I’m supposed to fly to Paris tomorrow. In preparation, I made a long check list of things to do prior to departure. Today I dutifully started working my way through that list. After taking care of several items, I decided to give myself a break and do an easy one: “Find passport.” I almost felt guilty because it seemed too easy, like cleaning the house when you should be writing a paper.
Entering the combination and twisting the key on my safe, I found my passport right where I expected it to be. Remembering that someone had advised making a copy prior to going abroad, I opened up the passport. I was horrified to see that it had expired three months ago!
I was in shock. It was instantly obvious that my trip to Paris was going to be canceled. I reread the expiration date several times just to make sure, but it kept saying the same thing.
I immediately began a panicked effort to figure out what to do. The website for the U.S. passport office in Philadelphia said that admittance to the building was by appointment only. The only way to contact them by telephone was through a long-winded voice mail system that had no means for true human interaction. The passport office was an impenetrable fortress! Their automated appointment system offered me its first available appointment: next Wednesday, four days after my scheduled departure.
I tried the U.S. Passport Agency’s fee-based help lines, but they were busy – seemingly permanently. I tried a travel agency, thinking that they may know the secret back door to getting a passport, but they just wished me luck and gave me the same phone numbers I had already tried.
The best advice came from a passport expediting service in Texas. They advertise 24-hour passport renewals, which they informed me can only be accomplished under ideal conditions. The man said my situation was virtually hopeless. But if I had any chance at all, I must go to the local passport office and beg for mercy.
At this point I briefly considered giving up, but instead I decided to see whether begging for mercy could work. I drove to the city through heavy Friday traffic, thinking about how embarrassing this was, having told so many people that I was going to Paris next week. I wondered whether my Paris business associates had rearranged vacation time so they could meet me next week. I wondered how I could sufficiently apologize to them, and whether I could ever save face.
Before attempting to get into the U.S. Custom House, I stopped in a little shop across the street and paid $28 to have to get two tiny passport photos. Then I attempted to get into the fortress. It turns out that was relatively easy – I just needed to take off my belt and anything else that was metallic, and walk through their metal detector.
Then I threw myself on the mercy of the customs employees behind their glass partitions. What a relief! They were very nice and didn’t give me any trouble at all. After about 1.5 hours of processing my application, they gave me a brand new passport. I walked out of the building at exactly 4:00pm – closing time!
So, assuming I can get to the airport on time, it looks like I’m going to Paris after all. I was very lucky I didn’t wait even just another hour to take my passport out of the safe.
Now, back to that check list ...