forum strangers) recommend arriving as early as possible before 9am, because for some reason, there are literally over 100 people who show up per day trying to do the same thing. Where do all these people come from? How did we all get to this point? How did they find out to go to the no-name building? Why are there so many people? Over 100 per DAY? That’s only in Madrid, supposedly, the same scene happens in cities and towns all across Spain on a daily basis. We don’t know any of these answers. We just go.
We plan to leave on the first Metro Monday morning. 6:07am. We miss it, but catch the next one at 6:15am. There was only a little teaspoon of coffee left, and so I had made some watery gas-station coffee for us that we slugged down before embarking on this adventure. On the way there, we are half-asleep and half-nervous. Once we make 2 connections, we arrive at the correct station. The “map” that one of our advisors drew for us gave us clear directions to the yellow building.
This is our helpful map, to the place with no address.
After walking around for 30 minutes and not arriving at the yellow building, we took another metro back to where we started and tried again. This time, finding a line of people in front of the ugliest yellow building ever. Did I mention that it was still dark outside? Like, middle of the night, stars, and moon, dark. So the yellow building was only discovered after basically stumbling upon it. It is across the street from the psychiatric hospital, where the old prison used to be, apparently.
This is what 7:30am looks like. Note, that tote bag full of precious gems, aka papers and copies.
The guys at the front of the line were standing arbitrarily halfway between the sidewalk and the entrance to the yellow building. We took our place, about 35 people in front of us. I looked at my hipster owl watch necklace. 7:32 am. Still dark and freezing cold.
For two and a half hours, we stood there, frozen. Occasionally holding our place in line while the other went jumping or jogging down the street to keep warm blood pumping. I told Margaux, “This would be more fun if we were going to get an iphone 5 or concert tickets or something.” Neither of us were 100% sure that we were in the right line, the right place, or if we would accomplish anything at all by standing there in the cold all morning.
Naively, I had brought a book to pass the time. But it sure is hard to read when the bus stop right next to where we were standing keeps blowing warm black exhaust smoke in your face. And the following bus passes fast and blows ice-wind down the back of your coat. Brrr. Plus it was dark. So, no reading got done.
We huddled together and didn’t talk that much. I think we were too nervous.
By 9:00 the sun had finally come up, and some guy whistled and waved his arm in a “follow me” kind of way. The herd of us shuffled down the sidewalk. By this time, there was at least another 100 or so people behind us in line. It was a living sociology experiment. People from all over the world, trying to hold their space in line, parading through the very loose security past the tired police. Once through the security it was a weird free-for-all to find the correct line to stand in. There was about 5 to choose from. We followed the guy in front of us into the longest line, assuming our luck would put is there anyway. While Margaux held our spot, I went to see which line was really ours. Except I realized that I didn’t even know the name of the thing we were there to get. Residence card? ID number? Visa extension? Pick up a residence card? The policeman said, “Huella” and pointed at the line we were in already. Huella?
WTF is huella? Fingerprint, I think. But we already had our fingerprints done (twice) way back in June! We wait in line anyway. At this point, my stomach was all twisted up with anxiety. The line moved relatively quickly, and before we knew it, it was our turn to sit at this little desk across from the person who would determine our future.
With a shaky voice, I explained that Margaux’s visa expires tomorrow, and we had all the papers for her to get the card, or the fingerprints, or whatever. The woman asked for our appointment confirmation paper. My heart sank.
My lack of coffee, frozen, 5am brain can’t speak Spanish very well.
“The information office, they say to for us to come. No appointment. Ok?” I stammer.
The woman shakes her head. Nope, she tells us, only appointments at this office.
“We wait cold for the morning. Other people waiting have appointment?”
Yes, she tells me everyone else has an appointment. But she seems to be in a humane mood, so she asks for our papers anyway. (So you must have an appointment? But not really.) We pull out our stack of every possible paper anyone could ask for. We have everything. I mean everything. And about 3 copies of it.
All our papers, plus, some office supplies, JIC (just in case).
“Spanish Social Security papers,” she says.
Margaux finds the thick paperclipped stack that her boss says to give if they need social security papers.
