If Washingtonians are scared off from foreign travel by the hostage situation in Lebanon, you couldn't prove it by a visit to the local State Department passport office at 1425 K St. NW.
The line of people waiting to pick up travel documents crammed the lobby, while dozens more clustered around the information desk. It looked like a boom season for foreign travel.
But pity the person who wants to telephone the busy office to get information. W.H. Braxton of Northeast Washington, who works for a local travel agency, needed to call on Tuesday, and by his account it was an exercise in total frustration.
The passport office's locally listed number -- there is no listing for the passport agency's central State Department office -- didn't answer for about 20 calls, Braxton said. Finally he got a recording that gave general information and referred those with specific questions to call another number, which gave a busy signal.
In desperation, Braxton said, he called the main State Department number, explained his problem and was urged, he said, to "call Secretary George P. Shultz, maybe he has a hot line that can solve things." Braxton was given Shultz's direct-dial number but declined to call, figuring Shultz had more urgent matters on his agenda.
Metro Scene tracked and confirmed Braxton's experience, short of the Shultz suggestion. Even the State Department's in-house telephone directory provides scanty clues on getting passport information, since to find its listing one must know that the passport agency is part of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
Consular bureau spokeswoman Diane Dillard speculated that the busy phones were a combination of the peak travel season and people calling to ask questions about international travel safety. For questions about the latter, would-be tourists may call 632-5225.
The question Braxton wanted to ask was: How long does it currently take to get a passport? For those who visit the K Street office, Dillard said, the answer is about one week -- and, in a documented emergency, one day.