Here I sit, listening to Antonio Hart’s alto saxophone solo on September In The Rain (Roy Hargrove – Approaching Standards) on repeat while eating a peanut-butter-banana-honey sandwich. I am listening to it, singing it, and trying to internalize it before I transfer it to my horn. This is a great process for transcribing solos in jazz. Besides being inside my good ol’ musical mind, where am I?

Honduras, the heart of Central America (and just the Americas in general).
Honduras, the heart of Central America (and just the Americas in general).

You can find me in an apartment in Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. This is where I reside, and I have had a wonderful Christmas break with my family and friends, gigging around with some killer musicians, practicing obsessively, and building on several of my personal projects. That’s what breaks are for, right? To relax. Although it hasn’t really hit me yet, I am just moments away from one of the biggest transitions of my life. In 15 hours, I will board a flight to Miami, then to Madrid, and finally, to Vienna, Austria to begin my study abroad semester.

Until then? Storytime.

On November 3rd, 2019, I traveled to New York, more specifically to the Austrian Consulate, to bring an end to the treacherous process of applying for a Visa for my time in Vienna. It was a magical one day/one night trip where I was alone in the big city. I was awestruck from the moment I arrived, and I ended up visiting Times Square at around 1:00 AM which is when I got into town. I woke up bright and early, bought some cookies from my bunk-buddy at the hostel, and began my journey through the Big Apple. It certainly had a heartbeat and no matter how far I walked, the city seemed to stretch out for miles in every direction. Out of the many places I visited, Central Park was by far my favorite. There were two jazz cats in the park just jamming on their horns, and one of them was caught off guard when I complimented his “altered pentatonic lick” on Blue Bossa. I wondered how often he got approached by a total nerd. I heard around 10 different languages and smelled all of the smells. I met so many wonderful people and saw so many wonderful sights that I never wanted to leave…until I realized I might not be able to.

See, I currently possess a US Passport and a Honduran ID and Driver’s license. It dawned on me mid-flight to New York that I would be giving the Austrian Consulate my passport in order to process my application, leaving me with my Hope ID and my Honduran IDs. To my sheer astonishment, a quick check on the TSA’s website revealed that no, Honduran IDs do not count as valid forms of identification while traveling in the US. OPE.

So there I was, in New York City, with no apparent way out. All of a sudden, what was once the majestic land of Narnia turned into that much darker part of the movie that people prefer not to talk about. I scrambled around the city trying to figure out what to do, eventually giving up and making my way to the airport, empty-handed. As I nervously waited in line for my turn to go to the ID checkpoint, all I could think was to stay casual. I don’t think all the casual in the world could have calmed me, but it was worth a shot. With smoldering confidence, I walked up to the checkpoint and immediately the TSA agent closed off the line and sent us in another direction. Interesting. I walked over to the other agent’s desk and waited for a while before she reached for my ID. As I handed it to her with a charming smile, the moveable light that was attached to the desk to revise IDs somehow snapped off and fell, calling the attention of two other agents who quickly scurried over. Fantastic. I waited for about 5 minutes before the three agents were hovering over my ID and they began to ask me questions. After some checks with the head office, I was treated as a “secondary” and put in a SEPERATE LINE. (can you believe it?) After going through the whole bin process, I had all of my belongings bomb swabbed by a fun gentleman who told me he loved my socks and hated his job. He would come with a little test strip and rub it on one of my belongings, making some snarky comments about his superiors before going back to his little machine. There, he would wait for a beep and come back with a new strip. I actually had a blast with this guy. This endured for about 15 minutes, and after another series of questions, I was free to go.

A photo of me in Central Park, one of my favorite spots in New York.

Blessings are everywhere folks, don’t forget that. As I flew back to Michigan, I was relieved that I had made it. The visa application process is definitely one that requires a lot of patience, time and organization, and I had finished the last step. All that was left was to wait for my passport to be mailed back to me in the FedEx envelope that I had given the consulate. I arrived back at Hope after midnight, and went straight to sleep. That night, I had a dream that I was a knight fighting a fire-breathing dragon which I defeated with my axe (literally, a guitar) because, I guess, I actually would be that guy. As I ran up the castle staircase, I was super excited to make my way to my princess (Roland Jazz Chorus 120, my favorite amplifier of all time). Somehow, I tripped and began to fall down the long staircase. As I hit the castle ground, I jolted upright in bed to hear my phone ringing. Who could it be? It was 11 am. Unknown number.

“Hello, this is Michael speaking?”

Mr. Pineda, this is ———– from the Austrian Consulate. Please tell me you are still in New York.”

“Um, no, actually I am not still in New York. I left yesterday, a few hours after our appointment at the consulate. I am back in Michigan. Is everything alright?”

Well, Mr. Pineda, I have some unfortunate news. This has never happened before, but we had a glitch in our system, and we cannot seem to find your biometric data. The IT team is working hard to see if we can recover the data, but we seem to have lost your fingerprints.”

Published by Michael Pineda

Class of 2021 Business, Jazz Studies Co-Director of Hope College Concert Series

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  1. Oh, Michael! Yes, the visa process was definitely an adventure for you! I would just like to add, for the sake of any reader that may be overly intimidated by the visa process after reading this, that most of the time, applicants send their materials to their provider for the visa process, or go to a consulate in Chicago or close to their hometown. There are exceptions, but none of the other applicants that semester had to fly to NYC (or had their fingerprints lost — still think its crazy that this happened!). So just clarifying for anyone thinking of studying abroad reading this 😉
    Looking forward to reading about Vienna!

    1. Yes, it definitely was. This was one story I had to share because it was a crazy ride but this was a weird and random case and highly unlikely.
      Also a disclaimer for anyone who is thinking of studying abroad, I had HUGE support from the Hope College Study Abroad office and all of its staff in the recollection of my documentation and throughout the entire process of the fingerprints and figuring out what the best moves were. They were a lifeline!

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