This story was written to summarize a trip that Dan Newman, Daryn Chapman, and Brent Weide took to Auckland, New Zealand took in September, 2001 in order to acquire working visas for legal reentry back into Australia. The trip was an unwelcome respite from the internet banking implementation of SunCorp Metway Bank in Brisbane, Australia where Dan and Brent had been working for roughly 1/2 a year and were ready to roll out the product to the public.
Subject: Another Brent story for the annals
How's it going you ask?
Actually, things are still going....
Daryn, Dan, and I are seemingly hostages on this beautiful green island nation. How does it stay so green you might ask? RAIN. It is a fact well protected from public knowledge that the North Island of New Zealand gets enough rain to make Portland, Oregon look like the Sahara Desert. Now, I like rain.....for awhile. But trudging around in a persistent driving downpour for extended periods of time can get to be a bit depressing after a few days. Especially when this is supposed to be a brief break from work.
We brought our packaged visa files with us, met at the Consulate on the first day (that would have been the 29th) hoping for the best.
At the consulate we had a chance to rub elbows with many hundreds of excited fellow aliens as we tussled for a chance to rip a coveted paper number off of the dispenser and discover with fascination that the next number being called was ours....if you added 1000. A few hours later we were called forward to hand our paperwork over to the clerk for review. She listened to my explanation without looking up from the organized files. After hearing my detailed description of our scenario she slowly looked up into my eyes with trained disbelief. "So, you've been in Brisbane, on an electronic visa, performing no work other than attending meetings for...6 months?"
"Yes." I gushed, "Banks like meetings!"
"Okay, we'll review your stuff and let you know later."
"You mean you'll have us finished up later?"
"No, I mean that we'll let you know how long it'll take to let you know how long you'll have to wait for your finished application to be reviewed for consideration, sir." She spit the sir out like a punctuating poison dart.
"I leaned down closer to the little hole cut in the glass and whispered "Just curious, how long does this kind of process usually take? We kinda need to get back to work soon."
"Oh, you'll be taken care of quickly, probably 1 to 4 weeks. We'll get back to you."
Personally I thought she was having a go at us. There was just no way that we could be stuck here for that long. I had never done anything bad enough in my life to merit this kind of treatment. She had to be joking.
The cori team huddled together in another meeting. We decided to wait in the office for our update.
We stood in the middle of the room for some time before creeping to an almost empty corner where someone had thoughtfully left a couple of reasonably clean sleeping bags. We dozed off (one eye open) leaving one of us up for sentry duty.
Minutes turned to hours and hope of a quick resolution slid away as late afternoon overtook us. Realizing that we'd not seen anything of the city, the urge to get out of the hellhole overtook the group. Daryn (the smart guy) muttered that one of us had better get up there and "Check on the status of our finished visas so we could get out of there."
That's when the incident occurred (not sure if it'll make national papers or not). Dan innocently stepped up to window number two to inquire of our cases progress. He managed a timid "Excuse me, Mam..." before the throng moved in for the kill. It would seem that the impromptu society within the small office waiting room had developed a system of rules and bylaws over time, the most stringent and strictly punished being "You will not approach the clerk before your ticket is called." Do you remember the Hoss character from the Bonanza television show? Picture Hoss with a shorn crown, chocolate colored skin, half of his face covered with tribal flameshaped tattoos, and an intense malevolent glare in his eyes. That was the fellow who got to Dan first. Daryn and I both remarked later on how light he managed to make Dan look as he raised him quickly above his head. Thankfully he only carried our crewcutted partner back to our corner and dropped him into our midst. Dan managed to get most of the way turned over (kinda like a drunk cat) before hitting the ground with a thud and a loud grunt.
After Dan's breathing returned we decided to just grab another ticket and wait our turn.
It might sound like it would take forever to get up to one of the windows for our chance to plead our case but that's only partially true. It was daunting to pick up number 23 when the digital number (which changed up with an irritating loud doorbell sound) is seemingly fixed at 1001. But you have to remember that many of our fellow retainees had just stepped off of long, long trips from abroad (that would describe at least part of the odor in the office) and were probably weak from lack of proper food. Many numbers would appear on the signboard (accompanied by that damn doorbell) and go with their owners too weak (or passed out) to approach the clerk. Even if you saw someone with the winning ticket tightly clenched in their hands as they slept, you'd be damned if you were going to wake them and let them know it was their turn.
At the moment after I grabbed the number, a clerk (I was surprised to see they could move that fast) stomped out from behind the glass walls and taped a sign on the ticket machine notifying us that no additional tickets could be taken - the offices closed at 3:30pm for the day. Whooh, just made it. Had we waited any longer we'd not have another change to wait longer.
Saints be praised, number 23 ding donged up on the screen and we all three pushed through the throng to approach the bench. We held our hands out expectantly (looking more like grimy beggars on the street in Nepal now) for our completed visas. The bored clerk slowly explained (as if talking to complete idiots without a reasonable command of the human language) that , No, we wouldn't be getting our visas anytime soon, we were waiting to be told how long it would take to get our visas. That took a while to sink in.
"Okay, how long before we can find out how long?"
"Oh, I can't tell you that today. You'll have to give me your number and I can call you tomorrow."
That seemed like a solid plan and we left the offices partially satisfied and hopeful for resolution tomorrow.
We returned to the streets knowing that we dragged an invisible leash anchoring us to the consulate office which would keep us from going anywhere too far from the city.
Auckland is a large city. Perched on a normally beautiful bluegreen bay, there are many cafes and restaurants along it's busy Queen Street. As we walked back to the hotel, the rain that had been threatening began to fall in a persistent heavy drizzle and progressed to a downpour. Wind whipped the umbrellas to and fro.
"Hmm." Daryn exclaimed. "Does this damn weather remind you guys of anything?"
The next day we all convened in one of the rooms (it was still pouring outside so we stayed in) to make the all important call to the office to check on progress. We quickly came to realize that using a mobile phone in New Zealand requires the exact same experience and knowledge needed for code crackers in World War II. Brent persisted and got through to the consolate. Sails immediately deflated as we were told that our agent was in a meeting but we could come in or call later.
We left approximately 43 messages on the consulate office phone before heading down there to camp out again.
You'll probably think this is a joke but we actually waited a couple of hours (having picked off a ticket and waited for our turn) to find out that our agent was still in a meeting and prob would be for a few hours more.
"Just how many meetings can a Consulate Agent have during the day?" Daryn asked in what I thought was a reasonable question.
"You'll need to check back in tomorrow."
We briefly glimpsed each others sad expressions as we turned and trudged out of the crowded office. Our fellow inmates offering up encouragement as we left..."Uncle Sam no help now, eh?" and "I heard you can get into Australia by boat through Christmas Island."
So, that's where we're at. We check in daily to be told that we need to check in daily.
We've thoroughly explored everything within five miles (3.1 k) of the consulate in the city. We've walked up and down Queen street enough to know the street people on a first name basis.
And still it rains.......