CVAL: Competitive Visa Application League

After days of navigating the incomprehensible online directions of the Brazilian consulate and gathering all of the documents I needed, I went to the Brazilian consulate to apply for a Visa on Wednesday. This process has long been on my to-do list, but was held up along the way by different road blocks – the logistics of getting a check, subsequently getting to the bank, trying to learn Portuguese, purchasing a money order, scanning and printing copies of all of my important documents, encrypting said files, triple checking all my documents, and then finding a day to head down to the consulate.

Brasil Visa

A sample of the document I am trying so desperately to get. Conveniently, this guy looks like I might in 23 years.

 

A quick review of the “Consulate General of Brazil in Chicago” on Yelp will give you warnings of hours spent in the waiting room, grumpy staff members, and bureaucratic stagnation.  Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite reviews, “The word that comes to mind when I think of this place is incompetence… There are many times when I think our government is horrible, but I feel sorry for Brazilians if this place is representative of their government.” Several reviewers left warnings of planning “well in advance” and said they wondered if traveling to Brazil was even worth it.

With approximately a month left to my departure dates, these reviews lit a fire under me to get this going, as well as induced mass panic. Due to the horror stories and all the trouble I had already been through, it became my personal mission to get my visa application off perfectly and quickly. I made sure all my documents were set, laid out my clothes, and planned my trip to the consulate down to the minute (I was going to leave at 6:34 and hit the 6:42 train).  I was determined to execute this process perfectly, no matter what took.

Below is a timeline of my application adventure:

6:00 am: Alarm goes off and my roommate grunts discontent. 5 more minutes.

6:05 am: Alarm number two goes off. I am still unable of getting out of bed.

6:10 am: Fine- out of bed this time. Make coffee, get dressed.

6:44 am: Approaching Noyes “El” stop, southbound train begins to pull into station, sprint from a block away, pull out Ventra card mid dash, make it through the turnstile…just in time to miss the train.

I think to myself how they always make it in the movies and I sit in the cold for next train.

6:55 am: Next Loop-bound train pulls in. I board, still grumbling about the last train.

7:55 am: Disembark at State/Lake stop. Ten minutes later than expected. Walk four blocks down Wacker to get to Consulate.

8 am: I check in at building front desk. No one else around. I’m the winner. I’ll be first. Front desk attendee tells me there is “no access until 8:50, but you can wait in the cafeteria downstairs.”  She takes a copy of my ID and gives me a guest pass to the elevator. “but you can’t go until 8:50 – five oh,” she tells me. Not a problem, I’ll go wait in the cafeteria, and then head up with everyone else who got here early at 8:50. At this point, I’m thinking this 8:50 detail is a small wrench in my plans.

8:30 am: Blissfully enjoying a cup of coffee and a pastry in the cafeteria while reading “The Secret History” by Donna Tart

8:48: am: Casually head back upstairs to the elevator and my stomach drops as I see that a line has formed by the elevators. Of course a line has formed. Why didn’t I think of that? I can’t believe I fell for the “wait in the cafeteria” line. I sprint to the line because I see some people walking into the revolving door who are probably also headed to this line as everyone else seems to have known better. At this point, I’m 14th in line (14th! I was the first one here).

I forgot to take pictures of the events of the day. So here's Kaka with a facial expression that captures my mood when I realized there was a long line in front of me.

I forgot to take pictures of the events of the day. So here’s Brazilian futbol star Kaka with a facial expression that captures my mood when I realized there was a long line in front of me.

8:50 am: Security guard begins taking guest passes and allowing access to the elevator. First six or seven people make it onto the first elevator. One man had gotten in the elevator line without getting a guest pass from the front desk and had to go to the desk to do so (Ha, sucker). I get through, and hop on the second elevator, I’m strategically one of the last ones on (read: I’m near the front of the elevator). We rocket up to the 18th floor. As the door opens my heart is racing and I strain my eyes (My glasses were sitting useless in my backpack) to read the information posted across from the elevator. It reads: “Brazilian Consulate >” I swing a hard right and am the first one off the blocks. Out of the corner of my eyes, I see two poor opponents make a left, realize the error of their ways, and have the hope disappear from their eyes. I may have broken the sound barrier on the way to the door of the Brazilian consulate while simultaneously making myself as wide as possible so no one will pass me. I hop in line behind the people in the first elevator. I count, I’m eighth. Net gain of six spots, but I imagine being eighth in line is still in for a long day and am generally livid with my situation.

8:55 am: People in line begin exchanging glares and engaging in intimidation tactics to assert their position in line. This is not a place for the weak.

8:58 am: A nice lady comes and opens the door. She is short and smiling and wishing us all a good morning. She is nothing like the Yelp reviews. Naturally, I’m suspicious of her.  People take off as the door opens and head in. As I walk past the nice lady, she said “Visas, be sure to take a number.”

I quickly assess the situation, people are heading into the waiting area and sitting down. No one has taken a visa number yet. I grab the first one and sit down.  As this happens, a second reminder comes “Visas, be sure to take a number.” Every single one of the seven people who had been in front of me stand up, and rush to the number taker. I bask in the glory of the day. I’ve moved from 14th to 1st. And it feels like I knew it would when I woke up this morning at the crack of dawn.

Because I forgot to take pictures, here's Brazilian superstar Kaka celebrating just like I did as I left the consulate.

Because I forgot to take pictures, here’s Brazilian superstar Kaka celebrating just like I did as I left the consulate.

9:00 am: Staff member behind the visa window yells, “Number 45!” I stand up, brush off my shoulders, and approach. Everyone in the room is glaring at me while simultaneously kicking themselves for forgetting to grab a number. The visa lady could not have been sweeter, she sees my itinerary and says I’m the luckiest person in the world (I agree). I submit all my documents, expecting a problem to occur at any moment. “Okay, you’re all set. Here is your pick up receipt. Come and get it on May 20th.”

I hesitantly ask. “That’s it? All set?”

“All set. Have a good day.”

9:02 am: Walk out resplendent in my victory. I can feel the glares from those with hours of waiting left drilling a hole in the back of my head.

Brasil, aqui vou eu.