So I spoke to the lawyer who so miraculously got me through the initial NIE process in Madrid in under an hour and she told me that, in order to leave the country (or, more importantly, in order to return) between now and when my new resident card arrives, I would need to file an Autorizacion de Regreso. Authorization to Return. Very important, as I have to be in London on Friday for meetings and then in Germany for my birthday and then in Switzerland for Christmas. Okay, no sweat.
She also told me that I should go to the Comisaria (the police station) where I would find a line that should last no longer than 15 minutes for exactly this type of request. 15 minutes? Sounds too good to be true. And it was.
I arrived at the Comisaria in Barcelona at 9am without my trusty lawyer and went right up to the police officer at the entrance and explained the story: I am already processing in Madrid, I just need the Autorizacion, I've already been fingerprinted, and there should supposedly be a separate line for this sort of thing. Nope, he directed me to the regular line, the one I spent 7 hours in back in Sept 2006, and assured me it wouldn't be more than an hour.
So I got my number and waited. An hour. Then two. Three. Then a bit more... good thing I brought a book! Finally my number was called and I went to the window knowing that it should only take about 30 seconds to get everything done and go to the office. But when I explained what I needed, the woman told me I'd been waiting in the wrong place all this time and she couldn't do anything for me. Unlike in Madrid, where all these offices are under one roof, in Barcelona they are spread around town.
Hopped on the scooter and headed down to the port, and the office of the Extranjeria. Not before I had some words with the man who told me to wait in that line for over two hours, mind you. When I got to the next office, a very kind guard at the door listened to my plight and said he'd walk me through everything as long as I first moved my illegally parked scooter so it wouldn't get towed. How kind!
That done, he told me the following: Go to the next door, fill out a form. Make some copies of your resident card around the corner. Go to the bank across the street. Pay 5.67 euros in taxes. Get a stamp on your paper. Come back. Wait in line.
So I was off like a shot, because it was nearing 2pm, that dreaded time when all banks and most offices in Spain close. Got my copies, got my form, ran across the street to the bank. There were three in a row. The first one closed at 1pm. What?! At the second one a man entered just ahead of me and allowed the door to close behind him before I could grab it. Locked. Closed at 1:30 and it was exactly 1:30! He looked at me through the glass door and shrugged. Hopefully he tripped on something or stubbed his toe later that day.
At the third bank I was relieved to see they actually stayed open until 2:30. I got in the long line to pay my taxes and finally got to the front, where the man asked if I had a copy of the form. I responded flatly that I had been given one form at the office and they just said to bring it to the bank. He responded - more flatly, if that's even possible - that I needed another copy. Fine. Ran outside and around the corner where I had remembered spotting another copy shop. (You get very good at remembering where copy shops are in moments like these. I'm sure every immigrant can tell you all the best copy shops around the major government offices.)
I made five copies. Of everything. Just to be safe. And then ran back to the bank, waited in line, paid my taxes, left a copy, got a stamp on the paper, and ran back across the street to the Extranjeria, where I was given another number and told to sit and wait. Nearly an hour later, I walked out with a beautiful piece of paper that says I'm allowed to leave and reenter the country as desired between now and February 10, by which time I should have my renewed resident card in hand. Good thing, too... because it turned out I needed it two days later in London. But that's another story altogether....