“No, not these. This is not it.” the lady says, as I feel my face burn, and I ask Margaux if there are any other social security papers. Margaux pulls out a bunch more papers that all say “Social Security” on them. They seem to state that the company has all their stuff straight with the Spanish IRS etc. Again, the lady shakes her head. She pulls out a sheet. “It looks like this.” She shows us.
We don’t have that one.
My eyes well up, and I pray pray pray that I don’t cry. Margaux sees that I am upset and gets nervous. I ask the woman to write down exactly what we need, where to get it, and what we need to do next. She tells us we need that paper, but it’s not from this office, and that we will have to go to the Social Security office downtown and complete the proper paperwork. She also doesn’t know where that office is, or how long it will take for us to do that. Just for good measure, she let’s us know that this visa is very rare, and she hasn’t seen it hardly ever before.
Doing my very best not to lose my mind right there in the office, I point out that no one told us about this step and that we were operating on a very tight deadline.
“Her visa, it expires tomorrow. We used to have appointment that we wait three months, and it’s no good. Now they tell us to come here, but it’s no good.” My voice cracks, and I feel my Spanish slip out of my head. Margaux squeezes my hand, and I know she is scared because she doesn’t even know what’s going on.
The lady tells us to go upstairs to the Information Office and they will tell us about what to do next. This is the same Information Office that told us to come here in the first place and obviously doesn’t give out very good information. But, what choice do we have?
We mumble, “Gracias,” and trudge up the stairs. Of course, there’s three lines for three different things, and we automatically stand in the longest one. I try to explain what just happened to Margaux. Basically, we have to go to another office, get MORE papers and come back, but probably we couldn’t do it all today. We stand there, not at all surprised, but super disappointed. And just barely thawing out from the cold.
10 seconds later….
The same woman from downstairs comes up to us and waves us over to the front of the information line. She leans over to her coworker and whispers something that we can’t understand. The downstairs lady looks over her shoulder at us. Wait! Was that sympathy? Compassion, maybe? A little bit of problem solving? Could it be? Customer service???? I don’t get my hopes up.
The downstairs lady leaves, I thank her profusely, for what I don’t know.
The new information boss woman looks at us. We stand there stupid looking. We both are holding back tears. She asks for our papers again, and we give her a few stacks. She asks a few questions about whether we had sent a fax to the “Main Office.”
“Yes!” I tell Margaux to pull the fax confirmation, the faxed documents we sent, and the copies of all of that. The woman looks at it. She asks for the social security papers we had. She nods. It’s like a test, just to see how many papers we could possibly bring. THIS, a fax confirmation, is what convinced her we need our residence cards? NOT the paperwork they told us we would definitely need way back at the Los Angeles Consulate? NOT the copies of Margaux’s work contract, NOT our domestic partnership papers, NOT the application forms, NOT the copies of our passports? A FAX?
Whatever. At this point, they could ask me for my left tit and I’d give it up to get this over with.
She looks at the fax confirmation and looks up, confident that we have passed the test.
“This is a very rare type of visa. You don’t need any more social security papers. This is everything. But now you have to come back for this appointment.” She stamps some official looking papers and hands it to us. Then she looks at me. “What about you? Do you have a visa to process?”
I nod. We hadn’t even really thought about my visa, knowing that it was unlikely we could get both done. Margaux’s is priority because of the expiration date, I tell her.
“Let me see your visa.” She takes a quick look (A QUICK LOOK? Do you know how long it took me to get that lady?!), stamps another official looking paper for me and says that both of us can come back for the appointment in two weeks and we will get our residence cards processed.
“That’s it? Will Margaux be ok with this date for visa? And me too?” I say, then quickly explain to Margaux what’s going on.
This woman, who must have magical powers the lady downstairs doesn’t posses, gave us the ok to come back again, but also a stamp on a paper that says Margaux won’t be deported. No extra trip to the Social Security Office.
We stumble out of that office and get through the gate before we hug and cry a little. It’s only 9:32am. We sort of accomplished something. I’m not sure if I am relieved, happy or sad.
We have to go back and stand in the cold again in two weeks, maybe for the last time. On Thanksgiving. This time, though, we will have an appointment, for both of us. And the official stamp (which we are slowly figuring out rules our lives). And possibly the help of two women who showed us the very first bit of actual kindness.
Today, we are thankful.